It didn't takefree-agent center Ben Wallace more than a handful of pickup games to get usedto his new teammates. "Man, I'm excited," he says. "Playing againstthese guys the last couple of years, they remind me a lot of the way we playedwhen we won the championship."
Taking a page outof the Pistons' playbook--and dealing a blow to his rivals--is just whatChicago G.M. John Paxson envisioned when he wooed Wallace from Motown with afour-year, $60 million contract. The Bulls made the playoffs the past twoseasons with a hard-nosed defense and a share-the-wealth attack similar toDetroit's. The only thing missing was an established veteran to lead theway.
Chicago believesit has that in the 6'9" Wallace, a four-time All-Star. Big Ben gives theBulls a true monster of the midway who clogs up the lane and enables them toextend their D. Chicago was No. 1 in the league in opponents' field goalpercentage but 19th in points allowed. "Now we've got a guy back there whoblocks shots and intimidates," guard Kirk Hinrich says. "He's going tohelp everybody's game."
Skeptics wonderhow much Wallace, 32, has left in the tank. They also point out that he doesn'taddress Chicago's biggest problem: a lack of scoring in the low post. WhatWallace does bring, though, is a burning intensity to the United Center. Alongwith a talented young nucleus, that should be enough to give Chicago a shot atits first extended postseason run since the end of the Michael Jordan era."We're going to have to come together quickly," says Wallace, "butI like our chances." .
ProjectedStarting Lineup with 2005--06 statistics
Record: 41--41(T6 in East)
Points scored:97.8 (T13 in NBA)
Points allowed:97.2 (16th)
(fourth seasonwith the Bulls)
FG% 42.2 ¬†
TYRUS THOMAS* (R)
(R) ROOKIE (COLLEGE STATS)
An opposing team's scout sizes up the Bulls
With a ScottSkiles team you know you're going to get effort and have toughness. If theBulls lose, it won't be for lack of those qualities.... Last year they led theleague in field goal defense (42.6%). By adding Ben Wallace and P.J. Brown,their defensive commitment has gotten even better.... I like their backcourt.Kirk Hinrich is a real point guard who doesn't have to score to be effective.Plus, he can play both ways--in transition as well as in the half-court. AndBen Gordon can flat out score. You can't concede the perimeter shot to him, butif you guard him tight, he can drive past you. He's tough with that pull-upjumper of his, and everybody knows he's capable of making big shots to wingames.... The guy who needs a breakout year and could have it is Luol Deng. Hecan score running the floor, and he could be really effective in thehalf-court. His shooting has improved.... The one thing they're missing is abig-time scorer. In the absence of that, they can try to emulate the no-starPistons team that won the championship a couple of years ago.
In 2006 BenWallace was named Defensive Player of the Year for a record-tying fourth timeand became the fifth player to have 100 blocks and 100 steals in sixconsecutive seasons.
ISSAC BALDIZON/NBAE/GETTY IMAGES
An elite scorer who's not afraid to shoot at crunch time, Gordon is the closestthe Bulls have to a go-to guy.