The Chicago Bulls appear poised to move forward by using the league’s amnesty clause on Carlos Boozer while embracing the superior overall play of Taj Gibson. That decision has been a long time coming in the eyes of many fans, but is there a viable scenario in which Chicago should avoid releasing the 32-year-old?
Of Boozer’s seemingly inevitable release, the Chicago Sun-Times’ Joe Cowley wrote the following:
Despite general manager Gar Forman insisting that a decision to seek amnesty on the last season of Boozer’s contract ‘doesn’t have to be made until July,’ sources indicated at the end of the Bulls’ season that a decision already had been made and that Boozer wouldn’t be returning.
In effect, the veteran’s dismissal would lead to a promotion for Gibson. Although the USC product thrived in a bench role once again—finishing second in Sixth Man of the Year voting—it’s clear that he prefers being a member of the starting five.
“I mean, this will be exciting,” Gibson said in a phone interview with Cowley. “This is what I’ve always thought about. When I started [six games] for Boozer when he was hurt during the [regular] season, I just know how excited I was, how good it felt to come to the arena.”
The 28-year-old appeared in all 82 regular-season games (eight starts). There’s simply no way to deny his impact compared to Boozer, because the Bulls have been far superior when the incumbent starter has been toweling off.
Bleacher Report’s Adam Fromal broke that dynamic down as follows:
According to Basketball-Reference.com, Chicago scored an additional 4.9 points per 100 possessions when he was glued to the bench and allowed opponents to score an extra 3.2 when he was on the floor during the regular season.
Obviously, that’s not good. And it got worse during the playoffs.
Boozer dropped the Bulls’ net rating by 8.1 points per 100 possessions during the regular season, and that number jumped to 20.9 when past the 82nd game of the campaign.
So, while Boozer scores more points and grabs more rebounds on a per-36-minute basis when compared to Gibson, his defensive shortcomings leave Chicago hemorrhaging points.
Still, Boozer is set to make $16.8 million for the 2014-15 campaign, per ShamSports. Is it truly worth paying that amount of money to ensure he doesn’t play for the Bulls?
Need for Offense
The Bulls defense under head coach Tom Thibodeau was thoroughly dominant once again—finishing first in opponent points allowed (91.8) and second in overall defensive rating (97.8), per ESPN.
On the flip side, however, the Bulls scored the fewest points (93.7) and finished tied for 27th in offensive efficiency (99.7).
Boozer functioned as a defensive sieve, but he did average 17.5 points per 36 minutes, according to Basketball-Reference.com. A career-low 45.6 percent shooting from the field wasn’t ideal, but he sports a career average of 16.6 points on 52.3 percent shooting. There’s at least some reason to believe he could bounce back to form after a down year.
Boozer didn’t help his case to avoid the amnesty clause, but Chicago needs as much offense as it can muster.
Even if Derrick Rose comes back healthy next season to provide some offensive firepower, the frontcourt will rely on Gibson and Mike Dunleavy for scoring. That’s not exactly a recipe for sustained success.
If Boozer will indeed be waived via amnesty, the Bulls need a plan to bring in additional depth at forward.
Who to Add?
The Bulls are attempting to make an offseason splash by targeting big-name free agents such as Carmelo Anthony, LeBron James and Chris Bosh, according to Cowley. “If it doesn’t happen, they could use the money from Boozer’s contract to add depth with a player such as Shawn Marion or Paul Pierce,” he wrote.
Financial restrictions will handicap Chicago’s odds of wooing someone in the realm of Melo. Marion and Pierce still have some gas left in the tank, but bringing in fresh prospects appears to be the most feasible way to move forward.
As Fromal wrote, “Amnestying Boozer creates space—both on the roster and in the financial books—to bring aboard Real Madrid’s Nikola Mirotic, who could be bought out and brought across the pond this very offseason.”
In 31 games played (all starts) for Real Madrid in 2013-14, Mirotic averaged 12.4 points and 4.6 rebounds per game in approximately 24 minutes per contest, via Euroleague.net. He was incredibly efficient, shooting 53.7 percent from the field and 46.1 percent from three-point range.
Bringing him over to learn under Coach Thibs and get over the initial culture shock certainly isn’t a bad option. He’d be a solid floor-spreading threat behind Gibson, which provides a nice dynamic from an X’s-and-O’s perspective. The Spanish standout’s spot-up shooting has been impressive.
Paying Boozer nearly $17 million to find another professional situation isn’t ideal unless Chicago can fill that void. Swapping him out of the starting lineup in favor of Gibson could work, but Boozer already complained about playing time during the regular season. He may not be keen on staying aboard as a bench player regardless of what he’s getting paid. As a result, there’s no reason for Thibodeau and Co. to hurt team chemistry by retaining him.
Whether Chicago signs Anthony at a discount, brings Mirotic to the NBA or drafts a viable forward such as Michigan State’s Adreian Payne or Duke’s Rodney Hood, amnestying Boozer still seems like the best call.
Gibson has earned a starting nod through defensive intensity and overall hustle. His offensive repertoire is still developing, but a 32-point outburst against the Washington Wizards in the first round of the Eastern Conference playoffs hints at untapped potential.
The Bulls front office has plenty of questions to answer this summer, but whether to amnesty Boozer shouldn’t be among those issues. Eliminating his contract from the cap gives the Bulls plenty of options.
Since offense will be at a premium regardless, establishing a one-two defensive punch of Gibson and Joakim Noah will make the roster even more formidable in that category.
Whatever the case, Chicago’s championship aspirations are tied to the health of D-Rose—not the role Boozer does or does not fill. If the franchise point guard can’t stay healthy, other issues will continue to be magnified.