The Chicago Bulls’ trade activity peaked and plunged in January.
Evaluating these transactions involves an analysis of numerous factors, but a fair assessment can be gleaned focusing on three criteria: influence on team success, fiscal gains and future opportunities generated.
Any player swap that a team decides to pull off is with the intention of increasing that franchise’s prospects, whether it is an immediate, short-term benefit or a payoff more along the lines of delayed gratification.
General manager Gar Forman and executive vice president of basketball operations John Paxson executed dealings that definitely embody the latter.
So, how does this team rate now that the trade deadline has officially closed?
Let’s inspect each of the player exchanges closely to see if the management set the squad up to thrive or painted them into a corner.
Marquis Teague for Tornike Shengelia
Marquis Teague has to feel some sense of relief now that he is off of the roller-coaster ride that was the first half of his second professional season.
The former Kentucky Wildcat never lived up to the high expectations the team had when they picked him in the first round of the 2012 NBA draft.
Scott Powers of ESPN.com wrote an article expounding on the team’s selection where Forman expressed his excitement about choosing Teague:
"I think (what) we feel he gives us is another guy who can break defenses down, that can get into the paint and make plays for himself and others," Forman said. "All the reports, all the background that we did on him, everybody said he's very, very competitive. He's a winner. That's something you guys know over the years we've stressed.
"When we've had opportunities to get guys that we feel will fit in our organization and team that come from high profile winning programs that have experienced winning. He's got great speed and quickness, and we think a very, very high ceiling. We thought a value to get Marquis at the 29th pick."
That lofty outlook never panned out, and the young guard was relegated to the end of the bench.
The decision to put him on the trade block wasn’t even about getting better value in return as seldom-used Teague was swapped for experienced bench warmer Tornike Shengelia.
Barring Toko learning coach Tom Thibodeau’s system very quickly, there is very little chance he will play.
The Georgian’s expiring contract will be his biggest contribution to the franchise.
This trade doesn’t add anything to the team’s success and has only a marginal effect on the salary cap, which minimally impacts the moves Chicago can make this summer.
Getting a languishing Teague off of the books is the only reason the trade registered above failing.
That counts for something, right?
Luol Deng for Andrew Bynum, first-round pick, two second-round picks
From a player perspective, this trade actually filled a need for the Bulls.
They were awfully thin at the center position with Nazr Mohammed playing limited minutes to relieve Joakim Noah and Taj Gibson pulling the occasional double duty.
Andrew Bynum would have given Chicago a very capable backup who could have produced more than the current reserve—even in a reduced capacity.
Despite the 2005 lottery pick being serviceable, mitigating the team’s financial rigidity was a greater priority.
Chicago’s luxury tax status was a huge hindrance in their pursuit to re-sign long-time small forward Luol Deng.
According to a January article by K.C. Johnson of the Chicago Tribune that covered the trade, Deng’s representatives felt that the two-time All-Star’s value was more than the $10 million offer extended to him.
The deal with the Cleveland Cavaliers signaled the start of the management's retooling for what they hope will be a roster that, when healthy, can continue its winning ways.
In that same article, Johnson quotes Forman as saying “The moves today will put us in a better position to make the entire roster stronger for the future and to compete for a championship.”
The moves, of course, included immediately waiving Bynum once the trade was completed, a move that saved the team a little more than $6 million and put them below the luxury threshold.
If they decide to amnesty Carlos Boozer this summer, the modest sum of salary space could help them in their negotiations to land highly touted European prospect Nikola Mirotic, though it's way too early to speculate on that.
One might have thought trading away arguably the team’s second-best player would have a detrimental effect on their ability to compete. However, when you compare the team’s statistics before the trade to their number after the swap, the changes are minimal.
In fact, the Bulls are seven games above .500 in contests played without Deng and 28-25 overall, a significant improvement over the 14-18 record they had when he was still around.
Despite all of those benefits, the draft picks are the best aspect of this transaction.
Chicago has proven to be adept in scouting talent that fits well with the team’s culture and system.
Having extra choices gives the team an economically friendly opportunity to establish a foundation that can extend its chances of remaining a winning force for the foreseeable future.
Sure, it was sad to see one of the longest-tenured players in franchise history have such an anticlimactic end to his run, but new beginnings can only start after old things end.
This move was very necessary, and the return on this risk has the potential to be very high.
This trade season marked the first time the Bulls ever made a midseason transaction during the Thibodeau era.
The nature of these dealings do not signal the beginning of a trend; these moves were done out of absolute necessity and may not occur again for quite some time.
On the plus side, Chicago’s decisions put it in a better position to buyout Mirotic, a player the Bulls think can develop into someone who can help them contend again.
Conversely, the international sensation has very little incentive to actually leave his Real Madrid club, which may put the team in a tight spot.
As pointed out by Nick Friedell of ESPN.com, Mirotic’s continued success probably increases his value beyond the mid-level exception that would have matched his current salary.
In that same article, Paxson even admits that even though he remains optimistic about the progress that has been made, the deal is far from done:
"We still have things we have to do. He still has a significant buyout with Real Madrid. So there's still some things we have to [get through] and we can't do it until this summer. ... Our meetings with him were great. ... Our intention, as we talked about, is to get him here sooner rather than later. But there's still a process that we have to go through. He's just coming off the Spanish championship, the Copa del Rey, where his team won and he was the MVP.”
It is not clear what Plan B is for the front office.
If the extra draft selections they have acquired over the years come to fruition, they could continue to maintain contact with Mirotic without getting desperate to bring him over. But delaying their pursuit makes for a very hazy outlook after the July 2014 moratorium.
When looked at independently, the Bulls made the moves that were necessary to free up resources for summer dealings.
They have some money to go with those potential picks, which is more than what was on hand the past couple of seasons.
Most of all, Thibodeau is still the head coach, and that always gives this squad a chance to be winners.
Fans can be relieved that the team didn’t completely lose out this year, but they will still have to be patient before a clearer outlook can be given.
Note: All statistics current as of February 20, 2014.
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