Grading the Chicago Bulls' Offseason Moves So Far
After surprising many fans by winning a playoff series without superstar point guard Derrick Rose, Chicago has largely stood pat with its current roster, making a few cost-efficient moves that do not eat heavily into their salary cap.
With Rose, Luol Deng, Joakim Noah, Carlos Boozer and Jimmy Butler all staying in the Windy City, Chicago returns one of the league’s best cores under defensive-minded coach Tom Thibodeau. Though the Bulls have some legitimate areas of concern, they are a team that did not need to make any marquee acquisitions or shake things up with a blockbuster trade.
As rosters around the league continue to round out, we begin developing a clearer sense of what teams will look like in the 2013-14 season. Let's review moves the Bulls have made thus far.
Waived Richard Hamilton: B+
When Richard Hamilton came to Chicago, he was expected to be one of the team’s veteran leaders and finally provide them with a viable option at the 2-guard spot. Though he had some decent moments in a Bulls jersey, constant injuries forced him to miss 70 regular season games over the past two seasons.
Once Jimmy Butler emerged as a starting-caliber player for the Bulls, there was simply not much room in the rotation for Hamilton, who appeared in just four playoff games in 2012-13, averaging 6.5 points and shooting 37 percent from the field. He can still stroke it from mid-range but is not the elite scorer he was in his peak years with the Detroit Pistons.
According to CSN Chicago’s Aggrey Sam, the Bulls waived Hamilton, paying him $1 million in buyout money instead of his full $5 million salary for the 2013-14 campaign. Although the move did not do much to free up cap space, it helped them to sign Mike Dunleavy, a better three-point shooter than Hamilton. It also signals that Butler will be receiving the vast majority of minutes at shooting guard, following a sensational postseason performance.
A healthy Rip Hamilton could have been a valuable contributor in Chicago’s quest to win a championship, but his inability to stay on the court ultimately made him more of a liability than an asset and made waiving the three-time All-Star the most logical move for the organization.
Re-Signed Nazr Mohammed: B+
Joakim Noah logged 36.8 minutes per game during the 2012-13 season, and by the time the playoffs rolled around, the effects of plantar fasciitis clearly hampered the All-Star center. His scoring, assists, rebounds and field-goal percentage all dropped in the postseason, and he was not the same elite defensive presence in the middle.
With Chicago looking to make another run at a title with a healthy Rose, they needed a quality backup center to keep Noah fresh. They got that by re-signing veteran Nazr Mohammed to a one-year, veteran's minimum contract, a deal which he confirmed via Twitter.
In 2012-13, his first season with the Bulls, Mohammed averaged 2.6 points and 3.1 rebounds in 11 minutes per game, but shot just 36.7 percent from the field. In the postseason, his numbers improved to 3.8 points and 2.7 boards per game on 51.2 percent shooting overall.
Though Mohammed is not much of an offensive player, he proved towards the end of the regular season and in the playoffs that he can still finish in the paint, rebound effectively and make his presence felt on the defensive end.
There were not a lot of quality reserve big men available in free agency, and Chicago did a solid job to keep a player already familiar with their system, one who has proven he can still contribute at a decent level off the bench.
Even if Mohammed is a non-factor in his 16th NBA season, Bulls fans will always fondly look back on his massive shove of LeBron James in the 2013 playoffs after James fouled him on a fast break.
Signed Mike Dunleavy: A-
Floor spacing has been a problem for Chicago in the past, so the Bulls were proactive in free agency by signing a proven sharpshooter like Dunleavy. Chicago added a player who can thrive in catch-and-shoot situations and provide them with some more size on the wing.
The 6’9” Dunleavy is capable of playing shooting guard or small forward as needed. He averaged 10.5 points, 3.9 rebounds and 1.9 assists in his second season with the Milwaukee Bucks, while shooting a career-high 42.8 percent from beyond the arc.
Last season from three-point range, Dunleavy shot 44.9 percent in spot-up situations, 44.6 percent coming off of screens and 47.8 percent pulling up in transition, per Synergy Sports (membership required). Those three shots should comprise the majority of his offense with Chicago, as he will not be doing much venturing inside of the arc.
Dunleavy is by no means a good defender or a player who can run an offense for stretches, but he should complement slashers like Rose, Deng and Butler, as he's proven to be a willing passer if defenses are sticking tight.
His two-year, $6 million contract is also a plus, as the deal is perfectly reasonable for a 32-year-old specialist who is going to be coming off the pine. In an offseason where shooters like Kyle Korver and J.J. Redick received extremely lucrative deals, Chicago played it smart and did not overpay or commit to Dunleavy for too long.
With Dunleavy playing alongside Kirk Hinrich, Taj Gibson and Mohammed, Chicago’s “bench mob” should once again be a major factor in its success.
