Why Chicago Bulls Building Around Derrick Rose Is Harder Than You Think

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Why Chicago Bulls Building Around Derrick Rose Is Harder Than You Think
Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images

When Reggie Rose called out the Chicago Bulls for not acquiring a second superstar to add to the Chicago Bulls before the trade deadline, many fans were quick to assert that he was right in his sentiment, even if he was wrong in his delivery. The problem is that this is a ridiculous oversimplification.

It’s easy to state a problem. It’s not so easy to state a solution. Building a championship team isn’t that easy.

 

How Do Teams Get Superstars?

There is no local Superstar Mart that Bulls executives Gar Forman and John Paxson can swing by together, pick up a Dwyane Wade and LeBron James, then grab some Taco Bell at the food court.

One of the massive issues is that superstar players rarely switch teams through free agency. Yes, there’s LeBron James. But there’s also Kobe Bryant, Tim Duncan and Dirk Nowitzki who never left.

While Michael Jordan can attest all that he wants that players joined him, none really did. Scottie Pippen was drafted—not obtained through free agency. Horace Grant was drafted by the Bulls. Dennis Rodman was acquired by trade.

When James and Chris Bosh signed with the Miami Heat, it was the biggest free-agency grab in NBA history. The Lakers landing Shaquille O’Neal with a $120 million contract in 1996 was massive, too.  

Apart from that, it is hard to find superstars who signed with teams and led them to titles.

There are a couple of teams that traded their way into one. The Boston Celtics acquired Ray Allen and Kevin Garnett through trades. Mark Cuban made trade after trade, combined with turning over the right role players until he stumbled on the right formula in 2011.

In fact, if you trace back to the merger, you’ll see the primary way of obtaining superstar players has been through the draft. I looked at every championship team since the merger and broke down their superstars by how they were acquired.  

Superstars were counted if they were a top-10 player in the league, a Hall of Fame player near his prime or dominating the league in a particular category. So for example, while Jason Kidd was a superstar, I did not count him as a superstar when the Mavericks won their title. Dennis Rodman was counted as a superstar, even though he wasn’t a big scorer, because he dominated the league in his area.

I broke them into three categories: free agent, trade and “homegrown.” Players who were traded prior to becoming superstars, such as Bryant and Nowitzki, were counted as “homegrown,” even though they were technically drafted by other teams.

Here is how they broke down by percentages.

 

No. 1 Picks Don’t Guarantee Anything

Historically, the way to build championship teams is through the draft, but that’s not easy, even if you have a No. 1 overall pick. Since the merger, only three core teams have won a championship with a top pick they drafted: the Los Angeles Lakers, with James Worthy and Magic Johnson, the San Antonio Spurs, with Tim Duncan and David Robinson, and the Houston Rockets, with Hakeem Olajuwon.

That’s five picks on three teams in 35 years, who have won a total of 11 titles. There are a couple of other No. 1 picks who have won it all with different teams. James won last year with the Miami Heat, and O’Neal won with the Lakers. That’s it. Only seven top picks have won a title since the merger.

The other 28 never have. So having Derrick Rose as a No. 1 pick doesn’t guarantee a ring by any stretch, even if he’s proven he’s worthy of the honor. Nor does the Bulls' failure to win during his first five years mean they are doing something wrong or never will.

Only three top picks have won a title in their first five seasons. Two of those, Johnson and Worthy, were paired with Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, and Worthy was teamed with Abdul-Jabbar and Johnson. The third, Duncan, was teamed with another, Robinson.

The Bulls failing to win so quickly with Rose is hardly unique, and it’s not an indictment of the Bulls management that it hasn’t gotten a championship with him, particularly when you factor in his injury.

 

The Bulls Have Been Drafting Better Than You Think

The front office has been criticized for bungling the draft, but it’s not nearly as bad as advertised. In fact, even accounting for the disastrous Tyrus Thomas fiasco, the Bulls have done better than average on their draft-day signings.

