The fact that Chicago' front office proactively sought a deal in the first place is commendable, given its recent history. The departure of Deng, a free-agent-to-be, served to at least start to answer the number one question on every Bulls fan's mind: Where do we go from here?
The team's championship aspirations were thrown offtrack for a second straight season, but, almost miraculously, Chicago stands at fourth place in the East and just a game away from the third seed at 27-25.
While a complete tank job is unlikely at this stage, there are a number of potential deals the Bulls can pull off to better prepare for a summer shopping spree.
If they so choose, adding a bona fide talent could also put them in a marginally better position to contend with the top two East seeds, although chances of an upset would still be grim at best.
Chicago's deadline scenario isn't exactly the most straightforward. Perhaps it's best to break down the team's thinking before jumping to any conclusions.
Choose a Direction
In a sorry Eastern Conference this season, there's a reasonable chance that Chicago will clinch a playoff berth and go on to face the Miami Heat or Indiana Pacers in a potential second-round matchup, where its run would likely end.
There's an equally reasonable argument that the team should deliberately try to lose as many games as possible, fall into the draft lottery and try its luck at landing the first overall draft pick. This type of maneuver towards the future would also bar Chicago from adding any salary at the deadline, in time for a run at several prized free agents this summer.
The Deng trade seemed to have gotten the ball rolling in the latter direction. While Chicago is unlikely to miss out on the playoffs at this point—they're currently 4.5 games clear of the ninth spot—the team has managed to essentially replicate its 2012-13 performance sans Derrick Rose.
It's up to Gar Forman, John Paxson and company to determine if another second-round playoff out—in the best case scenario—is worth competing for, with the bigger picture much more promising than the current landscape.
Option A: Chase the Impossible Dream
With the Bulls in position to finish as the best Eastern Conference squad behind Indiana and Miami, it's reasonable to think the Bulls may at least consider adding a piece to prep for a hopeful playoff run.
Even with Rose out of the picture, mid-season pickup D.J. Augustin has performed decently, posting a career-high 16.1 player efficiency rating with Chicago over 32 games.
There are a few impact players on expiring deals who may be traded for on a rental-basis in the coming days. It's hard to imagine Chicago hurting its spending chances this summer, but if the right scenario came along, Forman could consider making a move with this year's playoffs in mind.
The Bulls' defense is already primed and ready for the postseason, currently second-best in the league, only to Indy. The offense, however, is a different story—as to be expected without its superstar scorer. At the third-worst efficiency in the league, Chicago has been desperate for scoring all season. The issue has only grown worse since Deng's departure. They've barely posted an offensive rating over 100 (subscription required) since the Jan. 6 deal.
To make up for Rose's loss in the immediate, without clogging the depth chart in the long term, Chicago could place a call to the Toronto Raptors about Kyle Lowry.
A package highlighted around Tony Snell, Jimmy Butler and a couple of draft picks—which Chicago has no shortage of in the coming drafts—could get Masai Ujiri to consider. Despite Adrian Wojnarowski of Yahoo! Sports reporting otherwise, the Raps would have to contemplate a deal in which they'd be getting a return for a soon-to-be free agent.
In a more low-profile deal, Chicago could seek Philadelphia 76ers forward Evan Turner, who's also on an expiring deal.
The 25-year-old has averaged a career-high 17.5 points this season for Philly, as he's posted the best true shooting percentage of his career at 50.7 according to Basketball Reference. Kirk Hinrich and Tony Snell would match money-wise in a deal, and Hinrich's deal comes off the books after this season, which benefits Philly's rebuilding strategy.
It may be unlikely, but if Chicago feels the need to chase a difference-maker in time for the postseason, there will certainly be options in the coming days.
Option B: Pawn Off Long-Term Deals, Position for a 2014 Free-Agency Run
We can call this the slightly more realistic route. With the chance at being able to afford a max-salary player to pair with Derrick Rose next season, the Bulls may be better off shedding some of the players they hoped would bring a championship to the franchise's current era.
The most likely Bull to be moved this week is Mike Dunleavy, who joined up with Chicago at a discounted two-year deal in order to chase a championship. As it happened, Dunleavy has been forced to play more key of a role than he anticipated and is playing on one of the league's more modest contracts. He's perhaps the easiest player to move on the team's roster.
Adrian Wojnarowski tweeted Thursday that there's one team in particular on the lookout for a player with Dunleavy's skillset.
Carson Cunningham of KOCO 5 spoke with Bleacher Report and confirmed that the two sides may end up a perfect fit.
If Chicago is in the market for a straight-up salary dump, they could send Dunleavy to OKC for Hasheem Thabeet and a trade exception.
In doing so, Dunleavy's remaining two years are wiped off the books, Thabeet can be waived free of charge after this season, and the Thunder would remain about a quarter-million dollars shy of the luxury tax. Oklahoma City also has an array of future picks to potentially include in a deal.
When discussing the Bulls' future payroll, it's important to remember the likely addition of overseas superstar Nikola Mirotic. Ricky O'Donnell of Blog a Bull compiled numerous reports and quotes, leading one to believe that the 23-year-old's NBA debut is eminent. O'Donnell insinuates that the Bulls can expect to spend in the ballpark of $7 to $10 million on Mirotic next season should he make the jump to the NBA.
Assuming the Bulls amnesty Carlos Boozer, ink Mirotic for, say, $9 million next season and waive Erik Murphy, Chicago can expect to have roughly $7.3 million in cap room this summer, using calculations from Mark Deeks—certainly not enough for a maximum salary.
However, there's still one scenario that could free up room for that type of player to sign on with the Bulls next season. It'd involve trading away Taj Gibson.
Shipping Gibson and his $8 million salary for 2014-15 would open up more than $15 million in cap room—a bit shy of the max. If that amount isn't enough to sway a superstar's—namely Carmelo Anthony's—opinion, trading Jimmy Butler's $2 million salary for next year would inch Chicago even closer to max space: more than $17.3 million.
Forman could inquire with the Phoenix Suns about a deal involving Hinrich, Butler and Gibson, in which the Bulls could get back Emeka Okafor's expiring, $14 million contract along with a combination of Phoenix's slew of future picks.
Some would argue the Bulls wouldn't be getting fair value in a deal with two of its brightest assets. Though it would open up the possibility of a new era of Bulls basketball, ushered in with a core of Rose, Mirotic, Joakim Noah, the team's first-round pick this season and a max-level player like Carmelo Anthony.
What to Expect: Deadline Silence
Realistically, the Bulls have already made their major move. Outside of trading Dunleavy, which can be viewed as likely, there may not be much on Chicago's radar this week.
The Deng deal was the only one that required hastiness, as there was the possibility of losing him for nothing in free agency this summer.
Should the Bulls stand pat, they can still manage to form a decent core around Rose and Mirotic, while amnestying Boozer could bring a few million in room. Shipping out Dunleavy, however, would certainly benefit that goal.
Outside of a low-profile Dunleavy deal, though, don't anticipate Chicago grabbing headlines with a major swap. Any salary shedding to create cap space would presumably be done last minute, around draft night, after the 2013-14 team's fate has already been decided.
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