Chicago Bulls Can't Afford to Trade for Kevin Love

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Chicago Bulls Can't Afford to Trade for Kevin Love
Steve Yeater/Associated Press

The Chicago Bulls still haven't found a scoring sidekick for Derrick Rose, so it makes sense for them to explore the option of landing double-double machine Kevin Love.

But that exploration doesn't have to be a long one. A cursory glance at the price tag should be all the Bulls need to know it's time to move on.

Love, who forced his way onto the trade block in May, didn't start the summer as Chicago's Plan A. That honor instead went to scoring savant Carmelo Anthony, who began his recruiting trip with an extended visit to Chicago before ultimately re-signing with the New York Knicks.

After missing on Melo, the Bulls seemed content to skip Plan B—assuming that's how they viewed Love—and work on building the kind of depth they've severely lacked in recent years. Doug McDermott and Cameron Bairstow joined the fold during the NBA draft, then Pau Gasol and Nikola Mirotic arrived shortly thereafter.

Kirk Hinrich returned on a two-year deal. Scoring guard Aaron Brooks came aboard, the team announced Tuesday, filling the third-guard/Rose-insurance role that players like Nate Robinson and D.J. Augustin held before him.

As Comcast SportsNet's Aggrey Sam observed, the Bulls played the numbers game quite well, adding the right pieces to complement the strong preexisting core of Derrick Rose, Joakim Noah, Taj Gibson and Jimmy Butler:

It’s a brand-new day in Chicago, one that features a Bulls team with a plethora of outside shooting, all kinds of lineup versatility, tremendous size and most importantly, depth.

... Add in Gasol’s polished skill set and championship experience, the as-advertised perimeter marksmanship recently displayed by McDermott in Las Vegas, second-year wing Tony Snell’s new-found aggressiveness that earned him first team all-summer league honors with his rookie teammate and the diminutive Brooks’ offensive firepower, and it’s clear why many observers believe the Bulls to be the early front-runner in the Eastern Conference this upcoming campaign.

In a league of superstars, it's hard to choose correctly by picking quantity over quality. But in Chicago's case, it wasn't choosing one over the other, it was figuring out how to blend both together.

The Bulls already had their quality in place before they went big-game hunting this summer.

Gary Dineen/Getty Images

Rose, one of only three players to have an MVP to his name since 2009, is working his way back from the two knee injuries that cost him all but 10 games over the past two seasons. There's no telling how his body will cooperate, but for now, the news sounds promising on that front.

"Rose is playing 5-on-5 on a daily basis, and, according to one witness, 'looks like the old Derrick Rose,'" CBS Sports' Ken Berger reported in June.

The old Derrick Rose, in case anyone forgot, is a transcendent force. The last time he was remotely healthy (he played 39 of 66 possible games in 2011-12), the Bulls tied for the league lead in wins (50) and ranked fifth overall in offensive efficiency (104.5 points per 100 possessions), via NBA.com.

The Bulls also have their interior anchor in Noah, who earned Defensive Player of the Year honors this past season.

Noah has all the tools needed to thrive with his new frontcourt mates. His court vision keeps slashers and shooters at the ready, while his rim protection allows coach Tom Thibodeau to pack an offensive punch at the other post position.

Chicago has had a top-five defense in each of the last four seasons, and all of its key stoppers are back. With the weapons added this summer, the Bulls could have one of their best offenses of Thibodeau's tenure.

"You can argue that now their four best scorers are (or will be) Rose, Gasol, McDermott and Mirotic," Bleacher Report's Kelly Scaletta wrote, "and none of those were on last year’s roster except for Rose for 10 games."

The Bulls have a potent blend of top-shelf talent and depth. However, that second part of the equation could crumble if they dive back into the NBA's Love Affair.

According to ESPN.com's Marc Stein and Brian Windhorst, that is precisely what Chicago is attempting to do:

The Cleveland Cavaliers are increasingly confident that they will eventually complete the acquisition of Kevin Love, but the Chicago Bulls are making a late push to try to get into the trade mix for the All-Star power forward, according to sources close to the process.

... Although the full extent of the Bulls' offer wasn't immediately known, it is believed Minnesota would seek a package from Chicago featuring forward Taj Gibson and defensive ace Jimmy Butler in addition to other assets.

Now, the price doesn't seem all that high at first.

Gibson is a 29-year-old who has never established himself as a starter and possibly never will. Butler is a lockdown defender, but his stat sheet bore the brunt of his inconsistent shooting stroke last season (13.1 points on .397/.283/.769 shooting).

Love, on the other hand, is a game-changing talent. He put up 26.1 points, 12.5 rebounds and 4.4 assists, while launching 6.6 threes a night and burying them at a 37.6 percent rate.

In a vacuum, this feels a bit like larceny, assuming the "other assets" wouldn't break the bank.

But this deal wouldn't be done in a vacuum. It would be done with real moving pieces, with the outbound ones attacking the team's biggest strength and the incoming one potentially struggling to find an open spot or forcing a useful piece to the bench.

The Bulls' balance would be gone. Thibodeau would have to keep his "We have enough" sound bite on a loop as he has these past few injury-plagued seasons.

"A Love addition would decimate the depth they have acquired in the past few weeks," ESPN Chicago's Nick Friedell wrote. "If Gibson, Butler and Mirotic were included in a deal...the Bulls would take away the depth that has made them one of the favorites in the Eastern Conference."

More than maintaining depth, though, this is about keeping Chicago's gritty defensive identity. Because even with Thibodeau and Noah still on board, that will follow Gibson and Butler out the door.

Whether Hinrich or Tony Snell would take Butler's starting spot, it would be a major defensive downgrade either way. The Bulls still need to strengthen their perimeter ranks; they don't have the bodies to be giving their best one away.

"While Butler is due an extension that may prove too lucrative before the 2015-16 season, trading multiple wings would thin the Bulls further at that position," wrote K.C. Johnson of the Chicago Tribune.

The Bulls did not want to part with Gibson to bring Anthony on board for a reason. Between his defensive versatility, explosiveness and mid-range shooting touch, Gibson is the type of well-rounded player who can share frontcourt duties with anyone.

Without him around, Noah would be left manning the interior island by himself. Love would help lift the offensive end, but he would open up new holes at the opposite side.

The Bulls could use Love's scoring but not at the expense of their championship-caliber defense.

Alex Brandon/Associated Press

Chicago looks like it has done enough to field an above-average offense—potentially something even greater depending on Rose's health and Gasol's production—and it did so without sacrificing defensive tenacity. A good offense and great defense seems like the best recipe for Thibodeau to work his magic.

Maybe the Bulls aren't that interested in Love and they're only being used to drive up his value among the other suitors. That might actually be a best-case scenario for the Windy City.

The Bulls are set to give Thibodeau more depth and more offense than he has had in years. After watching him work miracles with less, the franchise might be shocked to see what he can do with a fully loaded arsenal.

 

Unless otherwise noted, statistics used courtesy of NBA.com.

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