Which Team Has Brighter Future, Boston Celtics or Chicago Bulls?

Adam Fromal@fromal09National NBA Featured ColumnistJanuary 1, 2014

Feb 13, 2013; Boston, Massachusetts, USA; Boston Celtics forward Jeff Green (8) drives against Chicago Bulls small forward Luol Deng (9) during the fourth quarter at TD Banknorth Garden. The Boston Celtics won 71-69.  Mandatory Credit: Greg M. Cooper-USA TODAY Sports
Greg M. Cooper-USA TODAY Sports

Apparently 2014 is going to be a strange year. 

The NBA usually features the Boston Celtics and Chicago Bulls as two of its stronger teams. Even during a down season for one of the two perennial powerhouses, the other is at the forefront of national attention, ready to add to its ring collection.

While the Celtics have 17 titles, more than any other team in the history of the Association, the Bulls come in at No. 3 with the six championships that Michael Jordan won.

The Bulls last missed the playoffs in 2008, and the C's have been there each of the last six years. In fact, the last time both teams sat at home after the last regular-season game came at the conclusion of the 2000-01 campaign, and both teams have fallen short in the same season only four times since Chicago entered the NBA in 1966.

It's just weird for both teams to fall out of contention, yet that's exactly what has happened. If history is any indication, they won't remain mired in mediocrity for very long.

Chances are good that both teams will turn it around, but which has a better chance of doing so in the immediate future? Who has the brighter future?


Who Are the Keepers?

Nov 21, 2013; Denver, CO, USA; Chicago Bulls guard Derrick Rose (1) during the first half against the Denver Nuggets at Pepsi Center. Mandatory Credit: Chris Humphreys-USA TODAY Sports
Chris Humphreys-USA TODAY Sports

The C's appear to have three definitive keepers. 

First is the obvious one: Rajon Rondo. 

There's a reason that optimism still exists for this Boston squad. Even though it hasn't been able to emerge out of the Eastern Conference pack of mediocrity, hope prevails because the current squad is going to be greatly aided by the return of the All-Star point guard. Although he's still recovering from his torn ACL, the assumption is that he'll be at full strength once he receives clearance to play. 

Unlike Derrick Rose, whose game is predicated on extreme athleticism and explosiveness, Rondo thrives because of his court vision and creativity. He seems like one of the few people who could actually excel at basketball's highest level while playing without moving from a single spot on the court. 

Beyond Rondo, Jeff Green is the next best thing.

Although the forward has struggled to establish himself as a clear-cut No. 1 option in Rondo's absence, he's still having a solid season, and he's shown in the past that he can play well as a secondary or tertiary offensive player.

The explosions—like his 31-point outing against the Cleveland Cavaliers on Nov. 29 and the game-winner against the Miami Heat—are promising, even if they're still few and far between.

In the right system, Green will excel.

BOSTON, MA - DECEMBER 28: Jeff Green #8, Vitor Faverani #38 and Kelly Olynyk #41 of the Boston Celtics watch the ball bounce around the rim before falling into the basket against the Cleveland Cavaliers on December 28, 2013 at the TD Garden in Boston, Mas
Brian Babineau/Getty Images

That much is clear, although it feels like he's falling a bit out of favor in Beantown, especially after he was benched by Brad Stevens following his altercation with Brandon Bass. As the head coach told CelticsBlog.com's Kevin O'Connor, "Disagreements are part of the game—it's part of team basketball—but how quickly you move on from there says a lot."

Green isn't a lock in this section; he's not necessarily a guaranteed keeper. 

However, he has the potential to move back up into that category, especially since he started the year firmly in that territory.

It's territory that Jared Sullinger is already moving into. 

The second-year big man has averaged 13.5 points, seven rebounds and 1.8 assists per game, and he's consistently showed signs of improvement. Most impressive has been the development of a three-point stroke, as the big man keeps straying further and further from the paint, firing away from downtown with reckless abandon.

It's a great sign, especially because power forwards and centers typically face a steep developmental curve. 

The Bulls' situation is a little more complicated.

