Memo to the the Bulls' front office going into the offseason:
Want to return to this club to power? Start thinking about the power of the purse.
There has never been a better time for an NBA shopping spree.
To be sure, John Paxson and soon-to-be General Manager Gar Forman have plenty of needs on their summer wish list.
They need a stopper. They need an anchor in the post. They need to replace Ben Gordon or compensate for his defensive shortcomings elsewhere
But they don't need to dump salary.
This puts the Bulls in a rare position of power, given the current state of The Association.
By all accounts, the league has taken a financial beating this season.
In February a dozen teams borrowed a combined $200 million to help cover expenses. Shortly thereafter, ESPN's Bill Simmons cited an inside source who claimed 20 of the NBA's 30 teams will lose money this season.
How do impoverished clubs get out the red?
The Rockets, a team with title aspirations, dumped starting point guard Rafer Alston to shave a few million dollar off the payroll.
The Bulls already snatched Brad Miller and John Salmons from the cash-strapped Kings.
The budget squeeze figures to get worse before it gets better: A decrease in league revenues means a decrease in both the salary cap and the luxury tax threshold.
That's bad news for most teams, but it shouldn't impede a big-market, big-money franchise like Chicago, which finished second in attendance and fifth in jersey sales this season.
The Bulls also didn't break the bank in '08-'09. Their payroll totaled $68.5 million, No. 20 in the league.
With the cap expected to settle in the $55 million range, the Bulls almost certainly won't have room for a major free agent beyond the midlevel exception (then again, neither will anyone else).
But they're primed to cherry-pick stars from teams that can no longer afford them.
Looking for an upgrade in the frontcourt? Call New Orleans and see if they'd like to get rid of the $24.7 they owe David West over the next three seasons. Or give Steve Kerr a ring and see if Amar'e Stoudemire is still on the market.
Want a defensive-minded shooting guard who can hit the three? Dial up M.J. and see if the Bobcats are looking to save some of the $5 million coming to Raja Bell.
How about offering the Clippers a break on the $33.9 million Chris Kaman has coming to him through 2012?
Angling for some size and star power at the off-guard? Make a play for New Jersey's Vince Carter, who's on the books for $16.3 million next year alone.
Chicago can dangle the expiring deals of Miller ($12.3 million) and Tim Thomas ($6.5 million). Jerome James would be out of his mind to pass up his $6 million player option, given that he's been M.I.A. (5.8 minutes, 2.5 points, 1.7 boards) for the past four season, so add him to the trade bait list as well.
Under normal circumstances you'd expect the Bulls to package one or more of those contracts with a first-round pick or a talented youngster like Tyrus Thomas to land a stud in return.
Nowadays, they may not need to sweeten the deal at all.
The Nuggets gave away Marcus Camby to the Clippers last summer for the right to swap second-round picks.
Two years ago, Phoenix paid the Sonics a pair of first-rounders to take Kurt Thomas off their hands. The Suns were a legitimate contender at the time, and the economy wasn't nearly as bad—imagine the bargains they'll offer today.
Most of the NBA will be pinching pennies this offseason. It's time for the Bulls to go for broke.