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Columnist
Bulls probably can't afford to fill need for reliable scorer
By Mike McGraw | Daily Herald Columnist
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Published: 11/12/2007 12:15 AM

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One problem with the Bulls' miserable 1-5 start is it's natural to assume the roof is caving in and forget that this team has a history of overcoming bad beginnings.

There is no guarantee that these Bulls will bounce back to finish among the Eastern Conference leaders the way they did twice in the past three years. But they are experiencing more growing pains early this season than originally anticipated.

The Bulls returned 10 of 15 players from last season's roster. But with Tyrus Thomas taking over as the starting power forward, they are basically working in three new players at the inside positions, including newcomers Joe Smith and Joakim Noah.

Don't forget, leading scorers Ben Gordon and Luol Deng are just 24 and 22, respectively. So despite the high expectations, this team is still a work in progress.

Kobe Bryant and Pau Gasol aren't going to walk through the door anytime soon, but the Bulls could use some help.

What they need is a professional scorer; a polished veteran to come off the bench and provide reliable points. While Smith can do that on the front line, he needs a backcourt equivalent.

That type of player can be a huge contributor on a contending team. Just look at Jerry Stackhouse in Dallas or Michael Finley with San Antonio.

The Bulls will have to live with Thomas' youthful mistakes because he's their best hope for a strong inside game. Second-year guard Thabo Sefolosha has a bright future, but the Bulls would be better off now if they could exchange his spot in the rotation for a more reliable scorer.

There are several good candidates who should be available. The problem is the Bulls' payroll has grown to the point where they probably can't afford to add to it.

Assuming Deng and Gordon eventually sign deals starting at around $10 million, the players under contract for next season bump right up to the luxury-tax threshold.

So this is all a pipe dream, but a player such as Seattle's Wally Szczerbiak would look good atop the Bulls' wish list. Last week, he scored 32 points and hit 12 of 16 shots in a game at Sacramento. But Szczerbiak has little future with the rebuilding Sonics. He played nine minutes in a loss to Utah three days later.

The bad news is Szczerbiak makes $12 million this season and $13 million next season. He'll be an attractive mid-level exception candidate, but not until 2009.

Another logical candidate is the Clippers' Corey Maggette, a Chicago native. Both Maggette and Elton Brand can opt out of their contracts next summer, though it seems more likely they won't. The Clippers have no replacement for Brand, but just drafted a cheaper version of Maggette in Al Thornton.

Maggette is among the league's best at getting to the foul line. But he's due to make $8.4 million next season if he doesn't opt out and would be tough to fit into the Bulls' payroll.

Who else fits the description? Minnesota's Antoine Walker is expensive and plays the wrong position. Washington's Antonio Daniels would be tougher to acquire and has three years left on his contract.

The Bulls could take a chance on 5-foot-5 Earl Boykins, who is looking for a job, or invite Allan Houston to try another comeback. Maybe Jalen Rose is staying in shape between ESPN appearances.

Once again, none of these transactions is likely to happen. The Bulls will count on Andres Nocioni to be their main offensive weapon off the bench. He had 20 points against Toronto, which was a good sign.

The offense needs some sort of help. Through Saturday, the Bulls ranked 29th in both points per game (86.5) and field-goal percentage (.381).