Derrick Rose's second consecutive season-ending injury pretty much sealed the fate of this group—a tough unit filled with disciplined, likable veterans. With teams like the Miami Heat and Indiana Pacers pulling away and out of reach, the Bulls' current core just hasn't proven it's worth investing in.
To keep it intact, it's gonna cost, big-time. And based on recent history, "big-time" is out of Chicago's comfort zone.
The Bulls paid the luxury tax for the first time ever last year. Overspending hasn't been a bad habit. So you have to question whether Chicago will be willing to pay the repeater tax amount, which it would have to do to keep this core together. And thanks to the new collective bargaining agreement, that repeater tax amount would balloon to absurd, epic proportions.
Someone's getting the boot here.
The good news for the Bulls is that they've got a secret weapon waiting overseas—hopefully. Hoopshype first reported that Chicago was in negotiations to bring over its 2011 first-round pick Nikola Mirotic, who's been playing for Real Madrid.
Given Mirotic's performance overseas as of late, this is an extremely noteworthy development.
At 22 years old, he's been one of the most productive players in Euroleague and the Spanish ACB.
ESPN's Marc Stein reported that Mirotic "is regarded as a bigger part of the future by the Bulls' brain trust than either longtime Thibodeau favorite [Luol] Deng or [Carlos] Boozer."
Luol Deng is an impending free agent, and all signs lead to him in a new uniform in 2014. Whether that's this season or next is up to Chicago, who could use Deng as a trade chip at the deadline.
If not, the Bulls could always turn to their amnesty clause to avoid the repeater tax. They're paying Carlos Boozer over $31 million (via ShamSports) over the next two years—a whole lot of cheese for a guy unlikely to help the Bulls win now.
It looks like the Bulls are going to have to move in another direction, with Mirotic expected to play a big part in the movement.
Teams don't draft-and-stash in the first round unless they truly believe their investment will pay off down the road. And by next season, the Bulls will be at that point along the road where they need to see some returns.
"I have contact with them, my people too," Mirotic told ElMundo.es (and here from Hoopshype), referring to the Bulls. "They watch my games a lot, they call me, they look after me. It's good, but I try to do my job here [with Real Madrid]."
I don't think Real Madrid can complain about Mirotic losing focus. The dude has the highest PIR (Performance Index Rating) of any player in both Euroleague and the Spanish ACB.
His versatility is really what drives his appeal. At 6'10'', he's lights out from distance, lethal in the mid-range and crafty in the post. Mirotic is averaging over 15 points a game on 50 percent shooting from three against strong international competition.
With the Bulls in negotiations to bring him over, Mirotic is likely to play a key role in the team's next step moving forward.
It's tough to predict what will happen first—whether the Bulls trade Deng, let him walk or amnesty Boozer. Given the uncertainty surrounding Rose's future as an MVP candidate, it's possible the Bulls let both players go and start from scratch.
But if one thing's for sure, it's Mirotic's place in Chicago's plans. In what's been a tough period for Bulls fans, this seemingly forgotten stashed-away draft pick offers a glimmer of hope for 2014-15.