Kevin Love, Not Pau Gasol, Must Be Plan B for Chicago Bulls

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Kevin Love, Not Pau Gasol, Must Be Plan B for Chicago Bulls
Noah Graham/Getty Images

Insight is only as valuable as what you do with it, and the ever-intuitive Chicago Bulls are using theirs to pursue Pau Gasol instead of Kevin Love.

This is to say they're using it wrong. 

Armed with the knowledge that Carmelo Anthony's free-agency decision is now a two-team race between the Los Angeles Lakers and New York Knicks, as reported by ESPN.com's Ramona Shelburne and Chris Broussard, the Bulls have wisely adjusted course and are enacting contingency plans, per ESPN.com's Marc Stein:

The intent is sensible—find a Plan B, someone who can ease the sting of Anthony turning an all-out sales pitch into little more than a ritualistic, ego-boosting pit stop. The execution, however, is not.

By chasing Gasol, by potentially signing him in an attempt to claim offseason victory, the Bulls would be missing the mark. They would be playing it safe when, really, they need to be making a play for Love.

 

Expensively Inconsequential

Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images

Little about Chicago's interest in Gasol is outrageous when looking at what he does.

Pairing him with Joakim Noah instantly gives the Bulls the NBA's best passing frontcourt. Even now, at 34, Gasol is a versatile offensive threat who puts the ball on the floor, scores in the post and drains jumpers. He's a strong fit next to Derrick Rose—who wanted the Bulls to trade for him in 2012—as a pick-and-pop partner whose jump shot is nowhere near as awkward looking as Noah's and Carlos Boozer's. 

Ah, Boozer. The amnesty candidate. The odd man out. The Chicago Bull who hasn't really been a Chicago Bull for the last two years.

If the Bulls want Gasol, he still has to go, as Dan Feldman of NBC Sports lays out:

Presently, the Bulls can offer the same amount as the Thunder, but Chicago’s road to greater cap space – amnestying Carlos Boozer and waiving the unguaranteed contracts of Ronnie Brewer, Mike James and Louis Amundson – is much easier to traverse. Those moves would give the Bulls room to offer Gasol a deal starting up to $10,741,949.

Gasol is looking for $10-12 million annually, according to Yahoo Sports' Adrian Wojnarowski. Amnestying Boozer puts the Bulls right there, giving them the ability to offer Gasol more money than teams like the San Antonio Spurs and Oklahoma City Thunder can pay, and more money than the Lakers likely want to pay.

Problem solved, then. Pay Boozer his $16.8 million salary to go away and move on. Sign Gasol and let the magic unfold.

What magic are we talking about? Beats me. The Bulls must see something in Gasol and Boozer that we don't.

Showing Boozer the door should be a precursor to bigger, better, additions. Landing Gasol would be a lateral(ish) move. The Bulls would be replacing one aging defensive liability with another.

Boozer vs. Gasol in 2013-14 Per 36 Minutes
PTS FG% REB AST BLK Off. Rtg. Def. Rtg. PER
Boozer 17.5 45.6 10.6 2.0 0.4 95 98 14.4
Gasol 18.5 48.0 9.3 38 1.8 102 108 19.3

Basketball-Reference.

Starting Gasol over Boozer is clearly an upgrade. The former makes his teammates better and remains a triple-double threat. Boozer is strictly a scorer who often abandons his post to drum up rebounding totals.

But Gasol isn't enough of an upgrade. Not at his cost.

Say the Bulls give him $10.7 million in 2014-15. Toss in the $16.8 million it would cost to send Boozer packing, and they're essentially paying $27.5 million for one roster spot. 

Investing that much in one position makes sense when we're talking about LeBron James, Melo or Love. Paying that much for a marginal upgrade who has missed 55 games to Boozer's nine over the last two seasons and forces the burgeoning Taj Gibson to remain on the bench does not.

It's an expensive risk not worth taking.

 

Where Is the Love?

Ann Heisenfelt/Associated Press

Throughout all this, Love chatter has been minimal.

The Bulls made a lukewarm pitch to the Minnesota Timberwolves leading up to the draft, dangling Taj Gibson and Tony Snell in addition to picks Nos. 16 and 19, according to ESPN.com's Chad Ford (subscription required). It's been all about Melo since then, though ESPN Chicago's Nick Friedell does say the Bulls will kick around Love scenarios once again:

The Bulls have kicked the tires on a Love deal with the Minnesota Timberwolves for several years. If they don't land Melo, expect them to make some more calls to Timberwolves coach and president of basketball operations Flip Saunders to see if they can work something out. Since Love wasn't moved before the draft, there's a solid chance that Saunders will try to persuade Love to stay one more time before potentially dealing him before the trade deadline in February.

This is where parties will diverge. 