Drafted Tony Snell 20th Overall: C
Like many teams in the league, Chicago clearly prioritized shooting this offseason by drafting sniper Tony Snell out of New Mexico. Snell averaged 12.5 points, 2.6 rebounds and 2.9 assists as a senior and shot 39 percent from three-point range.
Snell is a very good outside shooter and a decent defender, but his scoring was inconsistent in college, and he is neither an elite ball-handler nor a strong finisher at the rim. At 6’7” he has good size for the perimeter, but needs to add more muscle to his frame if he wants to see any minutes at small forward.
The problem with drafting Snell though, is that there were safer “three-and-D” guys still on the board like Reggie Bullock, Allen Crabbe or even Solomon Hill.
Additionally, the signing of Dunleavy and the presence of Deng and Butler means that there will not be many minutes available for Snell for at least the next two seasons.
In his first Las Vegas Summer League action, Snell struggled, like many shooters do as rookies, to adjust to the spacing in the NBA. He notched three steals, but scored only seven points on 3-of-9 shooting.
Snell could prove to be a smart pick down the road, but his upside is fairly limited; unless the team deals Deng, he is not going to get much of an opportunity in the foreseeable future.
Drafted Erik Murphy 49th Overall: B-
In the second round of the NBA draft, teams are looking for players with a shot at making a roster. They are not expecting such players to make much of an impact. Florida’s Erik Murphy, who had a strong final season as a Gator, is the kind of player who has a legitimate chance to make Chicago’s roster.
After struggling to find a role early in his career, Murphy averaged 12.2 points, 5.5 rebounds and 1.4 assists while shooting 51.6 percent from the field and 45.3 percent from beyond the arc. He proved to be a devastating pick-and-pop big man and a capable post-up threat in Billy Donovan’s offense.
Murphy is not a rim protector by any stretch of the imagination, but for a fairly unathletic stretch-4, he is a decent defender who rotates well and uses his length to make up for his lack of explosiveness.
Though he did not have a great first Summer League game—scoring six points in 19 minutes, missing all six of his three-point attempts and committing an incredible 10 fouls—Murphy can expect a little bit patience from the coaching staff since expectations for him are not particularly high.
Murphy is the kind of low-risk proposition that is not going to move the needle much in the 2013-14 season, but could potentially provide the Bulls with inexpensive frontcourt floor spacing if his shot translates to the NBA.
Did Not Renew Lead Assistant Ron Adams' Contract: F
In an offseason filled with low-key moves, Chicago did make some waves by not renewing the contract of lead assistant Ron Adams, according to the Chicago Tribune’s K.C. Johnson.
Adams, who Steve Bulpett of the Boston Herald reported has since signed with the Boston Celtics, has been praised for his ability to develop young talent, a skill that was evident with the growth of players like Butler and Noah throughout their careers with the Bulls. He had previously spent five seasons with Chicago from 2003 to 2008 and returned to the organization in 2010 after a stint with the Oklahoma City Thunder.
Though Chicago is not one of the league’s youngest teams, they have players like Snell, Murphy and Marquis Teague—all of whom need to improve before they are ready to contribute consistent minutes to a title contender.
Losing an assistant heralded for his player development ability will certainly hurt the futures of the youngest Bulls.
To make matters worse, as Johnson noted, the move was viewed by people with ties to the franchise as a “power play on Thibodeau” by general manager Gar Forman. Though Forman has attempted to dispel the idea of issues between him and Thibodeau, this decision will likely do nothing to improve their relationship going forward.
Not only will losing one of the league’s most well-respected assistants hurt the club in the short term, but an unstable relationship between a coach and GM is not something a team looking to win a championship wants to deal with.
The rest of Chicago’s offseason decisions so far are all justifiable, but letting Ron Adams walk away is a move that could haunt the Bulls franchise for years to come.
With the exception of letting Adams walk, Chicago has had a fairly mundane offseason. They have preserved cap flexibility and made small moves that largely made sense for the direction of the team. However, they have not exactly done anything to make them seem like Eastern Conference favorites ahead of the Miami Heat or even the Indiana Pacers.
Obviously the return of Rose looms over every decision Chicago makes. If he can come back and play as well as he did during his MVP season, then the team will be a surefire contender, even with their quiet offseason. If he struggles, though, this team will likely be a good playoff team once again, but not one capable of winning multiple series.
Chicago may still have a move or two left before training camp starts. However, barring an unexpected trade for LaMarcus Aldridge or another star forward, the Bulls as currently constructed are a very good team, but one that will need a tremendous comeback season from Rose to dethrone Miami.
The Bulls did not make big moves because big moves were not needed, but the decision on Adams ultimately earns them a grade that roughly translates to "satisfactory."
Statistics courtesy of ESPN, Synergy Sports and Hoops Hype.
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