The first chapter of the Chicago Bulls’ offseason was written during the draft on Thursday night, as they traded their two first-round picks (Nos. 16 and 19) in order to acquire the rights to Creighton star forward Doug McDermott, who was selected by the Denver Nuggets at pick No. 11. What does that move signal for the rest of the summer?
The Bulls bundled together their two picks in order to land the NCAA’s fifth all-time leading scorer, as he was a player whom they coveted. Per Jon Greenburg of ESPN, the team was "high on the former Creighton star all season, scouting him a number of times.”
Tom Thibodeau likes him, too, per the team's official Twitter feed:
McDermott’s Draft Express profile seems to confirm Thibodeau’s assessment:
McDermott's efficiency was also extremely well-rounded. He ranks as the most efficient off-screen and isolation scorer, while ranking in the top-3 scoring off put backs, post ups, and cuts. His multi-dimensional scoring ability is thanks to his tremendously high skill level. Ranking 1st or 2nd among small forward prospects scoring 1.37 points per shot around the rim, 1.15 points per pull up jump shot, and 1.31 points per catch and shoot jump shot, McDermott is a plug a play type offensively at the next level. His lack of athleticism may limit him to some degree around the rim (and we haven't discussed his defense), but his feel for the game and high level shot making ability should help him make an impact for a team offensively sooner rather than later.
The Bulls, who finished last in the league in points per game last season, are in dire need of offense, and they may have added the draft's best scorer. Last season, McDermott averaged 26.7 points per game and shot .526 overall, including .450 from deep.
The Bulls also drafted Tony Snell's former teammate, Cameron Bairstow, a 6'10" power forward out of New Mexico, in the second round. Here is what Aggrey Sam of CSN Chicago had to say about him: "A role player for most of his career, Bairstow had a breakout campaign as a senior, averaging 20.4 points and 7.4 rebounds per game, while shooting a gaudy 55.6 percent from the field." It looks like the Bulls were looking at offense with his selection, too.
The draft offered a good start for the Bulls, but what happens next?
Step One: (If Necessary) Move Salary
The aforementioned draft-day trade was initially seen as a way the Bulls could trim $329,000 in cap space this summer, influenced by their hopes of signing Carmelo Anthony, but the inclusion of Anthony Randolph as part of the trade contradicted that. K.C. Johnson of the Chicago Tribune explains:
The Bulls also absorbed Anthony Randolph's expiring $1.825 million deal, which general manager Gar Forman said the Nuggets demanded be included, into a trade exception the Luol Deng deal created. That added salary but spoke to how much the Bulls coveted McDermott, who averaged 26.7 points his senior season at Creighton.
They’ll be looking for someone to take on Randolph’s salary, but it would have to be a separate deal. Because he was acquired by the Traded-Player Exception, they can’t include him in a multi-player transaction this summer. The Bulls feel confident they can still move him, though, per Johnson:
They can also amnesty Carlos Boozer, who is owed $16.8 million this year. Finally, they can reach an agreement with Nikola Mirotic—an international prospect whom the team drafted in 2011—to defer until 2015-16, if necessary.
If they did that, this is what their cap situation would look like:
|Bulls Cap Availability, 2015|
|Incomplete Roster Charge (*4)||$202,9344|
|Richard Hamilton *||$333,334|
*Hamilton’s stretch provision is still in effect. He’s not on the roster but is still counting against the cap.
That leaves them $14.9 million to offer Anthony, which would be a significant pay cut for him. Chicago can free additional money up by trading away Tony Snell and/or Greg Smith, however, as those two moves would up the team's available cap room this year to $16.3 million.
They can also use the room exception (which is why it may seem why I have one too few incomplete roster charges in the above table) to fill the final spot.
Hopefully, they can use it on Nikola Mirotic in lieu of deferring on him. While it would mean an initial hit to him financially, it would also mean he could get to the big NBA paycheck sooner. Once the three-year deal expired, he'd be an unrestricted free agent.
Plus, Spanish media outlet 24segundosenblanco (h/t ChiBullsZone.com) reports that Mirotic wants out of Real Madrid.
