With the Eastern Conference in flux, the Chicago Bulls face a golden opportunity to reach their first NBA Finals of the post-Michael Jordan era. For a team that has scrapped and struggled without former MVP Derrick Rose the past two seasons, this offseason has presented a welcome turn of events.
Now, with Minnesota Timberwolves All-Star forward Kevin Love on the trade block, the Bulls have an opportunity to emerge not only as Eastern favorites, but as a squad capable of challenging the Western juggernauts. A core of Love, Rose, Joakim Noah and Pau Gasol would undoubtedly bring plenty of intrigue to the Windy City.
So what are the chances of that fantasy actually materializing? A few days ago, ESPN.com's Marc Stein and Brian Windhorst reported that a package headlined by Taj Gibson and Jimmy Butler was on the table from Chicago:
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. The Bulls shelved their Love interest while trying to sign Carmelo Anthony away from the New York Knicks but, according to sources, have re-emerged as contenders.
However, Timberwolves reporter Darren Wolfson later suggested a different package without Butler but including 2014 first-rounder Doug McDermott:
The Twitter account of the Chicago Sun-Times was more ambiguous later in that afternoon, but they did note that Minnesota was strongly considering the Bulls' offer:
With the rumor mill having slowed down the past couple days, it's time to take a step back and try to digest everything from a Bulls perspective. Taj Gibson and Nikola Mirotic seem like goners in any deal. Not only do they fulfill positional needs in terms of replacing Love, but they offer complementing skill sets that could help the T-Wolves rebuild around their frontcourt.
From there, either Butler or McDermott would likely represent the third piece of the deal. The former would be harder to pry away, as he has already compiled three seasons of proven scoring and stingy perimeter defense. Indeed, there is significant resistance among those who follow the Bulls to trade away the budding 24-year-old:
Chicago would likely be much more amenable to including McDermott in a deal, even though his ability to stretch the floor is the top need for the Bulls. But adding Love would replicate that effect, and the Bulls could add another player or two from Minnesota that would provide similar shooting (more on that in a second).
Of course, the monkey wrench is that Chicago cannot trade McDermott for 30 days after inking him. The Cleveland Cavaliers are going through a similar wait with Andrew Wiggins; however, the Bulls signed McDermott on July 22, while Cleveland did not sign their top pick until July 24. Perhaps that extra two days makes the difference in negotiations.
Another complication could be Minnesota's desire to shed contracts like Kevin Martin and J.J. Barea's as part of the deal. While the Bulls could use Martin's shooting in particular, Chicago would likely have to get a third team involved to make the salaries match. Fortunately for the Bulls, the Cavs are likely in a similar quandary:
Ultimately, there are so many moving parts to the deal that any rumors must be taken with a grain of salt. With a trio of serious bidders (including the Golden State Warriors), the Timberwolves hold the leverage and have rightly held out to extract maximum compensation for their best player of the post-Kevin Garnett era.
But while the price tag may be exorbitant, the combination of Love's ability to catch and shoot off pick-and-rolls and Noah's low-post presence would give Derrick Rose myriad options from the point. Tom Thibodeau's defensive system has proven infallible, and with an offensive jump-start, a return to championship contender status is within reach.