Do the Chicago Bulls need to break up their current core to contend for a title?
With the team mired in the second-tier of Eastern Conference playoff teams, and sputtering against winning teams, that’s the question their fans are asking.
The association is a “stars’ league,” not a “star’s” league. You need multiple stars, not a single one, to win titles.
History is rich with multiple stars winning titles.
The ‘90s’ version of the Chicago Bulls were thriving with Scottie Pippen and Michael Jordan.
And the ‘80s were all about the Los Angeles Lakers with Magic Johnson and Kareem Abdul-Jabbar.
But “one star” teams don’t win multiple titles. And Chicago fans don’t want just “a” title.
They want titles.
So, do they have to rebuild to get that?
Well they clearly don’t have that second superstar on their team.
They do have two other All-Stars on the team though: Luol Deng and Joakim Noah. The problem is that neither of them is an outstanding offensive presence, and that’s something the Bulls have a need of in the postseason.
That’s what you need to win titles.
Bulls’ fans pressuring the team to “trade now” need to realize that the contractual and economic realities of the collective bargaining agreement limit what they can and can’t do.
So does the limited availability of true superstars.
If the Bulls were to obtain a superstar caliber player, they would almost certainly have to part with Deng or Noah—or both.
While it would be nice to think we could slog off Boozer’s monstrous contract with a wink and a smile, it’s unlikely any GMs are going to be that big of a sucker.
The Bulls would likely also have to throw in multiple assets.
That would mean their best assets, such as draft-and-stash sensation Nikola Mirotic and the eventual Charlotte Bobcats pick.
It would require giving up part of their core and part of their future.
Then the next issue is this: Who is shopping for superstars?
Most teams aren’t really looking to part with their best players, and truth be told, very few teams even have one superstar, much less two.
So let’s consider what superstars actually exist in the league.
Now, it’s not like the Bulls have cap space to sign a free agent, so whomever they were to obtain would have to be gotten through trade.
Obviously there is LeBron James, who is on a level all his own right now.
There are a couple of other players that are on the threshold, such as Stephen Curry and Paul George, but that pretty much sums up the superstar picture.
From this group we have three subsections: those who are happily under contract where they are, those who are on their rookie contract so they won’t be going anywhere for years and those who will be unrestricted free agents next year.
Here is how they break down.
Happily Under Contract
Unrestricted Free Agent
Those who are happily under contract aren’t asking to go anywhere and the team has no incentive to trade them.
For those under their rookie contracts, it doesn’t matter whether they are happy or not. They are going to be unrestricted free agents when their contracts are up, so they’re sticking with their present teams—whether they want to or not.
And none have given any indication they are unhappy anyway.
So that leaves us with Chris Paul and Dwight Howard.
Chris Paul is a point guard, so he would be redundant, and doesn’t merit consideration. Dwight Howard has indicated where he wants to play, and it’s been pretty apparent that he doesn’t include Chicago on that list.
Apart from that it’s questionable, based on his last year, whether Howard has the character that is needed in a champion.
He can’t be relied on down the stretch because he’s such a horrid free-throw shooter, and he would occupy the post, clogging the lane.
The Bulls are better off with a big that can step out, take his defender with him and open the lanes for the driving Rose.
So that leaves us with one name I have yet to mention: Kevin Love.
Now, the first and most obvious thing is that Rose and Love would go together like, well, roses and love. With his propensity for three-point shooting and offensive rebounding, Love would be a perfect fit alongside Rose.
Love’s 2012 season was the first in NBA history where a player averaged over 25 points, four offensive rebounds and 1.5 three-pointers made per game. That mix of shooting and rebounding on the offensive glass is particularly unique, and it is what would help him to mesh so well with Rose.
The reason being that Rose, because of his explosiveness, causes defenses to collapse the moment he steps toward the basket. That leaves his three-point shooters open, and is the primary reason why his teammates shoot the three about two percent higher while he’s on the court.
Yet the Bulls rely so much on offensive rebounding as a part of their winning scheme, which most stretch-fours would require sacrificing, that there aren’t many who would fit as well as Love.
It’s his unique ability to provide both at a superstar level that is intriguing.
But simply lumping superstars together isn’t a guaranteed formula.
Just look at the New York Knicks. They have Carmelo Anthony and Amar’e Stoudemire but still haven’t figured out how to play their two forwards at the same time.
Or, look at the Los Angeles Lakers with Pau Gasol and Dwight Howard, duplicating one another to little avail.
The nice thing about Rose and Love pairing would be that their talents would complement one another without any overlap. They are a dynamic duo who could work effectively together.
However, targeting Love and acquiring Love are two entirely different matters.
While there is reason to believe that the Bulls might make his short list—Rose and Love are offseason workout buddies, and Love wants to play for a winner—there is no reason to suspect they would be the only team on his list.
Ergo, the Bulls wouldn’t have to offer enough to acquire him; they’d have to pay the most.
As previously stated, the Bulls do have some pretty solid assets to use in a trade in Deng and/or Noah, the Charlotte pick, and Mirotic. They have some promising young players in Jimmy Butler and Marquis Teague as well.
Dealing Mirotic or the Charlotte pick for second-rate players is foolish. Throwing them in a package for Love is sensible. Sending Deng, (who would have an expiring contract) along with the two assets would be a pretty decent package.
And it creates a pretty hard package to compete with.
The Lakers, who are located in Love’s original stomping grounds of LA, would bear mutual interest with Love. But since they paid out all their assets to land Steve Nash and Howard, they have little left to offer.
Would it be worth breaking up the Bulls core to get Kevin Love?
There might be some other teams that would step up and try and make a move, but would probably not be able to hold the same blend of assets for the Wolves. Nor would they be able to promise Love a deal that would be amenable for both team and player.
Here’s the rub though: It’s not likely that a deal could happen until 2014.
His contract has an early-termination option in 2016, but that means he wouldn’t be able to force the Wolves hand until, at the earliest, the 2014-15 season (similar to what Chris Paul did).
That would still earmark the same season that the Bulls look to be acquiring a big name player anyway.
The hard part is that the Bulls are still a really good team when they are healthy. And there doesn’t really see to be an effective way for them to rebuild until 2014, no matter how you spin it.
That’s why, in the short term, the best the Bulls can do is tweak what they have.
Having said that, making room for Kevin Love in 2014 is not only reasonable, but it’s feasible.
For now though, Bulls fans will just have to be patient.