CAROLINA CRISIS: THIS IS BIGGER THAN YOU By Michael...
Hawks will miss Buff’s physical play
For the second straight day on Thursday, a local fan favorite received news he will be playing in a new city next season.
The biggest difference was that the Bulls traded their Mr. Good Guy in the name of opening a championship window and the Hawks’ deal only made me wonder how quickly theirs may start to close.
Shrewdly putting themselves in position to sign two superstars during NBA free-agency, the Bulls unloaded Kirk Hinrich, his $9 million salary and the 17th pick in the NBA draft to the Wizards for a second-rounder and cash considerations that can’t be finalized until July 8.
The move came one day after the Blackhawks traded hockey cult hero Dustin Byfuglien and his $3 million salary along with Brent Sopel and Ben Eager to the Thrashers for two draft picks and three players whose names we aren’t ready to learn how to spell just yet.
When sports teams put making ends meet ahead of making games up in the standings, fans still have a right to scoff even if the Bulls can justify their big move easier than the Blackhawks. It’s still OK for it to sting a little when the main reason for dealing likable guys such as Byfuglien or Hinrich comes down to money.
When time passes, you should applaud the Hinrich deal for the way it improves the chances of landing LeBron James and Chris Bosh or any combination that makes the Bulls immediate Eastern Conference contenders.
Hinrich saw his popularity wane since the Baby Bulls days but his professional approach and consistent effort playing defense always commanded respect and admiration.
Sure, he would have filled in ideally coming off the bench to hit key 3-pointers in any potential James-Bosh- Derrick Rose triumvirate. But his salary coming off the books enticed Bulls general manager Gar Forman even more.
Maybe seeing Hawks GM Stan Bowman pull off the Byfuglien deal inspired Forman. But Bowman did more than lighten his payroll. He lessened a championship hockey team.
Sorry, unlike many in town ready to applaud the Hawks out of habit, I had a harder time accepting the Byfuglien deal than the Hinrich move. I have complimented Bowman practically for everything but his choice of ties in his first year on the job but, as tricky as this money morass is to navigate, trading Big Buff looks like a big mistake — short-term relief for long-time regret.
Yes, I have studied the Hawks’ payroll enough to know that uneasy lies the NHL head that wears the crown because the salary cap soon will shrink and refit it.
I have heard all the hype over the potential of the Thrashers players coming in return and the value of the first- and second-round draft picks. But I also know that the words from respected NHL voices during the Stanley Cup finals about the unique talents of the 6-foot-4, 257-pound Byfuglien still echo in my ears.
As good as Kris Versteeg and Andrew Ladd are, I don’t recall hearing as high of praise about them or any other supporting player. I don’t recall any playoff teams worrying about devising specific game plans to counter any Hawk more than they did for Byfuglien.
Spare me the spin that Byfuglien underachieved during the regular-season — the postseason measures true value to a franchise. Why not start dealing with somebody who didn’t have a playoff hat trick?
If Byfuglien weren’t considered such a difference-maker, why did the Sharks agree to take two marginal players from the Thrashers to help Atlanta get under the NHL’s allowable limit to consummate the trade?
Sharks GM Doug Wilson wanted Byfuglien out of the Western Conference as badly as Roberto Luongo did.
Byfuglien spent so much time with his backside in front of goalie’s eyes that it’s surprising the Hawks marketing department didn’t consider selling advertising on his rear end.
He gave the Hawks what almost no other team had, a massive body with soft hands and a hard shot who could play power forward or defenseman. He also showed a knack for the clutch that the Hawks may not realize how much they miss until next spring.
He made the Hawks different. What potential “X Factor” does that now?
The Hawks held an advantage throughout the playoffs because they demonstrated an ability to play whatever style necessary. But with the head-hunting Eager and Sopel, the team’s best shot-blocker, also on the way to Atlanta, the Hawks will have to prove again they can forsake finesse for force when needed the way they did in the playoffs thanks largely to Byfuglien.
But Chicago can pack away those memories along with any “TEAM OF DUSTIN-Y,” T-shirts that just became collector’s items.
They can go in a box next to the red No. 12 jerseys once worn by kids all over the city that now could become reminders of Hinrich’s biggest assist ever for the Bulls.