Today, let's toast those NBA teams that wait until they're out of playoff contention before turning up the effort.
Of course, Toronto is the first to come to mind. The Raptors' 134-129 overtime shootout Sunday against the Bulls was their fourth straight win, but the overall record is still 28-45, second worst in the East.
But the strong finish forces Toronto to make perhaps the league's toughest decision of the off-season: Should the Raptors trade power forward Chris Bosh while his value is high or try once more to build a winner out of the Bosh, Jose Calderon and Andrea Bargnani nucleus?
Bosh can be part of the vaunted free-agent class of 2010 if he opts out of his contract. Of all the top guns headed for the open market, Bosh might be the least likely to sign an extension with his current team. The Raptors took a nosedive after two straight playoff trips, and the living in Canada part has turned off players in the past.
So moving Bosh before he leaves as a free agent appears to be a logical move for the Raptors. They might get a better return this summer than at next year's trade deadline, when potential partners hope desperation sets in.
Sunday's win over the Bulls provided a nice snapshot of Bosh. He produced 31 points and 15 rebounds, creating matchup problems most every trip down the floor. But he's also an average-to-poor defender, as evidenced by Derrick Rose's repeated drives to the basket.
Toronto's biggest issue has been defense, which the Bulls exploited for 42 points in the fourth quarter once they finally decided to turn up the intensity.
Hard to believe, but the Raptors probably miss Rasho Nesterovic, a burly center who played next to Bosh during the two playoff seasons. He was sent to Indiana last summer in the ill-advised Jermaine O'Neal trade.
Word is, though, the Bulls would feel much better about acquiring Bosh than they would Amare Stoudemire, another defensively-challenged forward that might be on the market. The biggest reason is Bosh's personality. He sort of fits the mold of a Georgia Tech engineering student, serious and studious. The belief is Bosh would make a good teammate, while general managers aren't quite sold on Stoudemire in that regard.
So if Bosh becomes trade bait this summer, the Bulls are sure to get involved. This is one reason why the Bulls should step up and re-sign Ben Gordon, so they'll have spare parts to put in any potential deal. Tyrus Thomas and a player of Toronto's choosing, not Rose or Joakim Noah, figures to be the offer, though the possibilities are endless.
There will be no shortage of suitors. Golden State has a couple of young forwards, Anthony Randolph and Brendan Wright, to throw the Raptors' way. There's been talk in New York of using David Lee as the centerpiece of a deal. Toronto is bound to ask if the Lakers would consider swapping Pau Gasol. There's Miami, Utah, the list goes on.
One positive for the Bulls is they should take a sizable step forward next year by keeping the same cast together - for no other reason than Rose finally getting some foul calls. The likely rookie of the year winner is tied for 105th place in free throw attempts per game with Kyle Lowry and Zaza Pachulia, among others.
Too late in Toronto
There are plenty of points to nitpick in the Bulls' overtime loss to the Raptors, such as Rose's missed layup late in regulation or 3 straight bad shots after they opened a 4-point lead in overtime. But the story of the game was the Bulls staying passive on defense until the final 10 minutes of the fourth quarter, when they erased an 18-point deficit.
Sure, they were playing back-to-back games, while Toronto was off Saturday. But that's the difference between heading into the playoffs with momentum and sneaking in because other teams lose.