The missing puzzle piece
Give the Bulls some credit: they have beaten all the bad teams in the NBA like any good team in the NBA is supposed to this year. Derrick Rose, the franchise player, looks better than ever on the court, while Joakim Noah has validated why the Bulls balked at him as the feature of any Carmelo Anthony trade.
However, when you hear experts discussing who will be among the championship contenders come July, there are the usual suspects (Lakers, Celtics), the teams you cannot sleep on due to past success (San Antonio, Orlando, Dallas), and the teams that are legitimate dark horses based on how well they have contended in past playoff matchups (Oklahoma City). Theoretically, the last category is the one this Bulls team fits in with.
Bulls fans could argue that because their biggest addition of the offseason, Carlos Boozer, only recently came back from injury, there needs to be a grace period for him to get used to the team and vice versa before the true measure of their potential can be assessed.
But let's take the Bulls' loss against the Spurs earlier this season, for example. When the game was over, Rose stated in the post-game press conference that the team didn't take open shots when they were available.
In other words, the team was lacking in offense.
Would Carmelo push the Bulls over the top?
A problem that has afflicted the Bulls for years now is that they are good, but not good enough.
Again, those problems may have been addressed when they got Carlos Boozer to be the Robin to Derrick Rose's Batman.
But Carmelo Anthony is still dangling on the trade market, and the closer the Nuggets get to July whilst there remains a stalemate between Anthony and team executives on a contract extension, the more likely the Nuggets will lower their asking price.
My vote is for the Bulls to concoct a package headlined by Taj Gibson and Luol Deng as the principles along with two first rounders and cap fillers for Carmelo.
From the Nuggets' standpoint, the writing is on the wall: Carmelo is gone, he wants to go to a big market team, and if the Nuggets don't trade him before the deadline, they will have fared no better than the Cavs or Raptors this summer when all they got for their franchise players was money and first round picks.
Given that Melo "considerately" gave the Nuggets a full year's notice before letting his walking intentions known, it would be inexplicable if the Nuggets didn't get cornerstone pieces in return that from which they could rebuild. Furthermore, it wouldn't be preposterous for them to even include some bad contracts in the deal to truly allow a fresh start. Oh, and it should be mentioned that Chicago holds a market big enough that it would be appealing for Melo to sign a contract extension.
From the Bulls' standpoint, it is certainly a risk. The team has an established infrastructure with Rose, Boozer, and Noah. Meanwhile, hustle players like Taj Gibson that don't demand the ball but are willing to do the grunt work are certainly few and far between.
But here is the thing: besides Noah being a far superior center, what makes the current Bulls team that much more of a legitimate contender than the Utah Jazz team of the past four years?
People can laugh and ridicule the bold and quite unprecedented moves that the Miami Heat made by getting a surplus of firepower on their team (and certainly based on how their season has gone thus far, the criticism seems warranted), but teams that merely try to protect what looks like a good thing have a tendency of getting in their own way.
Greatness wins championships, not goodness.
The Bulls recognized before the season started that they needed a franchise player, and they certainly made a concentrated pitch at both Lebron and Wade before settling for Boozer as a consolation price.
Is Boozer a good player? Yes.
Is he great? No.
Maybe time will tell if the Boozer addition was enough to push the Bulls over the edge.
But looking to the future is certainly a false comfort that teams made up of mostly young players tend to fall into.
And it would be a shame if on the Bulls' final game of the season, the cause of the result was that players were not hoisting up open shots.