Sometimes in life it’s better to stand pat.
Whether it’s backing down from someone who could clearly take you in a fight or folding on a big hand of poker, there are certainly situations where the best choice is to quit while you’re ahead.
The 2013-14 Chicago Bulls are not one of those instances.
OK, maybe if the Bulls were the defending champs or at least runner ups than I could understand the front offices’ conservative approach to this offseason, but that isn’t the case. Instead the Bulls are essentially bringing back the same starting lineup from the 2011 Eastern Conference Finals team that lost in five games to the Miami Heat (who went on to lose in the finals to an underwhelming Mavericks squad). That Bulls starting lineup included a healthy MVP-winning Derrick Rose along with a younger Luol Deng, Carlos Boozer and Joakim Noah… as well as Keith Bogans. Consider that Ronnie Brewer and Kyle Korver helped mask the awfulness of Bogans as he only got 19.2 MPG during that postseason despite starting all 16 games. If Chicago couldn’t win the championship or even come close to beating the Heat that year with almost everything falling into place, what makes Reinsdorf and Co. think this year’s team has any better chance?
Yes, Jimmy Butler has emerged as a much better starting shooting guard than Bogans ever was (or even Brewer for that matter). And yes, Noah has improved greatly from a couple years ago, but other than those two points I just don’t see how this team will be any better than the 2011 squad that ended the postseason with a five-game losing streak. Since that encouraging playoff run, the Bulls front office has taken an extremely conservative stance.
You’d think after Chicago lost in the 2011 ECF that the front office would pursue a player who could be the difference maker and put the Bulls over the top. Instead the Bulls signed Rip Hamilton to the mid-level exception and he never had a healthy stretch in Chicago or met a jumpshot he didn’t like. The following offseason the Bulls let Omer Asik, C.J. Watson, John Lucas III and Brewer walk while trading Korver in perhaps the most frugal move in franchise history. The “bench mob”– which was regarded as one of, if not, the best second-units in the league– was then replaced by Kirk Hinrich, Nate Robinson, Marco Belinelli, Vladimir Radmanovic and Nazr Mohammed. Even standing pat became too pricey for the Bulls. To make matters worse, Robinson and Belinelli ended up outplaying their contracts only for the Bulls to let them walk this offseason anyway even though they will be paid a combined $4.75 million next season. Their replacements will essentially be second-year guard Marquis Teague and this summer’s highpoint in Mike Dunleavy Jr. (I can’t believe I just called the Dunleavy signing the highpoint of this offseason). You can’t tell me Dunleavy was the best the Bulls could do this summer, I mean there had to a better player out there to acquire. There just had to be. Of course if you’re willing to spend the money and take the necessary risks (ala Daryl Morey in Houston).
What about LaMarcus Aldridge? OK, I understand he’s not a free agent until 2015 so the Blazers had no pressure to trade him, but the Bulls could’ve used Aldridge’s interest in Chicago to help facilitate a deal. I wouldn’t give up Noah for Aldridge, but Bill Simmon’s brought up an interesting proposal in his latest column. His trade included the Bulls giving up Boozer, a 2014 first round pick and then two of either Butler, Nikola Mirotic and the protected Charlotte pick (which is unprotected in 2016). According to my player value rankings, the Bulls would be giving up their eighth best asset in Boozer with a choice between two out of their fifth (Mirotic), fourth (Bobcats pick) and third (Butler) ranked assets. That’s a fair deal for both sides. Aldridge is likely going to leave anyway, and as Simmons noted, Boozer puts up similar numbers to Aldridge anyway. Although no report stated this, my guess is that Portland asked for Noah, the Bulls said no, and then asked for Butler, and the Bulls still said no. Even if that wasn’t the case, a deal could’ve been struck if the Bulls pursued Aldridge hard enough, especially with the mutual interest between both sides.
If not Aldridge, what about former Bull Omer Asik? He reportedly wanted to be traded from Houston after Dwight Howard signed with the Rockets and is surprisingly interested in a Chicago return. I know Asik was a long shot form the start, but the Bulls desperately need a backup center. Mohammed just isn’t good enough to be a fulltime backup to Noah, and Boozer and Taj Gibson have struggled when playing in the frontcourt together. If the Bulls don’t want Noah to be hobbling again come playoff time, maybe they should pursue a backup big man that isn’t 39 years old.
In a summer where the Nets assembled perhaps the best starting five in the league, the Pacers improved their Achilles’ heal in their bench, and the Heat, are well, the Heat, the Bulls decided to stand pat.
If this team isn’t good enough to bring home Chicago’s first title since 1998, the front offices’ conservative approach to this offseason is to blame.