Derrick Rose would typically be up there in that same category as Rondo, but because he relies so heavily on his athletic gifts, it's not as much of a slam dunk. He struggled immensely post-ACL and pre-meniscus injury, and there's no telling whether we'll see him return to his MVP form. 

Most NBA fans would like to believe that Rose can get there again, but the argument is generally steeped in meaningless statements like "Rose will be good again because he's Rose." There isn't any medical backing, nor can you point to a success story coming back from the first injury. 

Still, let's give him the benefit of the doubt. That leaves us with a few more players. 

Dec 19, 2013; Oklahoma City, OK, USA; Chicago Bulls shooting guard Jimmy Butler (21) shoots the ball while defended by Oklahoma City Thunder shooting guard Jeremy Lamb (11) during the second quarter at Chesapeake Energy Arena. Mandatory Credit: Mark D. Sm
Mark D. Smith-USA TODAY Sports

Luol Deng doesn't qualify because he's a free agent at the end of the season, and his future is unsure. Conflicting reports about his desires and the management's commitment to him have bounced around for a while now. As well as he's playing in Rose's absence, he's not a surefire keeper. 

Only Taj Gibson (limited offensive player, great at defense), Jimmy Butler (extremely disappointing during what was supposed to be his breakout year, though he's picking it up), Joakim Noah (the recurring injuries are getting problematic) and Nikola Mirotic (hasn't played an NBA game yet) qualify. 

So while Chicago has more keepers, they aren't as free from question marks as those employed by Boston.

Surety or quantity/upside is the question here, and even given the premium placed on roster spots in a league that features 13 players on the active squad, I know where I'm leaning. 

Advantage: Chicago Bulls


Financial Future and Non-Player Assets

BOSTON, MA - DECEMBER 6:  Gerald Wallace #45 of the Boston Celtics dribbles the ball against the Denver Nuggets on December 6, 2013 at the TD Garden in Boston, Massachusetts.  NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and o
Brian Babineau/Getty Images

With the new CBA making it increasingly difficult to build a team from the bottom up through free agency, it's extremely important to have both financial flexibility and a few draft picks. 

Rookie contracts are especially important, as they allow a team to roster a promising player without breaking the piggy bank. 

Below you can see how much money each team has committed during the upcoming seasons, courtesy of ShamSports.com

Infogr.am and Sham Sports

At first glance, it appears as though the C's have a huge advantage, but it's a little more complicated than that. As you probably know, many NBA contracts have modifications like player options, team options, early termination options and non-guaranteed portions. 

Only Keith Bogans affects Boston, as his contract loses its guaranteed nature at the conclusion of this season. The Celtics will be clearing over $5 million per year as soon as they waive him. As for the rest of the options, they're inconsequential and likely to be picked up. 

Chicago's situation, just as was the case with the keepers, is more complicated. 

We've been operating under the assumption that general manager Gar Forman would choose to amnesty Carlos Boozer for a while now, and that appears extremely likely to happen as soon as he's eligible. That'll clear up $16.8 million for 2014-15, although some of it will be replaced by Mirotic's inevitably incoming—and as-of-yet-undetermined—salary. 

Beyond that, everything is stable, although the Bulls could save $817,000 by waiving Erik Murphy before the start of the next season. When we typically work in millions, that isn't really a big deal. 

As for the draft picks, here are the ones the C's are working with during the next three offseasons—beyond that, they're too far off to matter much in the present: 

  • Their own 2014 first-round pick.
  • The less favorable of the Atlanta Hawks and Brooklyn Nets' 2014 first-round picks. 
  • Their own 2015 first-round pick.
  • The Los Angeles Clippers' 2015 first-round pick. 
  • Their own 2015 second-round pick. 
  • The Sacramento Kings' 2015 second-round pick, protected from 31-55 (unlikely to be acquired).
  • Their own 2016 first-round pick.
  • The Brooklyn Nets' 2016 first-round pick.
  • Their own 2016 second-round pick.  

In all likelihood, the Celtics will end up with six first-round picks and two second-round selections over the next three years.

Now, how about the Bulls? 

