Panic is in the air.
There are some who say the season should be tanked…er, used to position the Bulls for the future by sitting Rose, showcasing the likes of Carlos Boozer and Luol Deng, and making trades that will acquire young talent and/or cap space.
Still others take the opposite extreme and remind that if it ain’t broke—aka, 112 wins over the past two seasons, more than any other NBA team—don’t bust it up.
But if you split the difference and figure that the Bulls have their go-to guy in Rose but not a viable second star—Luol Deng’s game may already be slipping, Carlos Boozer is solid but limited, and Joakim Noah is ideal…as a No. 3—then the Bulls need a second star in the Second City.
Here are a few angles the Bulls can explore to acquire that player…at least eventually.
Tyreke Evans is in just his third season and makes a third of Luol Deng’s salary. He would bring a different skill set to Chicago, in that he can stretch anywhere from big 1 to slashing 2 to smallish 3.
Evans is a calculated risk, and the Bulls would be buying awfully low on him at a time when Deng’s stock remains surprisingly high. Thus Chicago could easily ask Sacto to eat the $8 million in salary difference Deng brings in the deal. Asking for a draft pick or perhaps taking on a Jason Thompson in the deal is also a possibility for Chicago.
The trade carries little risk for the Bulls. Presuming Evans and Deng have similar seasons in 2012-13 and Chicago opts to go another direction and not re-sign Evans, they’ve lost one expensive Deng campaign in the deal, and gained even greater salary flexibility overall.
There is no team more in flux in the NBA than Sacramento, and rather than continuing to react to the league, a deal with the Kings is the perfect time to manipulate a circumstance in Chicago’s favor. The Bulls have done it before.
So, where’s the second star? He’s 2009-10 Rookie of the Year Tyreke Evans.
Carlos Boozer “untradeable?” Not quite. There are deals out there to be made, presuming the Bulls are willing to take a step back in talent to do so.
Boozer and David West arguably are equivalent players, but Boozer would provide Indiana with better low-post scoring. Would he mesh with franchise foundation Roy Hibbert? Sure, especially if Hibbert is willing to back up Boozer on passes that will invariably slip through the power forward’s hands.
As for West, how does he fit in with Chicago, aside from having a smaller ($10 million) and shorter (one season) contract? With defensive power down low and no offensive range to speak of in key cogs Joakim Noah and Taj Gibson, acquiring West gives the Bulls an offensive big with range. This is the same sort of move Chicago tried to make in essentially swapping Kyle Korver for Vladimir Radmanovic, which would have worked had the trade been made in 2003-04 and Radmanovic was instead named Predrag Stojakovic.
Indiana faces a dicey predicament; in a basketball-hungry state, the club didn’t draw well in 2011-12. The Pacers have a window of opportunity that may be shutting down soon, especially given the uncertainty surrounding Danny Granger’s future. Inasmuch as the Bulls don’t want to strengthen a division rival—and make no mistake, Booz-to-Indiana gives the Pacers the Central this season—the trade also saddles Indiana with Boozer for three seasons total.
It’s an all-in move on the Pacers’ part, and a crafty bit of cap relief and roster flexibility on Chicago’s.
So, where’s the second star? Well, for the 2012-13 transition year, it’s West. A season after that, it’s a max-level superstar wanting to team with Derrick Rose.
If you can’t beat ’em, saddle ’em with a killer contract.
That’s probably not something Gar Forman has written in his book of GM crib notes. But that’s just how this deal could benefit the Bulls.
As with swapping Boozer to Indiana, dealing Carlos Boozer to Philly preys on Philadelphia’s need to win now, as the East (save for Miami) is in a transitional stage. Andrew Bynum renders Spencer Hawes expendable, if not extraneous, while Jason Richardson is pure baggage in Philly.
