Grading the Chicago Bulls Offseason Moves Thus Far
The Chicago Bulls have been busy so far this offseason, making a number of moves. We have grades for all of them.
They have already restacked a good portion of their bench in preparation for the 2013-14 NBA season. Other critical moves with potentially lasting ramifications have been made as well.
Coming into the offseason, they had four primary goals: get shooting, get deeper at the wing, get deeper at the power forward/center position and find a replacement “sixth-man” type who can create scoring off the bench.
There were four avenues they had at their disposal to do improvements: front-office moves, Kyle Korver’s trade exception, the draft and free agency. They are listed here by how they graded.
The Kyle Korver Trade Exception: Incomplete
Last year, the Bulls traded Kyle Korver to the Atlanta Hawks for a trade exception.
They also used the full mid-level exception to sign Kirk Hinrich (whom they could have taken back instead of a trade exception with slightly better planning). In doing so, they ensured they were hard-capped to $74 million until Jun 30, 2013.
The trade exception for Korver expires one year from the day the trade is executed, which was July 16, 2012. This means that the Bulls have about a two-week window to use that trade exception, but they haven’t used it yet, and most don’t expect them too.
Then again, it was a bit of a surprise that they used their taxpayer mid-level exception.
If the Bulls do use it, it means they can absorb any traded player’s salary of up to $5.1 million and not a penny more.
So, for example, there have been rumors, as reported by Adrian Wojnarowski of Yahoo! Sports, that Robin Lopez may be available. Bulls fans should not get their hopes up. Lopez’ salary is $5,100,019. That $19.00 (as little of a pittance as it is) is enough to prevent the deal from happening.
But it does raise an interesting scenario. If a team starts looking to dump a salary to make room for a free agent after getting in a bidding war, the Bulls could jump on it. Or, if a team is “Wiggin for (Andrew) Wiggins,” i.e. tank, and looking to dump a solid center, one might be had for the exception.
For now, we’re giving this an "incomplete." But since all they got for Korver was this exception and a bunch of headaches, if they don’t use it, it’s an "F."
Front Office Moves: D-
The Chicago Bulls general manager fired assistant coach Ron Adams. Probably, there has never been more ado over removing an assistant coach.
While it might seem this is about what happened, in reality, a lot of fuss has been made about what actually didn’t happen. Tom Thibodeau wasn’t sitting next to Gar Forman when Forman said that there wasn’t a rift, so to some, that proves there was a problem. Articles such as in the piece by Mark Potash of the Chicago Sun-Times argue by suggestion.
Another opinion of the writer is added in the statement, "But it was clear that Thibodeau did not agree with the decision — and more importantly, in the big picture, that Thibodeau does not have final say on his assistant coaches.
The article concludes with an ominous suggestion that there’s a 50 percent chance that they’ll end in “divorce.”
The problem here is that there’s a lot of supposition where substance should be. Where’s the beef? Where is the statement from Thibodeau saying he’s unhappy? How do we know he doesn't have say in assistant coaches? Is there any room between "no say" and "not having final say?" Innuendo is a lazy-man's journalism.
It draws to mind the old Bloom County cartoons where Milo Bloom would interview someone and then get them to deny some ludicrous charge. Then he’d write, “Tom Thibodeau denied that he had no say in personnel decisions.”
Sometimes, saying someone denies something is a way of just suggestion that there’s something to hide. At times, something happens that no one admits to, but sometimes, things are denied because they just aren’t true.
What’s interesting is when you look at an article written by Doug Padilla of ESPN Chicago, just about what was said. With no "interpretation” involved, the controversy doesn’t sound nearly so intense or hostile. It’s not the events that are ominous; it’s the dark, shadowy music playing in the background.
Is it possible, or even probable, that there is some sort of tension between Forman and Thibodeau regarding players? Probably. Forman is the type of GM who doesn’t want his players' minutes overstretched.
On the other hand, Thibodeau does tend to overplay certain players. And at least Joakim Noah’s plantar fasciitis can probably be traced back to his playing time, which actually doesn’t even tell the story of how much playing Noah does. According to this, he ran 2.7 miles per game, the most of any player in the NBA last season. That’s a lot of miles.
To be fair to Thibodeau, though, some of the players he's had have no business setting shoes on an NBA court.
