The better-than-expected play of the Chicago Bulls has been great for the fans, but the longing to return to their contending form still lingers.
Solutions for regaining that dominance will most likely come from the 2014 free-agent market, and there’s no time like the present to start analyzing what general manager Gar Forman and vice president John Paxson have in store for this illustrious franchise.
There should be no question about whether or not this team is serious about retooling for the future.
Back in January, Luol Deng and Marquis Teague were traded in moves that were aimed at getting below the tax threshold, putting the team in the best position to acquire new talent since July of 2010.
Seeing as how there are other facets that still need attention and a bevy of gossip clouding the picture, getting a clear angle on the Bulls’ summer intentions is tough.
An objective, factual examination that focuses on the team’s deficiencies, its means of filling those areas of lack and what has been publicly confirmed by the organization can give a more realistic blueprint for what to expect in free agency.
Some may argue that the paltry output has been due more to Derrick Rose being absent since he was a proficient scorer and also had the ability to set up his teammates.
See the trend developing here?
Chicago plays great defense, rebounds well on both ends of the floor, has skilled big men and a productive backcourt when Rose is a part of the tandem.
All of that should be a recipe for the ultimate of NBA successes, but even when all hands were on deck, it was evident that the absence of another offensive innovator was too big of a defect to overcome.
The team’s construction model has been fine in regard to winning in the regular season and securing prime seeding.
But the playoffs have shown that when pitted against other elite teams (read Miami Heat), having little recourse when a defense simply bombards the main scoring threat has proved faulty.
There are a couple of small matters that might be easier to fix, but the need for a second shot creator can no longer be ignored.
When it comes to the hearsay regarding players the front office should target, New York Knicks forward Carmelo Anthony is mentioned quite a bit.
Ever since the perennial All-Star announced he was going to test the market once this season concluded, there has been rampant speculation about where the seven-time All-Star would go should he leave the Big Apple.
A lot of talk in recent months has been about 'Melo coming to the Bulls.
The apex of this furor occurred when ESPN analyst Chris Broussard reported via Twitter that Anthony and Bulls center Joakim Noah had a conversation over the All-Star break about playing for Thibodeau.
Broussard relayed that Noah advised Anthony that if the latter wanted his legacy to be about winning, then Chicago would be the ideal destination.
Looking for confirmation from the source doesn’t help validate this claim, as neither player will comment on the issue.
In an article by Joe Cowley of the Chicago Sun-Times, Noah brushed off the assertion as gossip:
What are you talking about, the gossip going on? A lot of gossip right now, a lot of gossip. I feel it. I feel a lot of gossip. I think we all know that we’re in a good place, our team is in a good place. We’ve got a healthy group, it’s a healthy environment, and we’re not going to let gossip get in the way of what we’re doing. We’ve gone through so much this year, so it’s not going to be a little gossip that gets out there.
You want me to address that? I don’t feel like addressing it. I really have nothing to say.
Anthony chalks it up to the beast that is the 24-hour news cycle in a write-up by Nick Friedell of ESPNChicago.com:
"I heard about that one, too. Every day it's a story. Every day it's going to be a new story. I have no information about that. I don't know how that story got out there who started that story. I don't know. I really don't know what to say about it."
Adding fuel to the big-name fire, Bleacher Report’s Ric Bucher stated that many league general managers feel that the Bulls have “something big up their sleeve” as it relates to this summer’s transaction period.
In that filing, other big names like Chris Bosh were linked to the Windy City.
Speculation is what adds fun to the whole process of debating the future of NBA players and teams, but it can get distracting.
While any of the athletes being linked to Chicago would be great acquisitions, the team itself has not made any statements in regard to who it’d like to add, so all reports should be taken with a grain of salt.
That is not to say that the franchise has been totally quiet when talking about adding talent in the near future.
European standout Nikola Mirotic is the only player the Bulls have publicly acknowledged as someone they are actively pursuing.
The versatile forward was drafted in 2011, but his salary playing for Real Madrid was much higher than the NBA’s allotment for athletes chosen in the first round.
Forman explained that after three years, the salary limit expires and then the team can begin genuine negotiations of a buyout to finally bring the much-touted prospect stateside.
Everything is not a foregone conclusion at this point.
In a February 2014 article, Friedell reasons that Mirotic’s continued success may make it harder for the team to convince him to leave Spain.
Paxson is making sure to not sound overly optimistic. He acknowledges there are a lot of things left to do and cannot happen until after the moratorium.
Mirotic seems to be the main priority, and that means all other conjecture would be a backup plan at best.
Chicago will be adding new talent this summer, and as the sage George Harrison so liltingly sang, it’s going to take a whole lot of spending money.
While the Bulls are indeed out of the luxury tax, they don’t have enough cash on hand to pursue anyone of note without trimming a little fat.
If Bucher’s claims about the hunch general managers have concerning Forman and Paxson’s summer game plan prove true, they have to amnesty Carlos Boozer.
This move makes total sense from a financial and philosophical standpoint.
The core of players that included Rose, Deng, Noah and Boozer were given three seasons to compete for a title.
Once it became clear that the group was not going to get it done, a new direction was charted that included restructuring the team’s nucleus.
Trading Deng was the first step in the process, and letting Boozer go will be the next.
After that, it is very likely that the front office will shift into overdrive in the pursuit of Mirotic.
How should the Chicago Bulls handle the 2014 free agency period?
Negotiating the buyout will be the biggest hurdle.
According to CBAFAQ.com, the money used to buy out an international player actually comes out of that player’s salary once the amount that an NBA team is required to pay is exceeded.
Any sum of money that is over the excluded quantity is counted against the cap, so the science involved needs to find a solution on how to make sure the player is getting a contract that complements his value while insuring Real Madrid gets their just due.
According to Sean Deveney of Sporting News, the buyout fee for Mirotic’s contract is 2.5 million euros; the current exchange rate puts that amount at just under $3.5 million.
The cap space created with a Boozer amnesty will go toward whatever it takes to reach an agreement for officially making one of Europe’s best players a member of the Bulls organization.
Barring any outrageous demands or communication breakdowns, this is the team’s most feasible summer option.
This pursuit makes more sense than any rumored interest the Bulls may have with the potential NBA stars who may be available during free agency.
Bosh, Anthony, LeBron James or any other marquee player who decides to test the market will automatically be out of Chicago’s price range.
Landing one of those guys would likely force the team to part with another player in an effort to free up a little more cap room.
Moreover, signing anyone from the aforementioned group may give the Bulls a great trio when they are added with Rose and Noah, but the team would instantly find itself in the same fiscal fix that bound it the two prior seasons.
Ultimately, Mirotic is the best option because he makes the most financial and long-term sense.
At 23 he can contribute to the team’s success for a much longer period of time than any soon-to-be accessible superstar who would come to Chicago, and his skill set fits in perfectly with what the Bulls need to break out of their scoring doldrums.
If more convincing is needed, take a look this scouting report by DraftXpress.com:
The future is now, and it cannot be realized by adding players who are either on or approaching the downward slope of their prime.
Anything that is said about the Bulls coveting Anthony, Bosh or any other high-profile player is nothing more than the rumor mill perpetuating stories to sustain the demand for fresh and entertaining news angles.
There hasn’t been much said by team execs or sources within the organization about what a plan B might entail, so the acquisition of Mirotic is the only known aim anyone has to go on.
Turn a deaf ear to the unfounded statements being made and look across the Atlantic to see for whom Chicago is gunning this upcoming July.