The Bulls could add Anthony, Mirotic and McDermott this season with the only sacrifices to their nucleus being Boozer and Dunleavy. With Rose coming back, too, that could solve a lot of scoring problems. In fact, those names would account for the four-best scorers on the roster.
The Bulls wouldn’t have to worry about pulling any triggers immediately, either. They don’t need to actually clear the cap space; they just need to prove they can to get leverage in negotiations.
Step Two: Explore a Sign-and-Trade for Carmelo Anthony
One of the most intriguing things from draft night had nothing to do with the actual draft, as noted by Johnson:
Speaking to reporters in New York before the draft about his six-player trade with the Mavericks on Wednesday, Knicks President Phil Jackson reiterated he "challenged" Anthony to take less money to give the Knicks the ability to sign other players. Perhaps most tellingly, Jackson wouldn't comment when asked if he would consider a sign-and-trade for the All-Star forward.
The trade changed the Knicks' financial picture for this summer and next. That could open them to sign-and-trade possibilities they previously might not have considered if Anthony is set to leave. If those include (Carlos) Boozer, that's the Bulls' dream scenario, although Jackson has shown no interest yet.
Phil Jackson not saying that he won’t do a sign-and-trade is akin to pleading the Fifth; it’s an admission without actually admitting anything. And Johnson is absolutely correct in stating it is the Bulls' dream scenario—and not just because Bulls owner Jerry Reinsdorf is “cheap.”
There are valid reasons it behooves all three parties to do a sign-and-trade.
For Chicago, it will allow them to stay over the cap. That means they can keep their mid-level and bi-annual exceptions, which will allow them to put a better roster on the court.
For Anthony, it means he can get paid more money. While he might be willing to take significantly less, I’m sure his preference is not having to do so.
For New York, it means they can get something in return for Anthony. On this point, it’s really critical—and often overlooked—that the Knicks have virtually no bargaining power. The most important aspect of the sign-and-trade is the "sign," not the "trade."
Should Anthony decide he wants to go to Houston, no amount of negotiating with New York is going to help the Bulls.
Nor would it matter if the Rockets offered the Knicks a golden-gilded moon on a silver platter if his mind is set on Chicago. Anthony alone determines where Anthony goes.
If he is ready to come to Chicago for less money in free agency, then it would be silly for the Bulls to sacrifice more assets to acquire him by trade than they would surrender by acquiring him via free agency. And as already discussed, that’s not a lot.
Basically, Chicago needs to give New York an incentive to take on Boozer’s contract and agree to a sign-and-trade. Offering their 2015 first-round pick (which they have the right to swap with Cleveland) and the protected Sacramento Kings pick they possess could sweeten the deal. Both picks could be in the 11-19 range.
While Boozer’s contract is a tough pill to swallow, and the Knicks have no shortage of overpaid power forwards (e.g. Amar’e Stoudemire and Andrea Bargnani), he only has one year left on his deal.
The Knicks are setting up for making a big splash in next year's free-agency market, and acquiring Boozer's expiring contract would fit in with that philosophy. The two aforementioned draft choices fit with the team's rebuilding mentality—particularly for a team already short on them.
Having as many as three picks in the top half of next year’s first round should appeal to Jackson, who confused Knicks fans everywhere by trading for two selections in Thursday night's draft via the deal that sent Tyson Chandler and Raymond Felton to the Dallas Mavericks on June 25.
The bottom line is if Anthony is leaving New York, the Knicks will be a better team in two years by agreeing to a sign-and-trade for him.
That means it is all up to Anthony. If the Bulls can convince him to come, they can force the Knicks' hand; if they can’t, it won’t matter anyway.
Step Three: Sell Carmelo Anthony on the Plan
It is imperative that the Bulls sell Anthony on the team's plan, because it all rests on him buying into it. Fortunately, that shouldn’t be too hard.
All they have to do is tell Anthony the facts.
They have last year’s Naismith Award-winner in McDermott. They have the reigning NBA Defensive Player of the Year in Joakim Noah. They have a former MVP returning in Derrick Rose. If former scoring champion Anthony comes, they’d be the first roster since the 2002-03 Washington Wizards to have all four awards represented (because…Michael Jordan.)
