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Lakers, Magic show that small lineups no way to go
By Mike McGraw | Daily Herald Columnist
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Published: 6/8/2009 12:15 AM

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No matter which team wins the championship, the two NBA Finals participants already have sent a clear message about team makeup - taller is definitely better.

Smaller lineups might give opponents some problems and lead to modest playoff success. But to win big in the NBA, teams need to play big.

And, no, that theory is not meant as an assault to your intelligence. Any 5-year-old who has ever stood near a basket quickly realizes that height is a great advantage in basketball.

This is more of a suggestion for the Bulls' off-season. Maybe it's time to pull the plug on the small starting backcourt and also make a play to improve the height on the front line.

Look at how the Lakers, Orlando and last year's champs, the Boston Celtics, line up. All three teams are big on the inside and tall on the perimeter. There is room for an undersized player (Derek Fisher, Rafer Alston), but the count should stop at one.

The players taking the majority of late-game shots for those teams can shoot over the top of most defenders. The Lakers have 6-foot-6 Kobe Bryant, Orlando has 6-8 Hedo Turkoglu and 6-10 Rashard Lewis, while Boston's 6-7 Paul Pierce and 6-5 Ray Allen did plenty of damage against the Bulls in this year's playoffs.

All three teams also have or had a taller defensive specialist - Trevor Ariza, Mickael Pietrus and ex-Celtic James Posey - not that those guys are ever expected to shut down an opposing scorer completely.

Other recent NBA champs, such as San Antonio and Detroit, fit the same mold. The '06 Heat had a smaller two guard, but Dwyane Wade was good enough to make it work.

So how should the Bulls process this information? Let undersized two guard Ben Gordon walk away as a free agent? Turn him back into a sixth man and start 6-6 John Salmons at that spot?

An argument can be made that the Bulls would be a better team without Gordon, but there is no guarantee. Keep in mind, only six guards averaged at least 20 points and shot better than 45 percent from the field this season - Wade, Bryant, Chris Paul, Brandon Roy, Tony Parker and Gordon.

Would Salmons and Derrick Rose be as good in late-game situations as Gordon? Another great unknown. Salmons was brilliant in March when he first became a starter for the Bulls (21.3 points, .500 field-goal percentage, .435 3-point percentage).

But he wasn't the same after suffering a groin injury late in the month. He also didn't produce numbers like that until this past season.

Give the Bulls credit for at least creating some flexibility. Salmons is a good candidate to provide the team with a taller shooting guard.

Chances are, the Bulls won't keep both Gordon and Kirk Hinrich, but it's too soon to tell what kind of move will be made or if they'll wait until the trade deadline in February to do something.

This "taller is definitely better" idea works for the front line, too, which is why the thought of transitioning Tyrus Thomas to small forward, if the Bulls can acquire one of the power forwards they seek, isn't far-fetched.

In the draft, maybe the Bulls should think twice about selecting an undersized power forward such as Pitt's DeJuan Blair (6-6½ in shoes) or Wake Forest's James Johnson (6-7¾). Guys like that might be decent backups, but it's rare to see them starting in the Finals.

A couple of Louisville players - 6-10 forward Earl Clark and 6-6 guard Terrence Williams - might fit the winning formula a little better if they're still around when the Bulls pick at No. 16.

Of course, if a guy can't play, height is irrelevant. That's the best rule to use when reshaping the Bulls.