After struggling to be a consistently competitive team and missing out on five years of playoff opportunity after Jordan retired, the Bulls finally made the NBA playoffs in 2005. Still, the team has labored to remain in the playoff hunt over the last couple of seasons.
However, with losing seasons comes excellent draft picks and the Bulls appear to have rebuilt themselves around a number of nice young talent. The most recent of which, Derrick Rose (last year’s No.1 overall selection), has captured the most fan appreciation in Chicago since MJ.
This past season, the Rose- led Bulls showed the biggest glimpse of home since the six-peat. Engaging the defending champion Celtics in a seven game series tested the team’s fight, promise, and resilience.
Although the young team lost, it showed that the Bulls could once again be destined for greatness—if owner Jerry Reinsdorf and General Manager John Paxson can follow up the present success intelligently.
1. For continuing success, the staff needs to build the team around budding star Derrick Rose. The rookie already proved he can lead an NBA team, and his leadership qualities will only strengthen over time. The team needs a core around Rose.
2. Additionally, the Bulls are presently in line to have over $30 million in cap room to utilize for the summer of 2010. The key is simply maintaining that cap in order to utilize it when they need it most.
Translation: be patient.
Here’s a look at how Bulls management should handle each aspect of this off season to take advantage of that cap room.
Seeing as the Bulls already have a number of building blocks in place, there is no real pressure when at Draft time. This means Paxson can look to acquire a couple of potential project players that the team can wait on.
With Coach Vinny Del Negro’s input, Paxson could also look to acquire guys who are simple fits and can do the little things missing in Del Negro’s system (like Joakim Noah). UCLA’s Dejuan Blair is exactly that type of player and would be the perfect fit for Chicago’s first round pick.
No superstars needed.
The key is building on what they already have and avoiding lineup-altering trades.
Ben Gordon: Free Agency
In order to maintain the much anticipated 2010 cap room, the Bulls need to lay low in free agency this summer. As unfortunate as fans may deem this, it means letting go of Chicago's favorite Ben Gordon.
What you see is what you get with Gordon. He definitely scores in bunches and assumes the role of the coach's clutch player—but he's that player because the Bulls force-fed him the ball when they had nobody else.
Gordon assumed the scoring load during the playoffs this year—scoring 24.3 points per game. Still, a dismal 38.8 percent from the field, close to his career playoff 40.3 percent in 29 post-season games for the Bulls stands unimpressive.
An undersized shooting guard, the 6’3" Gordon’s only stand-out skill is scoring. He is not a multi-tool player. Therefore, if he is not even scoring at an efficient rate, then what is the point in retaining him?
After rejecting extension offers between $50-54 million, it is believed that Gordon will be asking for a maximum contract—a contract the Bulls should be offering to promising young stars.
Team Options for Free Agency
This is where it becomes more acceptable for the Bulls to take a bite out of that projected cap room. The team has to make decisions as to whether it will exercise retaining options held with its players. Derrick Rose and Joakim Noah are both eligible to exercise their 2010-2011 options
The Bulls should and will jump on exercising both players' options. The reasons for Rose’s option are self explanatory.
Noah, on the other hand, tends to play under the radar at times.
However, he is exactly the type of player every team needs; someone to do the “dirty work.” Charles Barkley even went as far as proclaiming Noah the “poor man’s Dennis Rodman” during last month’s playoff series. Not a bad compliment for a second year player.
With Rose and Noah exercised, the Bulls should stop there. Tyrus Thomas is set to become a restricted free agent next season and the Bulls shouldn't bother granting him a contract extension this summer because he isn't worth it.
For strategic purposes, the Bulls should offer Thomas the QO, in hopes of a possible sign and trade, but go no further than that.
With Rose and Noah in the fold for 2010, the Bulls need to build further. Given that Kirk Hinrich and Luol Deng both signed lengthy and pricey contracts, they are apparently shoe-ins in the Bull's building process.
Keeping the following season’s free agency in mind, the Bulls can not be overaggressive in discussing trades—but they also need to consider trades that will benefit the team in the long run.
If Paxson can put together an enticing package of expiring contracts (Brad Miller), potential young talent (Tyrus Thomas) and future draft picks, chances are at least one of those teams will likely bite.
Bulls in the Future
For Bulls fans, the sparks of greatness this year reminded them of what used to be. Ironically enough, regaining what once was, now seems like an actual possibility. Who knows—the Bulls could be a few simple steps away from raising another championship banner to the rafters.