Chicago Bulls Master Plan for Crafting Ideal Roster Around Derrick Rose
After getting to see the former MVP go through a bit of one-on-one with him and his teammates, I can conclude that Rose is on his way back—but whether that means he'll be this season or next is still in doubt.
In the meantime, the Bulls roster looks to be one in flux, with a somewhat unpredictable plan left to be thrown together.
One of the strangest moves the Bulls made this season was not making a move at all. The team did nothing at the trade deadline, meaning they would finish the season over the luxury tax threshold for the first time since its creation.
Chicago was one of just seven teams to have never paid the luxury tax, but that will change this year as the team will finish out the season with over $74 million in salary, $4 million over the luxury tax line.
It seems as if the Bulls had some forward thinking in their decision not to ship Rip Hamilton away along with a first-round pick, as it wouldn't have made much sense to do so. Trading Hamilton would have been mainly a salary dump for this season, and including a pick would definitely hurt their future plans.
Hamilton's contract next season is a team option, one that seems unlikely to be exercised, throwing the Bulls under the luxury tax line next season.
Before we even make our way to the offseason, we might as well consider the oft-injured, visibly declined Hamilton a free agent, and his $5 million contract off Chicago's books next season.
What really helps Chicago is that he will technically be under contract until they pay his buyout, meaning the Bulls can find a way to get something for him by trading him to a team in need of some cap flexibility that could then buy him out.
Any scoring production they could get from the bench would be a huge help, but the value of that cap space is still very much up in the air.
What seems to be the biggest question for Chicago is what to do with Carlos Boozer.
Cries come from every corner of the Bulls universe demanding that the front office use the amnesty provision on Boozer, effectively wiping him from their books.
The reasons for giving up Boozer are extremely evident. Boozer's production has been fine this year, but he doesn't fit with the defensive-minded nature of the team. With Taj Gibson coming on quickly, and Chicago's game plan centered around defense, the Bulls could ride a Gibson-Joakim Noah frontcourt to become one of the best defenses in the league.
However, ridding Chicago's payroll of Boozer's contract brings them down to just under $58 million next season, which is right around where the salary cap will land.
The common misconception seems to be that simply using the amnesty on Boozer means Chicago suddenly has a ton of money to spend. In reality, using the amnesty doesn't do much more than give them the ability to use the full mid-level exception of $5 million.
If using the amnesty on Boozer would bring them noticeably under the cap, I would say go for it. However, Chicago would essentially be getting rid of Boozer in order to use their full mid-level exception and completely avoid paying the luxury tax next season.
With such cheap ownership, that scenario's not out of the realm of possibility. But it seems to make more sense to keep Boozer for the remainder of next season and then look for a way to deal his expiring contract. Of course, if they can find a way to trade him this summer, it wouldn't be a horrible decision; it just seems highly unlikely given the size of his contract.
As for replacing Hamilton in the starting lineup, Marco Belinelli seems to be a nice fit. When Belinelli doesn't work out defensively, Jimmy Butler can step in on that end of the floor.
Really it seems that building a core around Rose is going to have to wait for the summer of 2014 rather than this summer.
At that point, Boozer's contract will be realistically tradable, and the Bulls will have more options than they've got right now.
Most notable will be Luol Deng, who will be on the final year of his contract next season, at which point he'll be 29.
It's likely that they can grab him on a cheaper deal (he's currently making $13.3 million) or find a way to send him elsewhere next season, effectively making the team younger and more centered around the core of Rose, Noah, Gibson, Butler and eventually Nikola Mirotic.
Mirotic is the tremendous Euro-stash that Chicago has saved for a rainy day. While I'm sure many Bulls fans would like to see him play in the NBA next season, the Bulls will have to use the mid-level exception to sign him (something they likely won't have this summer), and his buyout seems too large to be reasonable this summer.
Most exciting for Chicago should be their ownership of the Charlotte Bobcats' number one pick. The longer Charlotte sucks, the better the pick will be for Chicago. That pick is top-12 protected this season, top-10 next season, top-8 in 2015 and unprotected in 2016.
Looking down the road, 2015 seems to be the earliest Chicago can hope to see that pick, but if Charlotte does them a favor and stays terrible through 2016, they'll potentially find themselves with an incredibly valuable pick.
Chicago has a ton of options this summer, but it seems to make the most sense to hold off for the time being, at least until there's some financial flexibility to work with.
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