The Chicago Bulls are currently in a strange state of basketball limbo, caught between the conflicting interests of competing today and securing flexibility for the future.
On one hand, the Bulls are Eastern Conference contenders, two seasons removed from leading the NBA in wins in back-to-back seasons with one of the league’s top-five players and a consistent veteran core.
Buoyed by the return of Derrick Rose to a unit that won 45 games and a first-round series last season, it’s quite easy to envision the Bulls outworking and out-hustling their way near the top of the Eastern Conference in another season of Tom Thibodeau “Do your job” basketball.
On the other, more sobering hand, for all the success the Bulls have enjoyed over the past three seasons, and for how far they’ve shown a team can get with a steady stream of excellent coaching, defense, and effort, it’s hard to see how the Bulls can win a championship without a second player who can create his own shot and take pressure off Rose.
Add to that an aging Carlos Boozer, a bench that will need to be revamped for the third consecutive season and an All-Star center with a recurring case of plantar fasciitis, and reality slowly begins to sink in.
Oh yeah, and this guy is going to be a slight problem as well.
These two conflicting agendas manifest themselves no more clearly than during free agency, where the rich get richer and Joe Dumars persistently hammers away at any remaining thought of him being basketball intelligent—as noted in this article by Matt Moore of CBS Sports.
According to Marc Stein of ESPN.com, the Bulls and veteran three-point specialist Mike Dunleavy agreed Monday to a two-year, $6 million deal.
While the signing won’t win the Bulls any of those useless offseason “Report Card” power rankings, Dunleavy is a career 37 percent shooter coming off a career-best 42 percent from downtown a season ago.
While some will suggest his reputation as a below-average defender won’t mesh with Thibodeau’s defense-first approach, previous “below-average” defenders have thrived in Thibodeau’s system, proving the scheme trumps the individual.
But above all the superlatives and too-easy-to-make Kyle Korver comparisons, what Bulls brass will enjoy most about this deal is the cap hit to production value. For a team still trying to compete for a championship—or at least give the impression of doing so—Dunleavy provides a cap-friendly salary for a team desperate for shooting on the cheap.
Scream all you want for the Bulls to dig deeper into the luxury cap for bigger names and bigger scorers, it’s simply not happening—at least right now.
With the eventual Dunleavy signing, the Bulls' 2013-14 roster will essentially be set. Likely veteran-minimum deals, like the one most expect Nazr Mohammad to sign (subscription required), will make up the few remaining spots on a team that is expected to win—just not a championship.
When a team operates on two fronts, one aimed to win today and the other with personal restraint due to the realization of shortcomings, honest self-evaluation by the general manger is necessary. Too often—we’re looking at you Brooklyn Nets—teams can be chided, bargained and deceived into believing they are better than they are.
“But we were the No. 1 seed two seasons in a row.”
“Miami is falling apart.”
“We just need Monta Ellis!”
These are the thoughts that many Bulls fans have circulated over the past few weeks, and they may have entered the collective mind of the Bulls brain trust, Gar Foreman and John Paxson.
But unsurprisingly and probably for the better, the Bulls have decided that Mike Dunleavy and, more importantly, patience are the answer—for now.