How Chicago Bulls Can Hold Keys to the 2014 NBA Offseason

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How Chicago Bulls Can Hold Keys to the 2014 NBA Offseason
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With superstar dreams and the assets needed to bring one on board, the Chicago Bulls could have the heaviest hand on the 2014 NBA offseason.

No one has more eggs in as many different baskets as the Bulls brass. Whether pursuing the premier names available or feeding the market with talent of their own, each offseason breeze has a distinct Windy City feel to it.

Starting from the top seems to be the best way to plot the Bulls' summer schedule, as that appears to be the theme of their planned activities. If there's a notable name on (or even close to) the market, chances are Chicago's fingerprints are nearby.

As league sources told Adrian Wojnarowski of Yahoo Sports, the Bulls are one of two frontrunners, along with the Houston Rockets, to acquire New York Knicks scoring machine Carmelo Anthony. Baxter Holmes of The Boston Globe listed Chicago as the second-most likely landing spot for Minnesota Timberwolves walking double-double Kevin Love:

The Bulls are casting every available reel in hopes of snagging a big fish, as they probably should.

Chicago's last two seasons have been defined by survival. A pair of devastating knee injuries to former MVP Derrick Rose (first a torn ACL, then a torn meniscus) robbed the Bulls of any shot at contention. The fact they still averaged more than 46 wins over that stretch while getting 10 games total from Rose was inspirational, if not miraculous.

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But the Bulls aren't in the business of warming hearts. Not with Rose working toward reclaiming his spot among the game's elites, and reigning Defensive Player of the Year Joakim Noah approaching his 30th birthday.

The time for Chicago to make a major move is now.

As Joe Cowley of the Chicago Sun-Times noted, this front office is ready to strike in any number of directions:

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 — and not by choice.

'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.

... Carmelo Anthony is still Plan A as the Bulls and the rest of the NBA await to see if the Knicks forward will opt out of his contract. But the Bulls are more active in their pursuit of Kevin Love than initially rumored. Also, don’t rule out LeBron James coming into play again if the four-time MVP opts out of his deal.

Putting Anthony at the top of Chicago's big board makes a lot of sense.

The Bulls have an all-world defense. Their 97.8 defensive rating this season was second only to the Indiana Pacers, via NBA.com.

However, Chicago found offensive competence just as hard to come by as its opponents did. D.J. Augustin, who landed with the Bulls after being waived by the Toronto Raptors, led all regulars in scoring. The Bulls were one of four teams, and the only postseason participant, to average fewer than 100 points per 100 possessions.

Getting back Rose, a career 20.8 points-per-game scorer, will help. Getting Anthony, the scoring champ in 2012-13, could be a game-changer.

That's why Noah's stretch run included sending recruiting texts to Anthony, per Cowley. That's the reason Chicago execs, sources told Wojnarowski, "are working diligently on contingencies to clear the space to sign Anthony outright – or engage sign-and-trade scenarios with New York."

Wiping Carlos Boozer's expiring $16.8 million contract, via ShamSports.com, off the books via the amnesty clause could help make the outright signing of Anthony a far more realistic possibility. The Bulls would then need to dump more salary in trades.

Should the Bulls take the amnesty route with Boozer, they would add an intriguing name to a free-agent class that could use the lift. He might not be worth his current rate, but his 13.7 points and 8.3 rebounds from this season could look good at the right price.

The Bulls, for what it's worth, aren't high on the amnesty idea. Not as a first option, at least. ESPN.com's Marc Stein explained:

You continue to hear rumbles that Bulls chairman Jerry Reinsdorf is adamantly against the idea of setting Boozer free via amnesty, even though the 32-year-old is finally poised to enter the final year of his contract, valued in 2014-15 at $16.8 million.

Sources briefed on Chicago's thinking say the Bulls are going to do everything they can to try to find a trading partner for Boozer before seriously considering the amnesty option. 

The field of potential partners isn't likely to be thick, but the Knicks could entertain an offer to try and get something in return for Anthony. 

Given the relationship between Bulls general manager John Paxson and Knicks president Phil Jackson, Paxson's former coach, "it is conceivable that the two could negotiate a deal involving Anthony," Frank Isola of the New York Daily News wrote.

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Isola opined that a package with Boozer's contract and a first-round pick might do the trick. Eric Pincus of Basketball Insiders said it could take "a package of Boozer, [Mike] Dunleavy, two 2014 first-round picks (16 and 19) and perhaps a future first."

The Bulls aren't light on assets.

They have potential trade sweeteners in Taj Gibson, Jimmy Butler and the rights to draft-and-stash prospect Nikola Mirotic. They also hold the pair of 2014 first-round picks Pincus referenced, which Sports Illustrated's Chris Mannix reported they're "aggressively trying to move...for either a veteran scorer or the chance to move up in the draft to select a young wing player with scoring potential."

Which superstar do the Bulls have the best shot at landing?

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If what sources told Cowley is true, even Noah could be up for grabs—although one would assume his price tag would be astronomical.

Chicago can provide a trade partner immediate help, long-term assistance or a combination of both. The Bulls are in such a favorable position, the basketball world may well wind up waiting on their calls.

Anthony is watching to see how much the Bulls could have left after acquiring him. The Knicks are monitoring the situation in case they need to work a last-minute deal. The Timberwolves are standing by with the understanding that few trade partners could match Chicago's offer. The other entries in the race for Love might not get out of the starting blocks until Chicago gives the signal.

Whether wanting a shot at the Bulls' targets, the Bulls' players or the Bulls' picks, everyone has a reason to keep a close watch on Chicago. That may well be where the direction of the 2014 NBA offseason is decided.

 

Unless otherwise noted, statistics used courtesy of Basketball-Reference.com and NBA.com.

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