Blueprint for Chicago Bulls to Revamp Roster During 2014 Offseason
It's only a single joint, but one knee can change the entire trajectory of a franchise's long-term path.
When Derrick Rose went down with a torn meniscus, an injury that will knock him out for the remainder of the 2013-14 campaign, the Chicago Bulls' future plans were thrown into uncertainty. No longer are they guaranteed to have a superstar point guard at the center of everything.
And as K.C. Johnson of the Chicago Tribune suggests on Twitter, "Rose will return next season to a different Bulls team."
While it's still possible for Chicago to keep all the prominent pieces together in the hopes of rekindling their championship hopes in 2014-15, it's more likely that the team recognizes the closing nature of the title window.
Once that happens, it's all about figuring out how to revamp the roster in the best way possible.
Well, this would be the best way.
Let Luol Deng Walk (If You Can't Trade Him)
It feels like a foregone conclusion that Luol Deng and the Chicago Bulls will be parting ways by the time a disappointing 2013-14 campaign comes to a conclusion. And yes, a season can be labeled "disappointing" this early after the Bulls lost to the Utah Jazz and watched the star point guard go down...again.
But there's still a little bit of uncertainty surrounding No. 9, and it all deals with the method in which the two sides move on.
Ideally, the Bulls can flip his expiring contract to a contending team that could use the services of a standout small forward. In return, young talent, expiring contracts and draft picks would need to come back to the Windy City.
While Deng is a solid two-way player on the wing, he's not a part of Chicago's future. He represents the old regime, and it's time for both sides to move on. He's averaging 16.8 points, 7.5 rebounds and 3.3 assists per game thus far in 2013-14, but those numbers aren't good enough for him to function as a true No. 1 option.
Now according to USA Today's Sam Amick, the Bulls aren't looking to move Deng and are actually discussing a potential deal that would keep him in Chicago. But there's a difference between saying and doing, and there's also a difference between what happens now in the immediate wake of the Rose injury and what will happen when the Bulls start slipping down the standings.
If the Bulls want to revamp the roster (and that's the "if" that is necessary for you to accept throughout the article), it all starts with Deng.
Amnesty Carlos Boozer
Carlos Boozer is absolutely fantastic at putting up empty stats.
Yes, it seems impressive that he's able to score nearly 20 points per game while functioning as a nice double-double threat, but the numbers lose their luster when you realize it's only because A) opportunity allows Boozer touches and B) he steadfastly refuses to play anything even resembling defense.
During the 2013-14 season, Boozer is averaging 16.8 points and 9.2 rebounds per game while shooting well over 50 percent from the field. Again, great on the surface.
But the value is almost completely mitigated by the lackluster nature of his defense.
According to NBA.com, the Bulls are being outscored by 3.3 points per 100 possessions when he sits and doing the outscoring by a single point when he plays. That's a huge step in the positive direction from last season, when the team was worse on both ends of the court with Boozer.
But the power forward is also prohibitively expensive.
He's due to make $16.8 million next season, which is so much more than he's worth. With that contract on the books, Chicago has no shot at signing any decent free agents and will have far more difficulty completing the next step of the blueprint.
That's why amnestying him and removing those millions of dollars from the salary-cap equation is vital. Yes, he still has some value, but he's more valuable when taken off the books.
Bring Nikola Mirotic Aboard
Get used to seeing this face. It could become the face of Chicago Bulls basketball for the next decade or so.
Nikola Mirotic was drafted at No. 23 in the 2011 NBA draft by the team, but he has yet to come overseas and start playing in the Association. In order to change that, the Bulls have to buy out his rights from Real Madrid (likely for around $3 million) and then pay him enough money that he wants to come (think about the mid-level exception of about $5 million).
It's a hefty chunk of change for a guy with no NBA experience, but he's worth it.
A smart and skilled 6'10" power forward, Mirotic is a competent defender and an offensive genius. His jumper, spin moves and advanced levels passing the ball all make him look like a future star, and Chicago desperately needs another player capable of creating offense.
During EuroLeague competition—the No. 2 basketball league in the world—Mirotic is putting up mind-boggling numbers through six games. He's dominated the field for 20.2 points, 5.5 rebounds, 0.8 assists, 1.2 steals and 0.3 blocks per game, shooting 73.1 percent from the field, 89.5 percent at the charity stripe and a scorching 66.7 percent beyond the arc.
And it's not like he's just 2-of-3 downtown. He's 10-of-15.
Forget about Kevin Durant joining the 50/40/90 club. Mirotic is currently gunning for 70/60/90.
Now obviously those numbers aren't sustainable, especially when he makes the leap to the NBA, but Mirotic is starting to look like the best non-NBA player in the world. He's a huge asset.
Add a Scoring Threat in the Draft
Part of the reason the Bulls will struggle without Rose in the lineup is the complete lack of players who can create their own shots.
And that's what Chicago must remedy in the 2014 NBA draft.
It's a stacked draft, one so full of potential superstars that even a non-lottery pick could be quite appealing. That's good news for the Bulls, who should be drafting right around No. 15.