With the Bulls, Hawes fits as a better complementary big to Joakim Noah and fits better within the Tom Thibodeau system. J-Rich is nothing special, with wheels that show every bit of his 11 years in the league, but not necessarily a worse option than Rip Hamilton or Marco Belinelli.
This deal can’t happen until January per league rules, so it can only be pulled off if the Sixers are in need of a boost and the Bulls are coasting/still in desperate need of a 2 after the New Year.
No matter how things work out for Hawes and Richardson in Chicago, the pair opens up about $16 million in cap space, with Hawes and his $6.5 million coming off the books in time to cash in on the 2014 free agent class.
So, where’s the second star? Hawes, temporarily—eventually opening the door to an upgrade to Pau Gasol in 2014.
The Bulls, as currently constituted, boast three players all paid like second stars to support Rose, none of whom are able to ascend into the role. Combine that with management’s unwillingness to pay a luxury tax to more easily squeeze a second star into the payroll, and you’re stuck.
Forget the “2014 Plan,” which is two seasons off, anyway. You’re stuck.
So GM Gar Forman, hands tied, is left to add by subtraction and use this transition season (mostly) without Derrick Rose to reshape the team and correct past mistakes, like overabundant salaries for Luol Deng and Carlos Boozer.
Boozer-for-air can take a couple of different forms. One would be to simply amnesty the power forward, which bold, but arguably illogical. Not to mention counter-intuitive: If the Bulls are unwilling to pay a luxury tax, why in heaven would the team send Boozer packing, with millions, for him not to play?
The best hope of dumping Booz comes in the final year of his deal, and even then only if he has become so chronically injured and/or ineffective he’s reached Eddie Robinson distraction territory.
Boozer performed very well in 2011-12 for a player with such a limited ceiling, so the Bulls could play the waiting game and flip Boozer to a contender at the trading deadline. That move is dependent on Boozer both playing well and not being hurt in 2012-13. The chances of both happening are very slim indeed.
So, where’s the second star? Out there on the horizon, waiting to fill the cap space of Chicago-sans-Booz in 2014.
Given the need for a Luol Deng replacement sooner than later, the Bulls can’t get Nikola Mirotić to Chicago fast enough. Most estimates have the 6’10” forward suiting up for the Bulls in 2014-15, but even the Euroleague has its price.
The Bulls should find it, and buy Mirotić out of his Real Madrid contract.
So, where’s the second star? It's Mirotić, doing a Dirk Nowitzki impression, in Chicago, seasons earlier than anticipated.
This scenario acknowledges that it’s too late for the Bulls to cash in on a 2013 free agent class that seems more bountiful than what is likely to be available in 2014. Thus Chicago should clear the deck and turn the 2012-13 season of transition from one "lost" season into two.
Will that enrage Derrick Rose, who is rehabbing furiously to help lead the Bulls on a late playoff push this season, and surely will be busting his tail to do the same for all of 2013-14? Absolutely. But Rose could be soothed indeed if he knows that thoughts of Dwyane Wade and LeBron James might still be dancing in Chicago’s heads.
Is it likely for Wade or James leave the sunny climes of South Beach? No. But stranger things can happen, and if you don’t have the cap space, you can’t sit at the table. Perhaps injury, or even dissent, soils the next two seasons for the Heat. There’s a coaching controversy always right around the corner down south, with Erik Spoelstra on the permanent hot seat and the sage Pat Riley chomping at the bit. And for all of the coronation talk—well-deserved in the end for LeBron, to be sure—the Heat were pushed hard by the Celtics and Pacers and benefited from an early Bulls exit.
Wade, just weeks after his title with the “Big 3,” waxed rhapsodic about the opportunity of playing with the Bulls. Maybe a new challenge for the Chicago native will be to opt-out in 2014 and be the man who delivers the Bulls their first title in almost two decades. A core of Rose, Wade, Joakim Noah, Taj Gibson, and Nikola Mirotić could be the toast of the East.
So, where’s the second star? Is that a trick question?