The Chicago Bulls made a difficult choice this summer, adding Mike Dunleavy over last year’s heroes, Nate Robinson and Marco Belinelli. In spite of Derrick Rose’s injury and the woes which have ensued accordingly, the front office made the right choice.
Understandably, some, upon reading this proclamation, will sputter, “How can you say that?! They’re horrible!”
But that’s precisely the point. They are horrible.
It’s Better to Be Really Bad than Kind of Good
Signing Mike Dunleavy, for better or worse, was the right decision. If the Chicago Bulls and Derrick Rose stayed healthy, he was the right choice. Now that Rose is gone, that hasn’t changed.
The most important thing about Dunleavy’s signing was that he was a wing who could log minutes, and he has done that, averaging 25.2 per game. As a result, Luol Deng’s minutes are down, even in spite of Jimmy Butler’s injury. Last year he averaged 38.7 minutes; this year that’s down to 36.8.
That safeguard would have been sufficient to keep Deng and Butler from being overburdened had Rose stayed healthy and the team had been able to make a deep postseason run.
But, the “better” scenario didn’t work out, and now Rose is gone for the year, and the Bulls offense has no one who can create points off the dribble. Because of that, they’re losing by 39 to the Los Angeles Clippers and losing games to the Utah Jazz, the worst team in the NBA.
So, it’s understandable that someone would argue, “Wouldn’t it be better if we had Nate Robinson this year?” My answer to them is simple, “Yes, and that’s the problem. They would be better, but not good enough.”
There are different levels of stink. There’s, “the-dog-passed-gas-in-the-living-room-and-boy-was-it-bad” stink, and there’s “a-raccoon-died-in-the-men’s-room-in-Louisiana-in-the-middle-of-the-summer-and-was-sitting-there-for-three-days” stink.
The first kind of stink you can open up a window, air out the room and get rid of. The second kind permeates everything and forces a remodel. Last year’s Bulls offense was the first kind of stink. This year’s offense is the second kind.
There’s no way out of it. This is a truly bad offense, and it’s not getting any better. There’s debate over whether the Bulls should tank. They don’t have to tank. They just have to play; the losing will take care of itself.
But, that actually is the best thing about their current situation. No more watching a defense grind it out, then seeing Robinson come in and save the day, or Marco Belinelli hit a game-winning shot.
With Rose, they were honest contenders. Without him now, they’re not even pretenders. And, in one of the best and deepest drafts in the last decade, that’s not a bad thing, particularly since the Bulls could have two picks coming out of it.
One thing that not even the most visceral troll will deny, the Bulls look like they’re getting a much better draft pick this year.
Even if they don’t need to win the lottery or even have a ball drawn to ensure grabbing one of the franchise players available, they can still revamp their roster around their picks.
This draft is deep. With potentially two lottery picks, the Bulls could add two players such as Gary Harris, Rodney Hood (who can shoot like his distant ancestor, Robin), James Young, Wayne Selden or Glen Robinson III. (All the names link to their Draft Express profiles.)
Not only that, they have Nikola Mirotic—their draft-and-stash player from 2011—ready to finally come over.
The Bulls could add three new starters, all on rookie contracts (or in Mirotic’s case, about a $5 million contract). That means they’d be adding a lot of talent for very little money. Or, if they prefer to do it and can, they might try and bundle those assets together and trade up to get Jabari Parker (join me in my erstwhile effort to get #puckerforparker trending on Twitter—it’s the right thing to do).
Or, who knows, maybe the Fates determine that Bulls fans have suffered enough the last three years, so give us a break and we get a ball chosen.
Either way, this promises to be a much more relevant draft to the Bulls than they’ve had since Rose was selected.
The Expendability of Luol Deng
The other reason the Dunleavy signing makes sense is that now Deng, who is in the last year of his contract, becomes more expendable.
Trading him might not be as easy as some would hope, but it’s possible and becomes more possible as we creep closer to the trade deadline. Then, teams will know where they sit, and the Bulls can do one of two things: either trade for expiring contracts and picks, or trade for a young player to be part of the Bulls' future.
Either way, it works towards what should be the goal of the Bulls now—rebuilding for the future.
Going into this season, the Bulls were all-in, win or lose. The writing was on the wall. It was the current core’s last shot at a title run, and they were going to be broken up regardless of how the season turned out.
That became clearer when the front office didn’t reach a deal with Deng.
Because of the Dunleavy signing, the Bulls have the freedom to move Deng, start Dunleavy and give rookie Tony Snell more playing time (or perhaps, as was the case in the game against the Utah Jazz, start Snell).
They can also give Marquis Teague more run and accordingly more time to develop. The way he’s played, the more time he gets, the more the losses will pile up. He has the potential to be as good as his big brother, Jeff, but he needs time on the court to get there.
Extended time for Snell and Teague this year could mean a better pick this summer. Because of the experience they gain, it could also mean more wins next year.
If the Bulls had re-signed Robinson, it would have limited their ability to trade Deng, because they wouldn’t have the depth at wing to let him go so easily. It would have also meant less time for Teague and Snell to develop.
The Bulls, going forward, can rebuild on the fly with a stable built around Rose, Butler, Joakim Noah, Mirotic, whomever they can get for Deng and this year’s draft pick(s).
Yes, they have a more pressing need at point guard, but they have a more long-term need at small forward or shooting guard, and with Rose’s injury truncating their season, they need to think long term, not short term.
The word, “tank” is an ugly one, and no one is going to come out and say it. Certainly you’re not going to get head coach Tom Thibodeau to think it, much less do it. The same goes for the highly competitive group of players on the Bulls.
However, it’s not tanking if you’re losing while trying.
Whether it’s by brilliant design or sheer incompetence, the front office managed to build a team predicated on the successful return of a single player who hadn’t played in a year. That return, though no fault of Rose’s, was unsuccessful and ended prematurely.
It’s sad but true. Having Dunleavy around improves the future of the Bulls much more than having Belinelli or Robinson would. Whether by intent or blunder, it turns out that the front office made the right decision.