Merely exploring a Love trade isn't good enough. This isn't something the Bulls should just entertain in passing. This is a venture they should commit themselves to and go all-in on. 

Love is a superstar. He became just the eighth player in NBA history to average at least 25 points, 12 rebounds and four assists per game for an entire season last year. The other seven—Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, Elgin Baylor, Wilt Chamberlain, Charles Barkley, Billy Cunningham, Bob McAdoo and Oscar Robertson—are all Hall of Famers. 

Love also ranked third in win shares (14.3), behind only James (15.9) and Kevin Durant (19.2), dispelling the notion that he isn't a superstar while absolving himself of any blame for Minny's 10th consecutive lottery appearance.

As far as consolation prizes go, it doesn't get any better than Love. He's arguably—nay, obviously—the better fit alongside Rose than Anthony because of his passing and extensive familiarity with playing off the ball. 

And the Bulls can chase him. They have the requisite assets to help force the Timberwolves' hand. It's going to take more than Snell, Gibson and a future pick, but the Bulls have more to offer. And you better believe they need to offer more.

Doug McDermott shouldn't be off limits. Nikola Mirotic shouldn't be untouchable. That 2015 first-rounder from Sacramento needs to be on the table. Trading Jimmy Butler isn't ideal, but much like Klay Thompson shouldn't be holding up the Golden State Warriors' pursuit of Love, he shouldn't be a deal-breaker.

None of which means the Bulls need to bend over in negotiations. But they need to make an aggressive play. This is their chance to strike, while everyone is sidetracked by James, Anthony and what they're having for breakfast they'll do next.

Certain Love suitors no longer have strong packages put together this side of the draft. They can't sell Minny on the deep 2014 class when it's already passed. There's always the chance that teams selected players the Timberwolves would want, but that remains unlikely.

Look at the Boston Celtics. They used the No. 6 pick on Marcus Smart. The Timberwolves aren't flipping Love for a package headlined by Smart. Case closed. But they might consider an offer built around Gibson, Snell, Mirotic or McDermott and a future first-rounder or two. 

That should, at the very least, get talks rolling.

 

Embracing the Out-of-Character Play

USA TODAY Sports

Chasing Love is the uncharacteristic play for Chicago.

The Bulls aren't lauded for their risk-taking capacities. Owner Jerry Reinsdorf and general manager Gar Forman play it safe, and Love isn't safe.

No matter where he lands, Love will become a free agent in 2015. That will have some teams running scared. The thought of mortgaging present and future assets for a potential rental is disturbing enough to instill fear and incite inaction.

If there was ever a team that would be turned off by the absence of assurances, it's the Bulls. Understandably so, too.

Rose's recurring stints on the sideline have put them in a tricky situation. Their star point guard has appeared in 50 games—regular season and playoffs—since 2011-12. There's no telling whether he's enough of a selling point to retain Love one year from now.

There's also no predicting Love's next move. He seems more interested in market location than most. He wants to win, but his initial list of preferred destinations, as reported by ESPN  reads like a who's who of gargantuan-sized cities.  

Yet the Bulls were on that list. They can trade for Love with something bearing resemblance to confidence knowing they made the original cut.

Chicago winters can be brutal, and after six years in Minny, Love may be searching for warm-weather climates that allow him to sunbathe prior to tipoff. Nothing warms the blood like winning, though. And the Bulls are in position to win now with the Eastern Conference being both weak and confusing. If, for some reason, the Miami Heat's Big Three disband, there's a case to be made that the Bulls are conference favorites even without Love.

Dealing for him provides them with an inherent edge as well. They'll have an entire year to sell him on Chicago. They can steer his free-agency decision during that time. 

Fear, then, cannot be a factor here.

Never mind waiting. Patience is the enemy now. Procrastinating only makes it more likely the Bulls are facing an abundance of competition from other teams Anthony and James jilted. They need to act now. 

Tyler Kaufman/Getty Images
If not Melo, it has to be Love.

Amnestying Boozer would make it easier for them to accept one of the Timberwolves' less desirable pacts in any deal, increasing the appeal of their offer. Minny could also decide to absorb Boozer's expiring deal for a chance to increase the number of long-term contracts it sends back. 

Who should the Bulls go after first and foremost if Melo signs elsewhere?

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"It’s going to be a very fluid situation," Forman said of Chicago's offseason process, via CSNChicago.com's Mark Strotman. "Obviously we’re going to evaluate all the different avenues that we have to try to make the team better."

One of those avenues must be Love.

Whatever the cost of acquiring him, the Bulls need to consider it. Signing Gasol isn't good enough. Love is the one who can bring them anywhere and everywhere Anthony was supposed to.

 

*Salary information via ShamSports. Advanced stats via Basketball-Reference.


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