With that selection, general manager Gar Forman must select a wing player or guy who can line up at small forward and create his own offense. Someone like Kentucky's James Young or Creighton's Doug McDermott, even if he's more of a combo forward than anything else.
The point, though, isn't whom the Bulls should draft; it's the type of player.
Picking someone like Willie Cauley-Stein or Adreian Payne wouldn't make sense. That's not the primary need, after all. So for the purposes of this blueprint, we're rolling with Young, but you can feel free to insert the prospect of your choosing in his place.
Additionally, the news could get better for Chicago.
The Charlotte Bobcats owe the Bulls a pick in the 2014 draft, but it's top-10 protected. If the 'Cats continue to exceed expectations and start looking like a fringe playoff competitor in the weaker Eastern Conference, the Bulls will be getting another pick in the talent-laden selection process.
Anyone want to bet that the Bulls might struggle more than expected against Charlotte during the four times they meet this season?
Analyze Current Roster
- Not much depth across the board. There isn't a backup center, and the other four positions feature extremely inexperienced second-string players.
- What's happening at small forward? Mike Dunleavy is a good role player, but he shouldn't be starting on a contending team, especially with another year under his belt.
- Who's creating offense other than Rose? James Young and Nikola Mirotic could, but let's not bet on two rookies to fill in a weakness.
Point Guard: Derrick Rose, Marquis Teague
Shooting Guard: Jimmy Butler, James Young (or other draft pick)
Small Forward: Mike Dunleavy, Tony Snell
Power Forward: Taj Gibson, Nikola Mirotic
Center: Joakim Noah
After all of the suggested moves, this is what we're left with.
It looks like a solid bunch of players, but there are definitely notable weaknesses. In fact, I can think of three right away, and that's assuming that Rose plays like a top-tier starting floor general:
On top of that, Spotrac.com shows that this group of players (before the salaries of Mirotic, likely around $5 million, and Young, likely around $1.6 million. are added into the equation) is being paid $46,991,637. With those two rookies, we can jump that up to nearly $53.5 million.
And only nine players are on the books.
Chicago still doesn't have enough money to go after any mid-level free agents, much less big ones, so more moves still have to be made.
Trade Taj Gibson to a Cap-Rich Team
Trading Taj Gibson is a bit unorthodox, especially because he's had such value for the team during his years in the Windy City.
The big man is a great energy/defense guy off the bench, and he'd likely provide even more once he finally got the chance to start over Carlos Boozer.
But is he worth it?
Gibson is set to make $8 million in 2014-15, and that salary jumps slightly higher in both 2015-16 and 2016-17. So the Bulls have to decide if it's worth paying a glorified role player that much money, especially on a team that isn't going to compete for a championship.
Trading him does more for the team.
Not only would the Bulls pick up more tangible assets—whether they come in the form of young, high-potential players or extra draft picks—but they'd also free up more cap space. That's why it's important to trade him to a cap-rich team, as the salaries wouldn't have to match.
All of a sudden, there's more money to work with, but that doesn't come into play in 2014. It's in 2015 that this matters, as even more cash comes off the books and Chicago can finally pursue some marquee players to pair with the established ones.
Going into 2015-16, the Bulls would then have only $38 million on the books, plus the contracts of any players added in 2014. That actually gives Forman the ability to go fishing in the free-agent pool, something he can't do heading into 2014-15.
Save Money, Use 2014-15 Season for Evaluation
With the suggested roster in place, the Bulls actually have a lot of young talent to evaluate.
There's Derrick Rose, who really will need to be evaluated after two season-ending knee injuries, Jimmy Butler, Nikola Mirotic, Tony Snell and the incoming rookies, potentially James Young and Co. in this scenario.
Let them play. Let them show Forman and Tom Thibodeau what they're working with.
Spending money on established talent in the hopes of making a fringe playoff team into a middle-of-the-pack postseason squad isn't worth it. That changes if the Bulls can steal a young restricted free agent like Gordon Hayward, but not otherwise.
Take advantage of the young talents and see what you're getting out of them.
It's particularly important to do this with Rose, as we don't have any clue what he'll look like. Take this quote from ESPN Chicago's Nick Friedell as support:
As it did during the 2012 season, Rose's injury completely changes the course of the future for the Bulls. The difference now is that, unlike before, nobody is sure of Rose's future status. Even as Rose made his way back to the floor over the course of the past year and a half, the organization maintained the belief that Rose would return to being the superstar he had always been, the prevailing thought being that even if the Bulls didn't win a title this year they could continue building around Rose as the centerpiece of a championship caliber team.
Now, like before, everything has changed.
It's vital to figure out what Rose is going to be like going forward. Then it's possible to strike in 2015.
With players like Paul Millsap, Jeff Green, Rajon Rondo, Monta Ellis, Roy Hibbert, David West, DeAndre Jordan, Marc Gasol, Kevin Love, Thaddeus Young, LaMarcus Aldridge, Wesley Matthews, Tony Parker and more all potentially hitting the market as unrestricted free agents, anything could happen.