The Chicago Bulls’ continuing struggle to establish a Derrick Rose-less identity may force general manager Gar Forman and vice president of basketball operations John Paxson to look to the trade market for solutions.
It’s an avenue the front office has avoided during head coach Tom Thibodeau’s tenure, but unless things turn around soon, changes may be imminent.
If this becomes the case, no one on the roster should be off limits in a trade situation.
This is not advocating a purge-and-start-over approach; just an open-minded stratagem that weighs the pros and cons of any potential deal no matter who the player is.
There are already impending issues that could drastically alter the team’s makeup anyway.
The summer of 2014 will bring to the forefront Luol Deng’s expiring contract and the team’s last chance to amnesty Carlos Boozer.
Those players’ departures would be enough to drastically alter the team’s presentation, and the strong likelihood of it occurring coupled with the team’s uninspiring play should be a catalyst for management to seriously consider doing what they haven’t done since 2010, and make some trades.
Reading Between the Lines
Soon after Derrick Rose’s meniscus injury, Sam Smith of Bulls.com interviewed Forman about the state of the team and plans going forward without the former MVP.
Forman gave some pretty standard reasons why there was no need to panic about losing their superstar again, but in response to one question asked by Smith there was more left unsaid in the general manager’s answer:
Question: OK, now you know Derrick is gone for this season. Why not trade some of your players for future possibilities, young players or draft picks and begin rebuilding?
Forman: It’s still too early in the process and we’re not going to make any rash decisions. We feel there is a bright future ahead and we believe we are positioned well. Look, we fully expect Derrick to come back 100 percent for next season. This basically was a freak injury. This was not due to the ACL or some fatigue of other factor. We have a young nucleus of veterans basically in their 20’s; we have multiple draft picks, including a pick from Charlotte in one of the next three drafts; we have the rights to Nikola Mirotic, who has been the best young payer in Europe the last two years. I know people get tired of hearing it sometimes, but we also have the possibility of flexibility in free agency this summer or next. So we feel we are in a good position, and we will be getting Derrick back.
What may have seemed like the typically optimistic reply about the team’s outlook probably revealed more than was intended.
Forman mentioned cap flexibility for the summer of 2014 and possibly 2015, the times where Deng and Boozer’s contracts subsequently expire.
It can be deduced that the rearranging will start in the frontcourt.
If Deng is allowed to walk this summer, the money freed would more than likely be used to help negotiate a buyout with Real Madrid for Nikola Mirotic.
Should Boozer not be amnestied and survive the entire 2014-15 season with the Bulls, the financial wiggle room gained with his contract’s expiration could be used to lure one of the many serviceable shooting guards who would be free agents by then.
The hypothetical emphasized on the summer after next also leaves the door open to Forman both not re-signing Deng and ridding the team of Boozer’s $16.8 million hit on the 2014-15 payroll.
Chicago would have quite a bit of buying power to fill numerous needs.
What About the Rest?
It’s hard to handicap the probability of any other Bulls player being moved this season, but that does not mean that the possibility should be ignored.
Joakim Noah, Jimmy Butler and Taj Gibson are the most intriguing prospects.
Noah is having a rough statistical start to the season, and while it may be easy to question his long-term viability vis-a-vis his production, his on- and off-court leadership probably makes him the most indispensable player outside of Rose.
Early season injuries have hindered Butler’s progress, but he still continues to show growth with each game played.
Gibson has probably made the biggest talent leap of anyone on the team.
His post-up game has grown tremendously, and he is still a fierce defender and rebounder.
Now, these attributes don’t make these players completely untouchable, but they do make the price tags for their releases pretty high.
Chicago could use either of these players in combination with any of the team’s other assets to land another impact player to pair with Rose.
Anyone else on the roster would only serve the purpose of cap filler and are therefore completely expendable.
They would be used to make sure the salaries involved in any transaction met the league’s standard.
The bottom line is even though this team has to brave another campaign without their star, there are options to ensure a winning team can be assembled next year.
Rose’s extended hiatus, along with the haze surrounding Deng's and Boozer’s futures, could combine and form the perfect storm that forces the front office to take some pretty drastic measures.
All that’s left is to wait and see if routine wins out or if circumstances finally dictate action.