But do they need to be?
Love's contract runs out at the end of the 2014-15 season, so any team who acquires him will be faced with the task of convincing him to stay. The three-time All-Star and UCLA alum can make as many verbal commitments as he likes to whatever team that trades for him. And all three franchises have a lot to offer in the long term, so one successful season should theoretically be more than enough to make him stay put.
But this comfort is only surface-level. Until Love puts pen to parchment and forges a contractual agreement with prospective suitors, the Bulls and other organizations are smart to put only one foot into the pool. No one thought Dwight Howard would leave the glamorous empire that is the Los Angeles Lakers when he was traded there from the Orlando Magic under similar circumstances. But he did.
The Lakers’ failure with Howard has become a telling tale for league front offices. A lot can change over the course of one year, and NBA superstars headed for free agency always have a whole supermarket of cushy options in front of them. The Bulls are in a good situation without Love, and it would be wisest for them to pass on the slippery market for him.
This is not to denigrate Love’s abilities. It’s hard to argue that he isn’t one of the 10 best players in the league. His singular combination of floor-spanning scoring, genius-level full-court passing and rebounding acumen make him worth every dollar of a maximum contract.
But that doesn’t mean he’s right for the Bulls. Not right now. With the return of Derrick Rose, the improvement of Joakim Noah and Taj Gibson and the depth added to the roster with Pau Gasol, Nikola Mirotic, Doug McDermott and Aaron Brooks, Chicago is already near the top of the Eastern Conference championship fight this season.
They're also already especially deep at power forward, the position Love plays. The Bulls' far more dire need is for a wing player who can self-create on offense—the front court is already somewhat log-jammed with Gibson, Mirotic, Gasol and (in certain lineups) McDermott.
LeBron James and the Cavaliers will have something to say about the Bulls' title aspirations, but they’re beset with a hoard of growing pains—with or without Love. Their roster is full of young, unproven talent and they’ve got a new coach in David Blatt, who’s never been a head coach in the NBA. While all of its pieces seem promising, it’s hard to believe Cleveland can put it all together right away.
The Bulls, to the contrary, have continuity to boot. Coach Tom Thibodeau’s culture has now permeated the whole organization, which is dedicated to his grit-driven vision and his obsession with blue-collar defensive hustle. The Bulls are united, driven and talented in a weakened conference as it is.
Sending off Gibson and Jimmy Butler, a rumored Love package reported by ESPN.com’s Marc Stein and Brian Windhorst, would mean losing a huge chunk of the Bulls’ identity. With Love instead, they’d shift focus and become a more offensively oriented squad. They’d have virtually as much calibration ahead of them as their foes in Cleveland, and championship aspirations would likely have to wait another year.
That is, of course, if Love were even to come back.
The Bulls have a high stack of chips in the Eastern Conference, and with any luck they can fight into the NBA Finals and play for a title. Pushing so much of their pile into the table for a gambit on Love seems like a fool’s task. It would be shocking to see Chicago’s front office pull this trigger.