Is Kobe Bryant the Key to the Chicago Bulls Winning Their Next Title?
The team will look different. A strength of the club—the bench mob—will be broken up. Ronnie Brewer and C.J. Watson will probably be gone, with Kyle Korver possibly a casualty as well.
With the team in cap-hell, there is not a lot of room to improve.
2013 appears to be the focus for the Bulls to again challenge for the Larry O'Brien trophy, but unless they make some significant move in free agency, it still appears they will be short.
It's possible they could amnesty Carlos Boozer after the upcoming season. That could open up some cap space, but unless you have a player to plug in that could make a difference, 2014 might be a realistic target for the Bulls.
Boozer will almost definitely be gone by then with just one year left on his contract. Luol Deng's contract also expires at that time.
There's a player out there who would be a risk, but it's one worth taking depending on how the next two years go for him.
That player is Kobe Bryant. He will be 36 heading into that season. He averaged 27.9 points a game this past year and 30.0 in the playoffs. That was his best total since the 2007-08 season when he averaged 28.3. His low in the last five years was 25.3.
Bryant will be an unrestricted free agent. It's possible he has no interest in leaving L.A.—where he has played his entire career. But he talked with the Bulls in 2004 about playing in Chicago.
Would he possibly want to finish his career where the player he patterned his game after—Michael Jordan—worked his craft? Kobe's currently one title behind Jordan's six. Would equaling and possibly surpassing Jordan while wearing a Bulls uniform be a motivation for him?
There is a good chance Nikola Mirotic will be here to take Boozer's spot at the power forward position. Taj Gibson will also likely still be on board as the Bulls would like to extend him.
The small forward position is a question mark. Does Deng come back and can you make him fit in to the salary cap? Do the Bulls find a small forward in the draft next year?
Joakim Noah still will be in the post, so a lineup of Rose, Kobe, Mirotic, Noah and whoever you fit into the SF slot is an imposing lineup, and one that's a lot tougher to defend for the one team the Bulls have to get by: Miami.
By that time, I think Wade will be on his last legs. It's possible Kobe will too, but he seems less worse for wear than Wade. Wade's game is based on attacking the basket, while Kobe has become more perimeter-oriented.
A Wade who can't get to the basket is nowhere near the same threat as he was in the past.
We don't know what other pieces Miami will have at that time.
The balance of the Bulls roster is also a question mark. Gibson, along with Jimmy Butler and Marquis Teague—their first-round pick this year—will likely be part of the rotation. Omer Asik could be gone by that time due to salary concerns. With next year's pick—assuming the Bulls keep it—you have a very interesting roster.
Adding Kobe to Rose—who should be as good as new by then—will add the star player the Bulls have been missing. If LeBron decides to guard Rose, Kobe burns him. If he guards Kobe, Rose does the damage.
It becomes a choice of picking your poison instead of having just one player to shut down.
Kobe also has a history with Tom Thibodeau, whom he met as a high school player in Philadelphia.
In Nick Friedell's column for ESPN Chicago, Kobe said, "He was crucial. He was with me when I was 16 or 17-years old. Just doing drills and working on ball-handling, and just teaching me the game. He was there from Day 1."
Their respect for each other is mutual. Thibodeau said about Bryant, "You could just tell [that Bryant was special.] The way he would study everything. [It was] amazing for a high school kid."
Would having Thibodeau coaching him be an enticement to come to Chicago? Just like Thibodeau, Kobe has a work ethic second-to-none.
With Kobe and Rose both buying into Thibodeau's approach, the Bulls could prosper.
It may sound far-fetched and grasping at straws, but it may be the best chance for the Bulls to win in the near future.
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