Is This the Last Season We'll See These Chicago Bulls Together?
The Chicago Bulls are in the midst of a hotly contested first-round matchup with the Brooklyn Nets.
Whether they win or lose this series, there will be major questions to answer after the season.
Primarily, is this the last season we will see this Chicago Bulls team together?
Rose and Noah the only constants
The only thing that we know about next year's team is that Joakim Noah and Derrick Rose will be on it.
Noah has established himself as one of the league's best defensive big men, and Rose is young and already a former MVP of the league.
These two are young and under contract for years toaren't going anywhere.
Jimmy Butler and Marquis Teague have rookie-scale contracts, so they likely won't be going anywhere, either.
But that is about where the no-brainers end.
Richard Hamilton has a team option for next year, and given how rarely he has been on the court this year, the Bulls could easily decide to let him walk.
The Bulls have a lot of expiring contracts, such as Marco Belinelli, Nazr Mohammed and Nate Robinson, but only Robinson has had a distinctive year. That being said, Robinson likely will command a lot more money on the open market.
Next comes the veterans with tradeable contracts. This includes Kirk Hinrich and Luol Deng . Each will be on the last year of their deals next year and could easily command a solid trade package, especially if the Bulls are apprehensive about next year's much stricter luxury tax penalties.
Taj Gibson is also a player in danger of being a luxury tax cut should the team get into trouble. Gibson has a lot of trade value, but the team would hate to see him go.
The last player of consequence on the roster is Carlos Boozer. He has a huge contract and not a lot of trade value. Some have argued over the last couple years that Boozer could be an Amnesty casualty, but the Bulls have never indicated that this is a legitimate option.
The case for keeping the band together
This is a supremely talented team. They have depth, size and veteran leadership.
They also have a superstar point guard and they play some of the best defense in basketball.
Prior to Rose's injury, this was a team that looked to be the only true challengers to the Miami Heat in the Eastern Conference.
Even without Rose, they are a scary team. Their brand of physical play, their ability to grab clutch rebounds and their veteran savvy make the Bulls the team that very few opponents want to tangle with in the playoffs.
It stands to reason that bringing Rose back would push them over the top.
Besides, with the new luxury tax rules, the league is sure to break up some of the great teams. The Oklahoma City Thunder were the first to feel the effects when they were forced to deal James Harden. They are still a strong team, but not nearly as good as they were last season.
The Memphis Grizzlies were the next to feel the crunch, as they were forced to deal Rudy Gay. This has certainly hurt their chances of playoff success, much less getting out of the first round.
So who's to say what team will be next? Could the Heat be forced to deal Chris Bosh? Could the Boston Celtics be forced to move one of their vets? What about the Indiana Pacers? Will they be able to retain Danny Granger, David West and their young superstar, Paul George?
Obviously the Bulls are one of those teams as well, which should cause some concern around Chicago.
But they at least have a silver bullet in their hands, which of course is the potential Amnesty cut of Boozer.
To cut or not to cut
Boozer has been one of the players that has raised the most discussion around Bulls' fan circles.
On the one hand, he is one of the best low-post scorers in the league. He can score with his back to the hoop, he can score with putbacks and he has a nice, mid-range jump shot.
He also is a good rebounder and takes up space down low.
But he is not a great interior defender. He lacks the size or athleticism to bother bigger players and he has seen his numbers go down over the past three years.
The bottom line is that he has value for the Bulls, but he certainly is not earning his huge salary. He will earn more than $32 million over the next two years, and it is hard to imagine his numbers going up.
Boozer used to be a 20-and-10 guy during his years with the Utah Jazz, but that ship has sailed. Now he is putting up numbers closer to 16 and nine. Now this isn't bad, but it isn't worth over $16 million per season.
But the Bulls have few options when it comes to Boozer.
They won't find many takers via trade. He is just too expensive and his numbers aren't insanely great. The Bulls would have to take back a couple bad contracts in order to deal Boozer, and that doesn't really help them at all.
And the Amnesty route doesn't do them much good, either. They will still have to pay Boozer and they will have to replace his minutes. This solves their luxury tax dilemma, but at this point it just makes more sense to keep Boozer around and bite the bullet on the tax.
But only if this team seems to be on the cusp of a title, which it appears they have the makings of.
They really only have a few holes, but nothing that appears to be a game-changer. They could certainly use more depth at shooting guard, especially if Hamilton is not retained.
Butler has certainly had a good year and provides some toughness and intensity that Hamilton lacks.
But it is hard to say that he is a starting-caliber shooting guard on a title contender.
It also wouldn't hurt to have a little more athleticism coming off the bench at the 3-spot, but this could certainly be addressed through the draft and is not a hugely pressing issue.
Overall, this team is poised for a long playoff run once Rose returns, so cutting Boozer probably won't help them towards that goal.
Deng and Hinrich
Similar to the argument for keeping Boozer is the argument for keeping Deng and Hinrich.
On the face of this category, the average Bulls fan may scoff at the very idea of dealing either one of these favorites.
They both are scrappy, hard-nosed and savvy veterans that provide leadership, defense and loose balls.
But they both have deals expiring after this year, and those deals can be very valuable on the open market.
Especially two players that have as much postseason experience as these guys.
What team wouldn't love to have either of these guys on their roster?
They also could be the next group of players that become tradeable assets if the team decides to get stingy around the luxury tax.
But if cutting Boozer gets the Bulls further away from a title, trading Deng and/or Hinrich is like championship suicide.
A title contender needs glue players like Hinrich and defensive stoppers like Deng. These two are crucial members of this team and should be viewed as nearly untradeable assets.
The Bulls were dealt a bad hand when they lost Rose to injury last year. They were dealt an even worse hand when Rose was unable to return this year.
But that is the bad news. The good news is that this team has not done anything to push them further from contention once Rose returns.
They have survived this adversity and flourished. They have taken their lumps but refused to give up on this season, even as it appears that Rose will not suit up at all this year.
The Bulls need to follow their plan and keep moving forward. They need to keep as many of this year's players on their roster and do their best to build up the bench with this year's draft.
Title chances don't come around very often. It is cruical that the Bulls don't allow money to get in the way of the strongest team that they have fielded in two decades.
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