What’s a bit ironic here is that a lot fans who have criticized Thibodeau in the past are taking his side in this controversy.
If what comes out of this is that the front office allows Thibodeau more input into the personnel decisions, but only if he promises to use the players they give him, then the Bulls as a whole win. If this offseason has been any indication, then that’s the case.
As to Adams' firing—without some kind of actual evidence, I have trouble believing that someone would fire an “innocent” person, impacting their life and family, just to get under the skin of another subordinate.
I expect there is something else to that particular decision. I need something besides guesswork before I assume someone is a petty, vindictive fire-breathing devil dragon who roasts workers while gleefully laughing and offering the deceased's best friend a morsel.
Call me naïve.
The Draft: C+
As far as the actual picks go, the Bulls did well, albeit in a different manner than what was expected.
When they drafted Tony Snell, it was greeted with neither cheers nor boos. The reaction was more “who is that?”
Snell was completely off the radar for most mock drafts. In fact, I didn’t see one that had him going to Chicago at all. Chicago was surprised.
However, once Bulls fans started to do a little reading on Snell and watching a bit of YouTube highlights, they were warming up. He’s long; at 6’7”, he has a 6’11” wingspan. If you look at “best case” in the CBS Sports draft report, it says, “Luol Deng.”
If Snell is a defender in the Deng/Butler defense mode, he won’t take long to become popular in Chicago. Fans are getting comfortable with the pick, even if they didn’t know who he was at first.
Their other pick was Erik Murphy, who has been compared to Matt Bonner. He is a true stretch 4 who has the size to be a center. He also led the SEC in three-point shooting.
The Bulls hit all four of their targets on draft day, adding shooting, defense, a big and a wing. That’s a success.
There are two reasons they only get a "C+" instead of an "A." First, any time a team takes a player “early,” regardless of how good a pick it is, they should trade down. If they can still get them later, why not trade down and get him plus whatever they would have gotten to trade down?
Second, if Mike Dunleavy Jr. was their top free-agent trade target, then it seems that it would have made more sense to take a center in the first round.
Still, all things considered, you can’t complain too much. They made the team better on draft night, and that’s what you hope for.
Free-Agent Signings: Mike Dunleavy Jr., A
- As established above, Chicago wasn’t getting a better player for the amount of money.
- Because he plays defense, Luol Deng and Jimmy Butler will get rest now and then.
- That he was signed using the taxpayer mid-level exception suggests that Jerry Reinsdorf, he of miserly fame, has loosened the purse strings even more.
- That Dunleavy took less to play for Bulls marks a possible change in the way veterans view the Bulls—as honest contenders for the title. That bodes well for the potential cap space to spend in the summer of 2014.
The Chicago Bulls were one of the first teams to announce an agreement, and it is doubtful that many teams will announce better moves, dollar for dollar. Mike Dunleavy Jr. is a veteran all-around player who contributes a little bit in a lot of ways.
To put things in perspective, compare him to former Bull Kyle Korver and another player who was nearly a Bull, J.J. Redick.
Mike Dunleavy Jr.
And here are some more advanced stats. The Player Efficiency Rating (PER) and opponent’s PER come from 82.games.com. Click on the players name for the appropriate link.
The going rate for the caliber of Dunleavy’s caliber of play is $7 million a year. Maybe Dunleavy wouldn’t’ have gotten that much, but he could have gotten, “upwards of the full mid-level exception” per Aggery Sam of CSN Chicago.
This signing is a win for four reasons.
In addition to Dunleavy, the Bulls have agreed to bring back Nazr Mohammed for the veteran’s minimum. Mohammed played more minutes as he adjusted to Tom Thibdeau’s system last year. And as Thibodeau gained confidence in Mohammed, he gained more playing time, going from six minutes before the All-Star break to 16 minutes after it.
The fair question here is whether he was he playing more because Noah was playing less or if Noah was playing less because Mohammed was playing more. The answer may not matter if Thibodeau now believes Mohammed can play.
To be fair, historically, it has been the case that players do get more time as they get more experience under Thibodeau’s system.
There are two minimum contracts left at the Bulls' disposal to flesh out the roster, which they will probably sit on until the dust settles and take what’s left.
Getting Dunleavy is better than what most expected from them, so they get an “A” for free-agent management.