In particular, over the last five years, they’ve been exceptional. Using win shares as a ranking structure, the Bulls have selected one of the top seven players in five of the last 10 drafts. And on average, Bulls picks outperform their draft slot. Note this table only includes players who actually ever suited up for the Bulls.

(I didn’t include Marquis Teague because his playing time hasn’t been significant enough yet to project what kind of player he’ll turn out to be.)

Year

Player

Pick

WS Rank

2004

Luol Deng

9

7

2004

Ben Gordon

3

11

2006

Tyrus Thomas

4

14

2007

Joakim Noah

9

4

2008

Derrick Rose

1

3

2009

Taj Gibson

26

4

2011

Jimmy Butler

30

7

   

11.7

7.1

If we wish to be narrow, we can zero in on the Thomas-for-Aldridge trade, but that’s not the only move that’s been made. Taj Gibson and Jimmy Butler were both brilliant picks who have vastly outperformed their draft position. Some were arguing for taking Michael Beasley instead of Rose. That seems to have turned out to be the right decision.

Overall, the Bulls' front office has managed the draft well, just not perfectly. Ironically, the worst move they made might have been prosperous. It’s unlikely they would have Rose right now if they didn’t trade Aldridge for Thomas.

This also doesn’t account for the draft-and-stash sensation, Nikola Mirotic, who has yet to suit up for the Bulls. Nor does it factor in the outstanding pick of Omer Asik, who was pivotal in the Bulls run to the Eastern Conference finals in 2011.

 

Free-Agency Signings

The Bulls have signed a number of free agents over the last few years to complement Rose. These have ranged from stars like Carlos Boozer, to a smorgasbord of role players like Ronnie Brewer, Keith Bogans, Marco Belinelli and Rasual Butler—and those are just the ones whose last names start with the letter “B.”

Bruce Bennett/Getty Images

In all, 49 players have logged at least one minute with the Bulls since Derrick Rose was a rookie, with 37 of those being acquired through trade or free agency. To argue that the Bulls haven’t been trying to find the right player is to ignore what’s been happening.

Nor does that mean that every player they’ve tried to sign, they’ve landed. For example, some criticized the Bulls for not making an effort to land Jamal Crawford, but it was revealed through a CSN Chicago Bulls’ broadcast that Tom Thibodeau had Crawford as his top choice and had personally pursued him.

The Bulls gutted pretty much everyone they could in order to get Wade or James. That they failed in the endeavor doesn’t mean they didn’t try. Nor does it mean that there was a realistic chance that it was possible. It’s feasible that Wade and James had made up their minds before they were even free agents.

There are two free-agent signings that are most frequently criticized—Carlos Boozer and Richard Hamilton. In Boozer’s case, it was lamented that the Bulls could have gotten Amar’e Stoudemire. It’s untrue that they could have gotten him and that they would have done better with him.

Here are Stoudemire’s numbers with the Knicks and Boozer’s numbers with the Bulls.

Player

Games

Points

Rebounds

Assists

Total

Carlos Boozer

196

16.1

9.2

2.1

27.4

Amar'e Stoudemire

154

20.8

7.5

1.7

30

Stoudemire’s averages are only slightly higher than Boozer’s, but his paycheck is much higher—he’s making almost $5 million more than Boozer this year—and he’s played 42 fewer games and counting. And while Boozer might have disappeared at times in the postseason, he hasn’t punched any inanimate objects.

Richard Hamilton has been a disappointment. There’s no question about that. He’s in the lineup so seldom that his starts are more like cameo appearances.

Sure, O.J. Mayo would have been better. The Bulls tried to trade for him, but the asking price was unreasonable. He wasn’t a free agent when they signed Hamilton, and when he was, due to Rose’s injury, the Bulls had a bigger need at point guard than shooting guard.

Even if you want to argue that the Bulls should have gone after Mayo instead of Hinrich, it was Rose who wanted Hinrich and courted him, so Reggie Rose shouldn’t complain.

They pursued Jamal Crawford, but he signed for more than the Bulls could pay. Jason Richardson isn’t helping any more than Hamilton right now, as he’s injured.

