With each of the last three seasons going up in flames after a series of Derrick Rose injuries, the team has missed out on the early portion of his career, as the former MVP will shift into his prime years next season.
The 2013-14 season seemed like it could've finally been The Year for the Bulls to give the Miami Heat a run for the Eastern Conference title after Chicago spent the summer compiling a well-rounded complementary cast around Rose.
One false step surely made it all for naught. Now, the Bulls depth chart is littered with role players and spare parts acting as de facto leaders.
It's time for Chicago to make a move.
Buyers or Sellers?
With Rose missing from action, contending in 2013-14 is a pipe dream, and standing pat going into next season—with limited or no cap space—just won't cut it anymore.
Something's gotta give.
General manager Gar Forman has already given Luol Deng confirmation that he's staying put, according to ESPN Chicago in a Dec. 20 report. Chicago could negotiate a new deal with the 28-year-old this summer or simply let his deal expire and take the cap space. Trying to get a haul of youth, picks, and/or other expiring deals could've been a fruitful route for Chicago to take, but it doesn't appear they're doing so.
Still, Deng understands his value throughout the league and how expendable he should be after Rose's most recent injury.
“I’m mature enough to understand that I can’t worry about things I can’t control. If I wake up tomorrow, they call me and they tell me otherwise, then that’s what it is. I can’t control that,” he told the Chicago Sun-Times (h/t NBC Chicago). “That’s their job, and they’ve got to do their job. That’s a decision they have to make on what they feel is best for the team.’’
Giving it another go next season with the current nucleus of Deng, Rose and Carlos Boozer could be another route, but it's one Chicago should probably steer clear of. There's going to be opportunities to prepare for tomorrow without—at least dramatically—slaughtering today's hopes.
Notorious for sitting on their hands until forced to take action, the Chicago front office should pawn off an asset or two while they still can.
What are they Sacrificing This Year?
Should they stand pat, with a few fortunate bounces of the ball, the Bulls could find themselves in a similar playoff scenario to the one they were handed last year. Chicago could go on an extended run, especially in a diminished East, to secure one of the latter playoff seeds, only to see the Miami Heat or Indiana Pacers hand them their unfortunate, yet predictable, end.
This is the Bulls' ceiling without their offensive centerpiece. This is what they'd be losing out on.
Not unexpectedly, there have been reports that the point guard could reappear for a miraculous playoff run, but management can't let a potential "maybe" skew its judgement while there could be enticing offers on the table. Besides, even if healthy enough to go, we saw early this season how difficult it is for even a player of Rose's caliber to regain All-Star form on the fly.
Chicago has a few tradeable pieces that could easily be moved before February, ones capable of netting a decent haul. The pros to holding on to them don't come close to outweighing the long- and short-term cons.
The team did a commendable job in constructing a winning nucleus over the last few years, but through no fault of their own, the basketball gods weren't on the Bulls' side.
There's going to be a few scenarios that could give the Bulls significant cap room in the near future, and they'll surely be hard to turn down.
Shedding Dollars and Making Sense
As it stands now, Chicago is roughly $3 million over the projected salary cap for next season. With a few salary dumps, however, the Bulls could become major players this summer.
The team still has the amnesty provision in its pocket, which may as well be named the Carlos Boozer provision at this point. Chicago has held off on cutting ties with the big man/albatross in each of the last three offseasons, and he'll be entering the final year of his deal next summer. Finally amnestying Boozer next July would open up nearly $17 million in cap room should the Bulls look to break up their current core.
Dropping Boozer's salary alone would create about $12 million in cap room for 2014, which would be enough to add a helpful piece or two immediately. But a a trade this season could open the door for a max-level free agent to join Rose and the Bulls next season.
The easiest asset to trade could be Mike Dunleavy, who took a pay cut last summer to contend for a ring with the Bulls. On a much different Chicago team now, it'd be in both sides' best interests to move the three-point sniper. With contending teams always on the lookout for more shooting, a potential deal shouldn't be hard to find. Moving Dunleavy for an expiring contract and/or a pick could be feasible under the right circumstances, and would carve out roughly $3 million in cap space.
More involved deals would include the contracts of Taj Gibson or even Joakim Noah if Chicago is really determined to facilitate spending next summer. For now, let's just focus on a Gibson deal since the Bulls probably wouldn't send away one of the game's better centers in a salary dump.
Gibson is on the books through 2016-17, and is owed $8 million next season. The 6'9" power forward has been a key role player for Chicago through most of the Tom Thibodeau era. This season, in a career-high 27 minutes per contest, he's scoring 12 points while grabbing 6.5 boards and blocking more than a shot while shooting around his career average of 49 percent from the field.