  • Their own 2014 first-round pick. 
  • The Charlotte Bobcats' 2014 first-round pick, top-10 protected (likely to be acquired).
  • Their own 2014 second-round pick. 
  • Their own 2015 first-round pick. 
  • Their own 2015 second-round pick. 
  • Their own 2016 first-round pick. 
  • Their own 2016 second-round pick. 

The Bulls are picking up only one extra selection in the draft, and it appears likely to be a non-lottery pick. That's not helping them out much, especially since they don't win the money battle either. 

This one is a runaway.

Advantage: Boston Celtics



INDIANAPOLIS - DECEMBER 22:  Brad Stevens of the Boston Celtics looks on during the game against the Indiana Pacers at Bankers Life Fieldhouse on December 22, 2013 in Indianapolis, Indiana.  NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by do
Ron Hoskins/Getty Images

Brad Stevens is a huge factor here. 

Early on in the 2013-14 season, which has served as breakout platform for Jordan Crawford, the talented but mercurial combo guard told MassLive.com's Jay King, "I think he’s just given me more of a chance, and I appreciate him for that. I just want to repay him by just playing hard, doing what I can for the team."

Stevens has gotten the entire roster to play hard for him, and it's clear that he's a coach capable of shaping his system to a team rather than forcing his players to adapt to the system he's already put into practice.

That's not a direct shot at Tom Thibodeau, who is still one of the best coaches in the NBA, but it does make the former Butler signal-caller a more appealing boss.

As the Boston Herald's Mark Murphy wrote 29 games into the rookie coach's professional career, Steven's "reputation in college for getting the most out of players has thus far translated to the NBA level." And when we're talking about two historically excellent franchises, that's enough to push the Celtics just over the top. 

There's no shortage of championships in the annals of Chicago and Boston basketball. Legends have littered the pages of programs, and they'll continue to do so in the future. Both are in major markets that don't typically attract the true marquee free agents, though they don't have much problem building competitive rosters anyway.

The lack of advantage there forces us to turn to the little things, which means we're looking at a positive for Boston and a negative for Chicago.

While the positive has been established, I only hinted at the negative earlier in this article: D-Rose isn't guaranteed superstardom when he comes back from his latest knee injury. 

Nov 21, 2013; Denver, CO, USA; Chicago Bulls guard Derrick Rose (1) drives to the basket against Denver Nuggets guard Nate Robinson (10) during the second half at Pepsi Center. The Nuggets won 97-87. Mandatory Credit: Chris Humphreys-USA TODAY Sports
Chris Humphreys-USA TODAY Sports

Before bowing out again, the former MVP averaged 15.9 points, 4.3 assists and 3.2 rebounds per game. Sounds solid, but that's only before realizing he turned the ball over 3.4 times each contest and shot 35.4 percent from the field.

According to Basketball-Reference, his PER was a putrid 10.3, well below the league-average mark of 15.

Once upon a time, Rose was a marquee attraction. Maybe he'll return to that level again, but the uncertainty makes him more unappealing than ever before. He's not going to draw in big names in free agency.

Advantage: Boston Celtics


The Verdict

BOSTON - DECEMBER 3:  Rajon Rondo #9 of the Boston Celtics dribbles up the court against Derrick Rose #1 of the Chicago Bulls on December 3, 2010 at the TD Garden in Boston, Massachusetts.  NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by dow
Brian Babineau/Getty Images

The Celtics lay claim to two of the three categories here, but that only matters if the margins of victories line up as well. 

Keepers was a pretty close contest, especially because only the upside is pushing Chicago ahead of the C's. As for the financial future/non-player assets, that wasn't even remotely close. Boston has a sizable advantage in the money department, and it boasts plenty more picks, some of which could end up as lottery picks, giving them a minuscule shot at a No. 1 selection. 

Finally, there was the appeal, and Boston took that home as well, though it did so in close fashion. 

One close victory, one close loss and one big win. That adds up in Boston's favor and leaves us crowning the green-clad franchise with the ultimate victory.

Break out the champagne and start signing along with Freddie Mercury as loudly as you please. 

Final Verdict: Boston Celtics


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