As the offseason has descended upon us, the question circling the Bulls revolves around whether they could or should add a second star to play alongside Derrick Rose, so that the team can finally get past the Miami Heat and win a title. Do they have the assets to do that? And is it worth it?
This is an extremely tricky question because there are a host of variables to consider, not the least of which is whether the Bulls, as presently constructed, are really that far away. After all, the present core of Rose, Joakim Noah, Carlos Boozer, and Luol Deng did make it to the Eastern Conference Finals already, leading the league in wins twice. They’ve also won 85 percent of the games they’ve started together.
And that was before Jimmy Butler emerged as a potential star. With Butler included, the healthy Bulls have arguably the most complete starting-five in the NBA.
Chicago has primarily only two needs to meet: backup wing and backup center. In both cases, they need a player who will play substantive minutes. In order to do that, they’ll need to be quality defensive players, because as we’ve seen, Tom Thibodeau doesn’t play guys who don’t play defense. In the case of the wing, it’s also preferable that player would add three-point shooting.
The question of whether they can add another star to get past the Heat presupposes that the way to get past the Heat is to add another star. Would doing so make them better than they are already? To address that, let’s look at one of the more optimistic rumors.
LaMarcus Aldridge, the two-time All-Star for the Portland Trail Blazers, allegedly would like to come to Chicago.
I’ll state upfront that this rumor is probably not going to happen because it’s overly optimistic on the Bulls' side. However, even by looking at the rosiest of scenarios, it addresses the issue facing the Bulls.
Chris Haynes of CSNNW reports,
Does Aldridge want out of Portland? Yes and no, a source close to the 6-10 forward informed CSNNW.com.
If Portland doesn't have plans to drastically improve its roster in time for the 2013-14 NBA season, Aldridge would prefer to be moved, and his first choice would be Chicago, the source said.
Does that get your ear? Aldridge is not only a legitimate star player, he would slide into a Bulls lineup well. He has a nice jump shot. He also has a deadly post game, and he plays defense. That’s the particular trifecta that the Bulls would like to see in their starting power forward.
If you’re a Bulls fan, the idea of Aldridge and Noah running the court together has “championship frontcourt" written all over it.
And, if we lived in a perfect world (well, perfect for Chicago anyway) and the Bulls could swap Boozer straight up for Aldridge, it would be a no-brainer. However, sadly, the entire world, and the NBA, is not ready to acquiesce restoration of the glory days for the Windy City.
So the asking price would be more than the number one player fans would like to get rid of. In fact, it probably wouldn’t even include him. According to Mike McGraw of the Daily Herald, the Blazers want Noah in return, but the Bulls aren’t going for that.
They would be hoping instead that Portland would be willing to take their own two-time All-Star, Luol Deng, instead. But while Deng might have the same number of All-Star Games as Aldridge, he is not the same caliber of player.
McGraw suggests throwing in the Charlotte pick, which, the way the Bobcats are going, won’t come until 2016, but when it does, will be a valuable pick—potentially even a No. 1. In life and in the NBA, there are no guarantees, though.
The Bobcats could turn things around if they get blessed with a miracle, and then the pick could be sort of blah. In short, it might be years before we learn what was paid for Aldridge. It could be too much, or it could a great deal.
Another possibility is that there have been numerous rumors that the Houston Rockets are pursuing Chicago involving a trade for Thomas Robinson, the fifth pick in last year’s draft. The Bulls would utilize their Traded Player Exception (from last year’s Kyle Korver trade) to absorb Robinson’s salary.
However, Marc Stein of ESPN reports that if the Bulls make the Robinson deal, it’s to flip him in an ensuing trade, although he doesn’t specify what that deal might be.
So what about that ensuing trade is the Portland trade? There are no rumors that he would be, but it makes sense. A power forward of the future to replace the power forward the Trail Blazers are trading away.
Would Robinson and Deng for Aldridge be enough to put the Bulls over the top?
Consider what the Bulls have right now, what they need, and the tools they have to get better.
As previously stated, they only have two big needs. To fill those they have a $5 million traded player exception, No. 20 pick SF Tony Snell and second rounder PF Erik Murphy.
Landing a respectable backup center utilizing one of their two exceptions, they can then flush out their team using the veteran’s minimum exceptions.
Without making any trades the Bulls can address their current needs with their assets.
In order to make the even the most optimistic trade demands of the Trail Blazers, the Bulls would have to burn two of their assets, including their traded-player exception and likely Snell, and give up one of their starters, creating a new hole.
That would mitigate the need for a backup center, as Taj Gibson could move into that role, although he’s a bit undersized for it.
They would also have just one wing player under contract, Jimmy Butler. They could move Kirk Hinrich to starting shooting guard, and Butler to small forward, but then they would be undersized on the perimeter too, and their bench would grow even more shallow than it already is.
To flesh out the bench, they would have just their second-round pick and the taxpayer mid-level and minimum exceptions.
Last season, between Gibson and Boozer, the Bulls were the sixth best team in the NBA from the power forward position according to Hoopsstats.com. They don’t need a lot of help at power forward.
The Bulls would be weakening what are already two weaknesses (wing and depth) in order to strengthen what is already a strength, and they would be using up most of the tools at their disposal to complete the trade, rather than improve their weaknesses.
Of course the Bulls could combine Deng with one of their future assets instead, such as the Charlotte pick or overseas star, Nikola Mirotic, and the short-term cost would not be as high, but the long-term cost would be even greater. And they would still be confronted with the same immediate shortcomings regarding their wings and their depth.
The other thing to consider here is that this group has fought through some wars together. Noah told For the Win, in regards to watching the Heat celebrate their second championship,
At first I said I didn’t care, but I was lying to myself. “I was driving in my car and I just didn’t feel good about it at all after they won.
Well you know what? It’s going to be extra motivation to work extra hard in the offseason and I feel like we’ll be the team that beats them next year.”
I think we’re pretty close,” he said. “We got a lot of work to do. We don’t like them, they don’t like us, but at the end of the day, you gotta give credit where credit is due. They’re a very good team, but we feel like if we’re healthy, we’ll have our shot.
And really, they’ve earned the right to take that shot. They’ve been through injuries, winning and losing. They’ve passed through the battering of the “return” questions, and the lack of that return. That creates chemistry, and chemistry is not something you can trade for.
The Bulls do have the assets to land a second star, but it is hard to find a trade scenario this summer that makes them a better team. Their chances of winning are very good this year, and not likely to improve through trade.