Packaging the 28-year-old in a deal for players of lesser annual value or deals that expire prior to this summer would open up the possibility of bringing a maximum salary into Chicago this summer—the summer that LeBron James, Dwyane Wade, Carmelo Anthony and Chris Bosh all have the chance to hit the open market once again.
If they'd like to think smaller, there will be some less flashy, but solid, names available as well. Greg Monroe, Chandler Parsons and Lance Stephenson are set to be restricted free agents while Kris Humphies, Zach Randolph, Shawn Marion and Danny Granger are attractive, relatively affordable names on the unrestricted side.
Chicago doesn't necessarily have to dedicate themselves to any of the above names this summer. The team has the draft rights of Nikola Mirotic, a 6'11", 22-year-old forward currently playing in Spain. It's been expected that Mirotic will make the move to American ball in time for next season.
Coming from Ricky O'Donnell of Blog A Bull is speculation about what Mirotic's price may ultimately turn out to be:
There is one other factor complicating this process, and no, it's not Reggie Rose. 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.
Even though this summer is reportedly the Bulls' target for bringing over Mirotic, his own contract negotiation is going to make things interesting. The hope is that the Bulls are prepared for Mirotic wanting more than the MLE. In my head, I envision a scenario playing out where they are not. This is mostly because it's difficult to have faith the organization will cut Carlos Boozer and his remaining $16.8 million in salary. It's a move the Bulls should make if Deng is let go, but the team's conservative financial history is well-documented. I would not be surprised if we have to wait another season for Mirotic, meaning he'd be on the team in the 2015-16 season when Boozer's deal expires.
So What's The Deal?
Proposed trade: Bulls trade Taj Gibson, Kirk Hinrich, Tony Snell and Nazr Mohammed to the Orlando Magic for Hedo Turkoglu, Jason Maxiell, Andrew Nicholson and a 2015 second-round pick
Yeah, that's a lot of names up there, so let's sort them out and try to make sense of what this deal's all about.
Turkoglu and Mohammed are both expiring contracts and included solely for salary cap purposes. This trade is geared toward the future for both teams—no need to consider these players since they aren't sticking around past this season.
Hinrich would give Orlando even more depth in the backcourt, joining Jameer Nelson, Victor Oladipo and Aron Afflalo. His deal also expires after this year, so he's not hampering Orlando's future, either.
That leaves us with Gibson and Snell being dealt to Orlando for Maxiell, Nicholson and a pick.
Orlando's frontcourt is deep and youthful, with Nikola Vucevic manning the middle, Tobias Harris logging minutes at both forward spots, Mo Harkless just 20 and growing into the starting 3 slot, and Afflalo logging some minutes at the small-ball 3.
Nicholson is just 24 and has the tools to become a great scorer at the power forward position. The Magic would be parting ways with a premier prospect, but at a position they're deep at, and while receiving Gibson's sturdy defense at the same position. Though Gibson can't bring Nicholson's offensive prowess to the floor, he's not a liability on that end, either.
Snell was a hot draft prospect for many, but hasn't been able to sustain minutes in Thibs' rotation with Deng and Jimmy Butler slotted above him on the depth chart. The 20th overall selection in this year's draft is only 22 and coming off a year at New Mexico in which he shot 39 percent from distance.
He has the potential to grow into a floor-spacing combo forward within the next few seasons. With some commitment, Snell has the length and quickness to evolve into a quality NBA defender as well.
Maxiell has been an overall disappointment with the Magic, first falling out of Jacque Vaughn's starting lineup, then out of the rotation completely. He's posted the lowest free throw rate and rebounding percentages of his career in 2013-14 and is under contract through next season at $2.5 million per season.
Essentially, this deal would mean Chicago fully forfeiting this season by swapping Gibson and Snell for Nicholson, a future pick and the ability to open almost $10 million in cap room this year.
After a Boozer amnesty, the Bulls would then enter this summer with a projection of near $20 million in cap space, with a similar room number the following year if the 2015 free agent class further entices Chicago management. Either way, the Bulls would have an opportunity to surround Rose with more All-Star talent upon his return next season.
Keep in mind that the Bulls have their own highly touted first-round draft pick this June, as well as the Charlotte Bobcats' if it is outside the top 10.
Chicago must decide on a direction for the future, with a Rose-less season derailing the team's hopes for a second straight season. This particular group's run has likely come to an end, and now it's up to Forman and the Bulls front office to decide where to go from here.
Rarely do teams get the chance to "sell" at the deadline while barely sacrificing any short-term success at all. Chicago is sitting in this position right now, and now the pressure should be on management to do something it has been reluctant to over recent history—take action.