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In case you missed the Big Ben news yesterday, the Chicago Bulls pulled off a three-way deadline deal with the Cleveland Cavs and the Seattle Sonics. The trade was a bit of a yawner in the sense that it has long been supposed that the Bulls would deal forward Ben Wallace, and that’s precisely what they did in dumping the final two years and change of Wallace’s massive contract on Cleveland. Considering that Wallace has been a shell of his former self this season (not to mention an occasional grump), the move makes sense for Chicago, which needs to get a good read on the futures of frontcourt young’uns Tyrus Thomas, Aaron Gray and Joakim Noah.


In trading the ’Fro, the Bulls received the Bearded One in return. Former Kansas standout Drew Gooden — he of the shaved-head, thick-beard look — is the keystone of the return package. At 6-foot-10 and 26 years of age, Gooden gives the Bulls a decent rebounder who is a minus-defender. He’s hardly the low-post scoring threat the team needs, which is why it’s good he only has one year (at $7.1 million) left on his contract.

In exchange for unloading Wallace’s burdensome financial baggage, Chicago had to take on an albatross in the process. His name is Larry Hughes, who locals may remember from his sole season at St. Louis U in 1997–98, and he is owed nearly as much over the next two seasons as Wallace. Like Gooden, Hughes is suffering a career-worst shooting slump from the floor. Calling the 6-foot-5 two-guard a shooter is a cruel joke; his career three-point percentage is south of 30, and although he’s been a bit better over the past few seasons he’s not going to draw comparisons to his new G.M. in the category of marksmanship. But at least he provides the Bulls a warm body to bring off the bench next season, should Ben Gordon be dealt. Hughes is also a plus-defender when motivated.

Both players offer the Bulls a semblance of veteran stability and should at least be consistent contributors, if a bit unspectacular. Unfortunately, the Bulls also had to ship the popular Joe Smith to Cleveland. That stinks because Smith’s contract comes off the books after this season, and Smith had actually been a productive role player under coaches Skiles and Boylan. I’d rather have Smith than Gooden, but that is the cost of doing business when the business is dumping Ben Wallace’s bloated contract and erratic play on LeBron James’ team.

Also new to the Bulls (via the Cavs) are power forward Cedric Simmons and shooting guard and Michigan State alum Shannon Brown. Neither of the second-year players have played significant NBA minutes to date, although the athletic Brown would seem to have some outside chance of earning a fair share in the future if Little Ben does indeed depart.

As the season plays out, don’t be surprised to see the Bulls play a bit better as youth is served in the frontcourt and the team (hopefully) regains its health. At 21–32, they’re surprisingly only two games out of the playoff picture. So as long as they don’t suck quite as much down the stretch as New Jersey or Atlanta or Philadelphia or Indiana or any of a handful of other crappy Eastern teams, the Bulls can continue to “underwhelm” and still maybe net a first-round playoff date with Boston. Only in the NBA, folks, only in the NBA.

BYE-BYE BIG DUD, PT. 2

No, I’m not speaking of Wallace, again. I’ve moved on to another big man who just didn’t pan out as planned. This one played for the Illini, and this week he announced he was quitting the team and seeking a transfer. In doing so, Brian Carlwell cited the popular “lack of playing time.” He could have cited the entire disaster that was his 2006–07 freshman season, capped, of course, by the car accident that rendered him unsuitable to suit up for the final month-plus of the season.

That sad story aside, Carlwell clearly had a big body going for him, but not much else. His decision to transfer is probably the best one of his collegiate days to date, as it’s clear the happy-go-lucky near-seven-footer wasn’t likely to leapfrog Mike Tisdale or Mike Davis for playing on next year’s squad, which will probably feature a quicker, guard-oriented attack. Here’s to hoping he finds a welcoming home and enjoys a healthy end to his basketball career, because he certainly deserves a second chance.

Speaking of next year’s team, is it next year yet? All in favor of pushing Midnight Madness up by seven months, raise your hand.