Due to health concerns and the lack of a potent offensive playmaker, the Chicago Bulls will possibly endure an early 2013 playoff exit that could impact their offseason plans.
It could potentially result in them addressing a need via trade.
Their playoff outlook could obviously change if 2010-11 MVP Derrick Rose decides to suit up, but that's seeming less and less likely.
Therefore, the Bulls will rely on their gritty defense and toughness in their first-round matchup against the Brooklyn Nets. Their defensive tenacity did propel them to 45 regular-season wins and the fifth seed in the Eastern Conference, but can they really make noise in the postseason without a true offensive superstar?
Despite Brooklyn's three talented weapons (Deron Williams, Brook Lopez and Joe Johnson), perhaps coach Tom Thibodeau's schemes will vault Chicago past them. The Bulls were 3-1 against the Nets during the regular season.
However, the playoffs are a different animal and the level of play is turned up a notch. It wouldn't be shocking if the Bulls appear inept offensively (much like the Rose-less Bulls looked in the playoffs last year after Rose's injury).
If this is the case, Chicago's offseason plans will probably be altered. Even once Rose returns to his usual self next season, they are still in need of a long-term secondary scorer who will take pressure off of him. An early playoff departure would amplify this need and create some urgency.
A 2013 free-agency splash is unlikely for the Bulls due to their financial situation. They already possess a handful of heavy contracts (Rose, Carlos Boozer, Joakim Noah, Luol Deng and Taj Gibson) and thus lack the financial freedom to pursue marquee figures.
Plus, are free agents like O.J. Mayo and J.J. Redick really going to be championship-caliber difference-makers?
A first-round defeat would more likely foreshadow a blockbuster trade over the summer. Such a maneuver could land the Bulls a proven superstar who could function as Rose's sidekick.
Trade targets such as Kevin Love and Eric Gordon should top Chicago's list, with Love undoubtedly reigning supreme as the chief option.
Is a Love trade to Chicago realistic, though?
It would certainly appear so depending on how much Chicago's willing to give. With trade chips such as Deng, Gibson, Nikola Mirotic and a future Charlotte Bobcats first-round pick, there are certainly some alluring pieces that should garner Minnesota's attention.
The Bulls should exercise caution in their approach to this, however. If the Timberwolves want all of the aforementioned pieces, the Bulls should walk away in a heartbeat. Yes, adding Love would be nice, but not at the expense of four quality components. Furthermore, Love's bout with injuries is a valid concern.
A much more reasonable deal would look like this (See it here on ESPN's Trade Machine):
Bulls get: PF Kevin Love
Timberwolves get: SF Luol Deng, rights to F Nikola Mirotic, PG Marquis Teague
For Minnesota, this nets them an All-Star wing (a clear need) while also giving them a future replacement for Love in Mirotic. Minnesota management would surely be enticed at the thought of two Spaniards (Ricky Rubio and Mirotic) running the pick-and-roll.
Furthermore, Love has already expressed displeasure with his situation in Minnesota, providing incentive for the Timberwolves to bid him farewell.
From the Bulls' perspective, they nab a legitimate All-Star in the thick of his prime. A rotation featuring Rose, Love, Noah, Gibson and Jimmy Butler will contend with anybody.
Plus, this deal enables them to keep Gibson and the future Bobcats pick. This is especially realistic considering that Love just labored through an injury-plagued, frustrating season that only decreased his trade value.
The Bulls should also consider the likes of Eric Gordon, although this scenario would have to occur on a much lesser scale. Gordon's injury concerns are at another level than Love's, and Gordon possesses an expensive contract that could further strain Chicago's financial flexibility.
With that said, Gordon is an elite shooting guard when healthy. During 2010-11 (as just a 22-year-old), he averaged 22.3 points per game and 4.4 assists per outing. He's a playmaker who can create his own shot and also stretch the defense with his long-range shooting.
So, should the Bulls roll the dice and gamble on him? Keep in mind that the New Orleans Pelicans (yes, Pelicans) are reportedly interested in trading him, according to the Times-Picayune. Thus, his services will likely be available.
Here's a potential offer (See it here on ESPN's Trade Machine):
Bulls get: SG Eric Gordon, 2013 first-round pick
Pelicans get: SF Luol Deng, PG Marquis Teague, 2013 first-round pick
If this was presented a couple years ago, it would've appeared totally lopsided in Chicago's favor. But, a couple years later, Gordon is viewed as overpaid and injury-prone. As a result, the Bulls could potentially acquire him and a high draft pick (likely top five this June) if they're willing to part ways with Deng.
This scenario would provide Chicago with a solid secondary scorer while also netting them a pick to select somebody like Otto Porter, Anthony Bennett or Victor Oladipo. This would not only place Chicago in a stellar spot for 2013-14, but also many years into the future.
The bottom line in this discussion is that an early playoff exit will increase the chances that the Bulls pursue a blockbuster trade. Their offseason outlook will be tweaked in this manner. This isn't to say they'll surely make a move, but they'll certainly be much more open to it.
No matter what happens this postseason, the Bulls have an exciting future with a plethora of promising elements.
A quick playoff departure, though, could spark their efforts to acquire a "Robin" to D-Rose's "Batman," which could position them in the thick of title contention for 2013-14.