The Chicago Bulls and Philadelphia 76ers could not possibly reach further ends of the roundball spectrum from one another. Chicago boasts a perennial playoff contender, while Philly hasn't won more than 43 games in over 10 years.
However, fielding a competitive team comes at a price, and while the Bulls yearn to surround Derrick Rose with the right pieces despite little salary-cap wiggle room, the Sixers have plenty of draft picks and even more payroll flexibility.
These NBA rumors portray two divergent teams taking two opposite tracks to improve.
Building Around D-Rose
Every NBA team wants to improve, even the Miami Heat and San Antonio Spurs. Unfortunately for them and for Chicago, improving a talented team can prove far harder than turning around a laughable loser.
After the magical 2010-11 season when Rose claimed the league MVP and the Bulls ran all the way to the Eastern Conference Finals before falling to Miami, Chicago appeared set for an annual shot at the NBA Finals. Since then, Rose has played in one solitary playoff game: Game 1 of Round 1 against the Sixers in 2012, when he injured his knee.
Worse still, watching the success of LeBron James and the Heat only served to remind the team of how the league's best player spurned them in 2010 in favor of Miami. Carlos Boozer became Chicago's consolation prize, and subsequently, talk of amnestying Boozer became a chronically headache-inducing point of debate.
As noted by Joe Cowley of the Chicago Sun-Times: "According to several NBA sources Sunday, the Bulls have been actively looking to improve the starting lineup at almost any cost, with Derrick Rose the only untouchable player."
For 2013-14, the Bulls stood pat and hoped that Rose would finally be healthy for a full season. He was not, and the Bulls fell in the postseason's first round in five games. Now, the front office is determined to improve by any means necessary, and a sign-and-trade involving Boozer would be the ideal first domino.
The plan is to build a championship-caliber team around Rose, though he has been the primary piece holding back a talented squad from competing for a title in the postseason due to his balky knees. Chicago appears to have a solid core in addition to Rose with players like Joakim Noah, Taj Gibson and Jimmy Butler, but they have to bolster the rotation with enough quality to make a deep playoff run.
The Bulls' goal does not consist of adding several useful role players. They want to make a big splash and land a bona fide All-Star, someone who can provide the hard-nosed defensive team with the potential for 20 points per game.
According to Cowley: "'They are looking to exhaust as many assets as it will take,' one source said of general manager Gar Forman and head of basketball operations John Paxson."
Without stating it explicitly, the Bulls' two targets are New York Knick Carmelo Anthony and Minnesota Timberwolves forward Kevin Love. However, with the Bulls over the salary cap, landing either will not be an easy task.
Yahoo Sports' Adrian Wojnarowski reported that Melo is "leaning toward leaving [New York] in pursuit of immediate championship contention." However, it would likely cost the Bulls their amnesty provision plus the player who finished second in last season's Sixth Man of the Year voting. And new Knicks President Phil Jackson would love to have a strong and long young guard like Iman Shumpert at his disposal.
As Wojnarowski outlined, the Bulls would be an attractive fit for Anthony with a softer conference than other suitors: "The Bulls could enjoy an easier path to the NBA Finals than Houston, which competes in the much stronger Western Conference."
However, Gibson and Noah formed a two-man wrecking crew last season, and moving Taj to acquire Melo could be more costly than it's worth. As Cowley noted:
After the Bulls were eliminated from the playoffs, the Sun-Times reported that Joakim Noah not only actively recruited Anthony at the All-Star Game, but he stayed on him throughout the second half of the season. The catch was that Noah didn’t want teammate Taj Gibson sacrificed to bring Anthony over.
This scenario would lead from Anthony opting out of his current contract, and the offensive ability that won him the scoring title would be too much for the Bulls to pass up, but they could also orchestrate an outright trade with the T-Wolves if they target Kevin Love instead.
ESPN's Jackie MacMullan noted that Chicago submitted an offer for Love that at least outstripped what the Boston Celtics put on the table: "The Timberwolves privately maintain they already have fielded better offers from other teams, among them the Chicago Bulls."
A trade package would almost certainly include one of this year's first-round picks plus Gibson and Butler, both as attractive trade assets and to help make room to take on more salary. While Gibson's value has never been higher, the Bulls undeniably have to make a splash instead of waiting another year for Rose's knees to "heal."
Riggin' (a Trade) for Wiggins
Philly reporters have been eagerly following the team's pursuit of top draft prospect Andrew Wiggins—not just figuratively, but literally.
According to the Philadelphia Inquirer's Keith Pompey:
One thing is certain: The 76ers are entertaining the player they're targeting in the NBA draft for a couple of days. But no one outside of the parties involved really knows how Andrew Wiggins' visit to Philadelphia is coming along. … The only glimpse of Wiggins was when he exited the back of the building at 12:51 p.m. He got into a black Chevrolet Suburban with Sixers center Nerlens Noel and front office employee Brandon D. Williams. Wiggins was spotted Monday night at a Rittenhouse Square restaurant with Sixers general manager Sam Hinkie. A source confirmed a Yahoo Sports report that Wiggins took a tour of the city.
Breaking: Tourist visits, explores Philadelphia.
The Sixers have kept their plans for the No. 3 pick in the draft close to the vest so far, but basketball paparazzi have helped peg down their desire for Wiggins.
Joel Embiid and Jabari Parker are considered to be top-three prospects along with Wiggins, while Australian combo guard Dante Exum projects as No. 4.
A scenario exists by which the 76ers could stand pat at No. 3 and watch Wiggins fall to them. Embiid's draft stock has been rising as concerns about his back pain diminish. Parker is viewed as perhaps the most NBA-ready prospect in the draft. If Milwaukee takes Parker (or the Utah Jazz trade up for him) and the Cavs snag Embiid in a draft short on size, Wiggins will be waiting on the board when Philly selects.
However, the team may not want to wait if it has already identified its top candidate and sits so close to guaranteeing it snags him.
After a season's worth of speculation about whether they would trade Thaddeus Young—they swapped Evan Turner and Spencer Hawes instead—the 76ers could use him as a sweetener to move up two spots and land the top pick.
As ESPN's Chad Ford revealed about Wiggins in his most recent mock draft (subscription required): "The Sixers have been actively trying to trade up to make sure they land him, and I'm told a swap of No. 1 for No. 3 and Thaddeus Young isn't totally out of the question."
The Sixers are overhauling the team, and Young represents old blood. He'll be 26 when next season begins, and he's coming off a season averaging 17.9 points per game, though that figure became inflated by his team's dearth of other options on offense.
Young and Wiggins are both 6'8", though Wiggins fits better at the 2 while Young plays at the 3. Either way, Wiggins has the skill set and size to play some small forward, and Young could be gone if the Sixers draft a small forward like Parker anyway.
Young's future is an ancillary concern for the Sixers. The draft and which top prospect comes to town will be the primary focus, and the team holds the No. 10 pick in addition to No. 3.
The Wiggins-Sixers marriage appears to be loving on both sides. Yahoo Sports' Marc J. Spears quoted a source who said: "Wiggins would be excited to play for them if selected." Now they just have to determine whether they can land him at three or if it's worth it to pay the price of assuredness and move up.
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