Where Do the Chicago Bulls Go from Here?

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Where Do the Chicago Bulls Go from Here?
Bill Baptist/Getty Images

Is it even possible to write an article on the Chicago Bulls anymore without mentioning an injury?

Guard Jimmy Butler went down with an ankle injury in Thursday night's 107-95 loss to the Oklahoma City Thunder. Addressing the media after the game, coach Tom Thibodeau said he did not know the severity of the injury, per Aggrey Sam of CSN Chicago.

Thibodeau seemed particularly exasperated, since he believed Butler was just starting to get comfortable after missing nearly a month with a turf toe injury. Per Sam: “Jimmy, the second half in Houston, I thought he got his rhythm back, so that was a tough blow, him going down.”

Ever thus for the Bulls, who were already missing Derrick Rose (knee surgery), Luol Deng (recurring hamstring problem) and Kirk Hinrich (strained back). 

Butler, Deng and Hinrich will all be back eventually—perhaps soon—but the loss of Rose has already changed the expectations of this team. The Bulls came into this season with ideas of competing for a championship, but when the former MVP went down those dreams were dashed.

Now Chicago has to decide what kind of team it wants to be for the remainder of the year. Do they have enough to contend for a playoff spot? Should they try to rebuild? How should they react to all these setbacks?

Bill Baptist/Getty Images

Knowing the Bulls, they will do nothing. They will do nothing because making rash moves is not in their character. They will do nothing because they feel the time isn't right for making big changes. And they just might be right.

 

The Chicago Way

The Bulls are not the riverboat gamblers of the NBA. They are deliberate with every move they make. Their detractors would argue that they are far too deliberate.

The one tradeable piece on the Chicago roster would seem to be forward Luol Deng, who will be an unrestricted free agent at the end of the season. But Chicago nipped any possible trade rumors in the bud on Friday when they let it be known to ESPN's Brian Windhorst that Deng is not on the market.

Per Windhorst:

Despite being mired in a season that has been derailed by injuries, the Chicago Bulls are determined not to trade impending free-agent forward Luol Deng, sources told ESPN.com.

...

Despite failing to come to terms on a contract extension before the season, the Bulls remain optimistic they will re-sign Deng next summer.

Scott Halleran/Getty Images

So that's that. Perhaps the Bulls simply value Deng too much to let him go. He's been extremely valuable over the years, and he knows Thibodeau's system. Also, they might not be happy with the market for Deng, a 10-year veteran with a nagging injury and only a few months left on his contract. 

That problem with keeping Deng and trying to re-sign him in the offseason is that Chicago will be leaving themselves vulnerable to losing him for nothing. If another team gets into a bidding war, the Bulls' ownership may not want to match.

Either way, it should come as no surprise that the Bulls are holding onto Deng. They rarely make in-season trades. The last such trade came in 2009, when Chicago acquired Brad Miller and John Salmons for Andres Nocioni, Drew Gooden, Cedric Simmons and Michael Ruffin. To put that into perspective, only one of those six players are still in the league (Salmons).

 

Wait Until Summer

As usual, the Bulls will wait until the offseason to fix their roster. Their roster is probably too talented to tank this season completely, especially in the East, but they can still lose their way into a shot at the lottery.

They also have Charlotte's 2014 pick, should it fall outside of the top 10. The Bobcats are currently in the playoff hunt in the East, so it's quite possible that pick will fall to Chicago.

With two picks in what should be a loaded 2014 draft, the Bulls will be well-positioned to make some moves. If not, then they will have two rookies to work into the lineup with (hopefully) a healthy Derrick Rose.

Also, the Bulls might have a chance to bring over 2011 first-round pick Nikola Mirotic, who is currently dominating European basketball. But SB Nation's Ricky O'Donnell believes that might be easier said than done.

As I've written previously, I do not think Nikola Mirotic will come over for only the mid-level exception. He makes too much money already in Spain to do that. To sign him, the Bulls have to be under the cap. There's only one way they can get under the cap: let go of Deng and amnesty Carlos Boozer.

The Bulls have many options, and many difficult choices ahead. But those choices will come in the summer. Until then, the Bulls' front office seems content to tread water with their injured roster. Given the huge choices ahead, and the lack of in-season options, it's hard to blame them.

 

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