They can also add the fact that they also have a former Coach of the Year in Tom Thibodeau as well as a top-flight international prospect in Mirotic, the best player in Europe and ACB League MVP. Finally, they have a Second Team All-Defensive wing in Jimmy Butler.
They have Taj Gibson, too, who finished second in last year’s Sixth Man of the Year voting and who is ready to step into the starting lineup. They can bring back last season’s savior, D.J. Augustin, with the bi-annual exception.
Essentially, you put all of that together and you have something that the other teams who are pursuing Anthony can’t offer: depth. Sure, the Houston Rockets have the allure of a new “Big Three” with James Harden and Dwight Howard, but where is the rest of the team?
Maybe the Rockets can build something around that trio, but it’s going to take time. The Bulls have structure right now, and they have a vastly superior defense.
And then Chicago can just direct Anthony to last year’s Finals. What beats a great trio? A great system with a deep team. If Anthony wants to win now, the Bulls are his best option.
If he’s concerned about Rose’s health, take him to a scrimmage. Let him watch Rose. Let him play Rose. If Anthony’s worried about his role, sit him down with Thibodeau and reassure him. If he's fretting over the offensive problems, let him know that's why they want him.
Most importantly, if James calls in the middle of the sit-down, decline the call.
If they convince Anthony to come, all they need to do is have him go back to New York and tell Jackson, “I’ve got some good news, some bad news and some great news. The good news is, you convinced me to take a pay cut to win. The bad news is, I’m doing it in Chicago. The great news is, you can help the Bulls win another banner.”
Once he does that, the aforementioned sign-and-trade should get set in motion.
Step 4: Hold Off on Other Moves
At this point you’re probably wondering, “What about Kevin Love and the Minnesota Timberwolves?” And this is where things get really delicate.
This is just my gut feeling, and it’s not a rumor that I’ve read or anything, but I think the Bulls would rather win a championship by beating LeBron James than joining forces with him.
Whether it was Noah mocking Cleveland, James dancing at the free-throw line, James spurning Chicago in 2010, the 2011 Eastern Conference Finals or the numerous gritty battles between the Bulls and Miami Heat, there’s genuine dislike there.
When you hear the old stars say, “We wanted to crush our rivals, not join them,” I think it resonates with Rose, Noah and Gibson. They want to beat Miami, not be Miami. And they feel they can do that with Anthony.
And this is why that is important: While other teams are hoping for Anthony to be their Plan B as they try and charm James away from Miami (probably fruitlessly), the Bulls should go all-in for Anthony. Let him feel like the prom queen, not a safety date.
If he knows he's Chicago's first choice, it will move Chicago a long way toward being his first choice.
It doesn’t look like Minnesota is in a rush to trade Love. The Bulls can visit that if they strike out with Anthony, but they can’t worry about that now. Don’t try and woo both at the same time.
A friend of mine, who is a retired vice president of a major U.S. corporation, likes to say, “If you have more than one priority, you don’t have any.” As far as he’s concerned, three is excessive. That needs to be the Bulls’ philosophy: Get Anthony first and worry about the other stuff later.
Even things like securing Mirotic or plugging in the other free-agent slots need to be done with the view of bringing on Anthony. It’s time for the front office to stop hedging their bets and go all-in. It’s not a gamble if you have the best hand.
The Bulls won 48 games last year finishing last in scoring. Imagine what they can do with the offensive influx Anthony, Rose, McDermott and Mirotic can provide.
Then, that will snowball. Suddenly, with Chicago being in the driver's seat of the Eastern Conference, it will be the team that all the "cool kids" want to join. Veterans looking at their last chance to win a championship should come running to the Windy City instead of Miami or the Los Angeles Clippers. Vince Carter anyone? Want a third ring Mike Miller?
The Bulls' offseason will mean doing a number of things, but ultimately it’s to do one thing: Make Anthony a Bull. Do that and the rest will take care of itself.
 While I verified this with cap expert Mark Deeks on Twitter, there’s a chance he didn’t fully understand what I was asking. Blame 142 character limits. If that’s wrong, add $507, 336 to the listed numbers.