The Bulls went 18-9 in the regular season without Rose last year, but can they maintain that success for an even longer time period?
Here are the four ways in which Chicago can stay in the NBA's championship discussion.
1. Manage the Salary Cap
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In the summer of 2010, Chicago Bulls GM Gar Forman seemed to be willing to shop his own grandmother if it meant he could stack his lineup with the contracts of LeBron James, Dwayne Wade and Chris Bosh.
Currently, the Bulls spend $41 million on Deng, Noah and Boozer, and an additional $15 million on injured point guard Derrick Rose. That’s four players making up 80 percent of Chicago’s total payroll for the 2012-2013 season.
The new salary cap is set to be announced in less than a week and it will likely be fixed around the Bulls’ 2011 limit of $58 million.
Chicago, who is in search of an extra piece to ease the pain of the Rose injury, has to amnesty Boozer’s contract this year. Even with the $15 million cut in spending, K.C. Johnson of the Chicago Tribune believes the Bulls will only have about $6.5 million to spend this summer.
Chicago may try and dump the contracts of Kyle Korver ($5 million) and Ronnie Brewer ($4.7 million) on other teams, but they still won’t be able to engage in any bidding wars.
2. Find a Combo Guard
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Derrick Rose missed 27 games in 2011-12, yet the Chicago Bulls were still able to secure the No. 1 seed for the playoffs last season. The 2010-2011 NBA MVP will have to miss even more time this year, nursing a surgically repaired knee he suffered back in May.
Last year, Chicago ranked 18th in the league in scoring, and that was with Rose’s 21.8 points per game.
Luol Deng and Carlos Boozer will have to become the primary offensive weapons, but those two alone won’t be able to carry this team. Chicago needs to find a combo guard in free agency who can give them solid minutes while Rose is out, and move to the 2-guard when Rose returns to the lineup.
The Bulls could re-sign point guard C.J. Watson for $3.2 million, but is he versatile enough to demand that kind of money ($3.2 million really isn’t a lot, but that is half of Chicago’s spending money)?
Drafting Marquis Teague with the 29th pick this year may be an indication of Chicago’s desire to part ways with Watson. Head coach Tom Thibodeau won’t rely on Teague as a starter, but he will play valuable minutes off the bench in his rookie season.
If Chicago decides to test the market, their best options are Derek Fisher, Kirk Hinrich, Brandon Roy and Courtney Lee.
Fisher could serve as Teague’s mentor, but more so than experience, the Bulls need another scoring threat. Fisher has a decent shot at times, but he is far too inconsistent to run an offense. He wouldn’t be much of an upgrade (if even that) in comparison to Watson.
Hinrich, however, would be a perfect fit for Chicago. He has that taste of experience that Fisher could bring, and a three-point shot that would stretch the floor for Deng and Boozer. Plus, those stylish glasses/goggles? Anyone else surfing through memories of Horace Grant?
The problem for the Bulls is that eight other teams have expressed interest in Hinrich, and remember, they can’t compete if his salary rises above the veteran minimum.
As far as the Brandon Roy argument goes, does Chicago really want to experiment with his chronic knee problem? The idea behind this signing is to add health to the bench. Roy won’t necessarily do that.
With the Rockets' pursuit of Jeremy Lin, Courtney Lee has suddenly emerged as an unrestricted free agent and could be the offseason move worth making. Lee made just $2.2 million last season and at 26 years old, he can run the floor better than any of the previous three (maybe a new approach for Thibodeau to pair with Teague).
His 40 percent three-point shooting is higher than Hinrich’s and he turns the ball over less times per game, too. He’s less of a point guard than Hinrich, but he’s cheap, efficient and might even be worth renting for more than a year.
3. Replace Omer Asik
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Backup center Omer Asik recently received a three-year, $25.1 million offer from the Houston Rockets. As a restricted free agent, Chicago has until the July 14 deadline to match that offer, but Chicago won’t want to pay that high of a price.
Asik may have been a standout defender and productive rebounder, but his offensive game is nowhere near the value of $9 million a year.
But is the rotation of Carlos Boozer, Joakim Noah and Taj Gibson enough to last an entire season? Noah battled a bad ankle last year, and if he were to go down again, the Bulls would be considerably thin in the post.
The two free agents I like are J.J. Hickson and Spencer Hawes. They each cost less than $4 million a year and they are used to playing more than 20 minutes a game.
At 7’1’’ Spencer Hawes fills Asik’s place nicely, averaging 9.7 PPG, 7.3 RPG, and 1.3 BPG. At 6’9’’, Hickson’s numbers were worse (8.4 PPG, 6.2 RPG, 0.8 BPG) but he does cost half of what Hawes would likely ask for.
Which player to go after will be directly influenced by how much Chicago pays for a point guard or shooting guard.
4. Tom Thibodeau
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It’s incredibly reassuring that Tom Thibodeau is not prone to injury like the rest of Chicago’s top assets. (Crossing fingers…"No Sean Payton. No Sean Payton.”)
But seriously, more so than any player on the roster, Thibodeau is going to have to perform his absolute best in 2012.
Since joining Chicago in 2010, Thibodeau has created one of the most aggressive and frustrating defenses to play against. The Bulls had the lowest points allowed average in the NBA last season (88.2) and rarely gave opponents second-chance points, also ranking first in rebounds per game (46.7).
It’s an absolute necessity that Chicago continues that sort of success on defense if they stand any chance at competing.
Said Thibodeau at the season’s end last year (Chicago Tribune):
"Now that it's over, you go back through the season, [and] evaluate everything…Whatever field you're in, I don't think you should be satisfied or stay the same. You're either getting better or getting worse."
Without Rose, Thibodeau will be the one in control of the direction the Bulls go.