Luol Deng's future in Chicago plays a big role in what the team can do as they try to move forward.
It’s the sixth year of the Derrick Rose era and the fourth of the Tom Thibodeau era. Still, the Chicago Bulls have yet to advance any further than the Eastern Conference Finals, a spot they’ve reached only once.
Injuries have plagued the Bulls' titles hopes, but even when they were healthy, the offense struggled mightily to score.
Chicago needs to make some moves to improve their roster. Whether it’s during the season or over the summer, it’s clear that the Bulls need change.
However, they aren’t going to tank to get a high lottery pick. Thibodeau won’t allow it. The front office is against it, and the team is still too talented to lose 50-plus games.
The Bulls will likely play the season out, and in the subpar Eastern Conference, they could even get home-court advantage for the first round. The outcome will most likely be similar to last year’s. They’ll advance to the second round and lose to either the Indiana Pacers or the Miami Heat (again).
It’s not the ideal situation, but with Rose’s injury, the Bulls have little choice but to make the 2013-14 season another transitional year.
Once the season ends, Chicago can start making decisions on roster changes and shape the direction the franchise will take over the next four or five years.
What options do the Bulls have and how can they execute them?
Keep the Current Core and Build Around It
This 2013-14 season could be Luol Deng’s final year in Chicago, but it doesn’t have to be.
Chicago can give Deng a similar contract to what Andre Iguodala received from the Golden State Warriors—four years for $48 million according to spotrac.com. There is a small possibility that Deng gives them somewhat of a hometown discount, though, giving the Bulls a bit more room.
The Bulls will likely use their amnesty provision on Carlos Boozer after the end of the year, freeing them of his enormous $16.8 million salary next season.
Taking his contract off the books would put Chicago under the projected cap for 2014-15 and give it enough room for multiple signings.
One of those signings has to be its 2011 first-round pick Nikola Mirotic, who is arguably the best international player at the moment. The end of the season will mark a three-year period since he was drafted, meaning he's no longer restricted to a rookie-scale contract.
At 6’10”, 235 pounds, Mirotic would be a welcome addition to a Bulls team that is struggling to score the ball even when Rose is active.
Mirotic has a great all-around game. He can post up, shoot the three and even take some defenders off the dribble. He is currently averaging 15 points and five rebounds in the Euroleague while shooting a ridiculous 70 percent from deep.
As a stretch 4, he would finally give Chicago the right spacing on the floor to allow for the guards to get inside as well as a great choice around the perimeter if they kick it out.
The Bulls don’t have to go to extremes to improve their roster. Blowing up the core or tanking isn’t necessary when they have a potential All-Star waiting in the wings.
However, a fresh start is always an option.
If the Bulls plan to start the 2014-15 season with a brand new look, trading Deng is a must.
Chicago has to open up cap space in order to start anew, and Deng and Boozer are two of the bigger contracts on the payroll.
The Boozer amnesty is almost a sure thing in any scenario. Clearing Deng’s expected extension of $12 to $14 million per year while getting young talent and picks in return is essential in ushering in a new era.
The new acquisitions will give the Bulls additional scoring options and enough cap space to sign their draft picks and Mirotic, who will probably cost the Bulls the mid-level exception. With Rose and Mirotic as a pick-and-roll duo, the Bulls could finally have the second option they've been searching for.
With the remaining cap space, Chicago can fill out the second unit with extra shooters or some reliable backup big men.
Even if the Bulls go through with one of these options, they still have to make sure of one thing.
Stop Building Exclusively Around Derrick Rose
This is more a byproduct of executing one of the methods. If done correctly, the Bulls should have wing players and bigs that can score without needing Rose to set them up during every possession.
There’s no denying that Rose is a great player and one who could lead a team all the way into June. The problem has been that over the past few years, he’s been the primary—and only—scoring option.
Mirotic gives them a legitimate scoring option at the 4, but the Bulls need another player in the backcourt that can create.
How should Chicago move forward?
Whether it’s Jimmy Butler or a player acquired via a Luol Deng trade, the Bulls need another starter that can create off the dribble. This takes some pressure off of Rose and keeps defenses from double-teaming him every time.
No matter what the Bulls decide to do, it’s pretty clear that some change is needed.
Bulls general manager Gar Forman made an appearance on Waddle & Silvy and stated that the front office has “planned out some moves that [they] think [they] need to make and want to make moving forward.” Bulls fans just have to hope they are moves that will get them out of this stagnant period.
Forman also spoke on Deng’s future with the team, saying Deng was crucial to their recent successes and will likely continue to be. Keeping the versatile forward will limit the Bulls’ ability to make big-time moves, but it’s still a viable option that can yield a positive overall result for the Bulls’ offense.
The 2013-14 season will be a long season for Chicago and its fans, but the Bulls should be back in the title conversation by next year.