Arron Afflalo has been scoring 16.4 points per game, but his field-goal percentage is down 60 points. Courtney Lee, at 7.7 points per game, hasn’t proven to be the breakout star some were projecting.

Generally speaking, that great shooting guard just hasn’t been available and obtainable. When all is said and done, Butler might be the best shooting guard they have.

Meanwhile, different players, such as Nate Robinson, John Lucas III and Belinelli have significantly outperformed their contracts. It’s hard to think of better postseason moves the Bulls could have made.

 

The Summer of 2012 Debacle

Ronald Martinez/Getty Images

Perhaps the most disconcerting thing to fans this season has to do with the way the Bulls let go of Ronnie Brewer, C.J. Watson, Kyle Korver and Omer Asik, breaking up the group formerly known as the “Bench Mob.”

There have been times this was accentuated this season. It’s apparent the Bulls miss the three-point shooting of Korver and Watson and the interior defense of Asik . At the same time, the Bulls now have more players who can put the ball on the floor and create shots.

There are some areas where the new bench is better than the old.

Here’s a comparison of what last year’s Bench Mob did in terms of win shares to what this year’s squad has done.

rob

Player

2011-12

2012-13

Player

Omer Asik

2.6

0.9

Nazr Mohammed

Ronnie Brewer

3.9

5.7

Jimmy Butler

C. J. Watson

2.6

2.4

Kirk Hinrich

Kyle Korver

5.3

2.8

Marco Belinelli

John Lucas III

2.2

5.5

Nate Robinson

 

16.6

17.3

 

This year’s group does have a few more games played, because last year was strike-shortened, but a number of players have also missed chunks of time due to injury. The bench downgrade is not quite as severe as some would have you believe.

And the biggest hit, Asik, was not a move they wanted to make; it was a move they were forced to make. The contract was a poison-pill contract, meaning that Asik would be paid $5 million the first two years and $14 million the third year.

While the Houston Rockets, who extended the offer, were able to split the total value into equal parts over three seasons only for cap purposes, the Bulls would not be able to do that.

If the Bulls matched the offer, they would have to pay Asik $14 million in the third year and pay an inordinate amount of luxury tax as a result. Chicago would have had to shell out at least $2.5 million for every dollar over the luxury threshold.

Even if the Bulls were just around the $75 million mark they are paying today, the Asik contract would have cost the organization $28.5 million for that year alone.

Additionally, that’s the year that Luol Deng’s salary comes off the books, and when Chicago appears to be preparing to amnesty Boozer and push for a major free-agent acquisition. Asik would have cost them a chance at that second superstar everyone is clamoring for.

I also might have cost them the opportunity to bring over Miotic from Madrid.

Asik would be a very expensive backup center, even if he does bring you outstanding defense off the bench. Overall, while fans may rail, it’s hard to criticize this move.

Mike Ehrmann/Getty Images

Here’s the bottom line. Every year, 30 organizations spend thousands of hours scouring through film, flying around the country, looking at players, considering options, talking to agents, looking at draft boards, talking to players, and so on, trying to improve their team to get to that next level, to get their team to the title.

Every year, 29 of 30 teams fail to reach that ultimate goal.

That’s a three-percent success rate if you only judge success by winning championships. Winning titles isn’t easy, and front-office work is way too complex to judge on passing and failing based solely on titles.

The Bulls had the best record in the NBA two consecutive years. Then it all went south when Rose went down with his torn ACL.

To say they’ve made the best of that situation is an understatement, as they are vying for a home-court series in the first round of the playoffs in a year where many wondered if they’d even make them.

Reggie Rose and the other Bulls critics need to look at the big picture a little more. Championships are a combination of drafting skill, landing the right role players in free agency, managing finances, and in truth, getting a little bit lucky from time to time.

Truth be told, Reggie wasn’t right because there was no move to be made that wasn’t done, and for the most part, the moves they have made, whether through trade, draft or free agency, have been the right ones. A championship could still be ahead for the Bulls. 

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