This offseason the Bulls must make moves. And there’s no reason they can’t – elite players are available via both trade and free agency, and Chicago has the room to maneuver.
A necessary first step: Carlos Boozer must be amnestied unless the Bulls somehow find a team willing to assume his ridiculous $17 million salary as he heads into the final year of his contact. Taj Gibson would perfectly suitable replacement and is expected to be the starting power forward for the 2014 season—unless they trade for Kevin Love or if they’re forced to trade him to clear cap space.
With Boozer out of the picture, space would open for a star player to come in and take some of the offensive load from Derrick Rose.
Who are the possibilities? LeBron is obviously option number one, but the chances of him signing with Chicago are slim. At this point it is still most likely that James will return to Miami.
As for Minnesota’s Kevin Love, Chicago’s trade package won’t be enough to land him unless they are willing to give up two of the following three assets: Nikola Mirotic, Jimmy Butler, and Taj Gibson. I just don’t see that happening. So, Love will probably be traded to Golden State, Boston, or another team that can offer a better package than Taj Gibson, Tony Snell, and the 16th and 19th picks.
Carmelo Anthony, on the other hand, seems like a real possibility. The Bulls would have the cap space and also have the makeup to give Carmelo multiple championships. While he would still have to play defense, it would be similar to Tim Duncan’s situation in San Antonio during his early 30s, where his minutes would be low enough for him to continue a high level of play into his late 30s. That is something superstars around the league, especially James and Anthony, are probably thinking about after seeing Duncan sustain his success late into his 30s.
Of course, nothing is guaranteed. While the Bulls are a good fit for Melo, so are the Rockets – and there is no doubt Houston will push hard to get LeBron or Carmelo. Like Chicago, Houston can clear space to give Carmelo a max contract – and with Dwight Howard down low combined with Houston’s style of play, Carmelo wouldn’t have to defend anyone for the foreseeable future. For the Rockets to clear the cap space, they would need to find takers for both of Omer Asik and Jeremy Lin, but with assets like draft picks and young, expendable players, that is completely doable. Just look at the trade Golden State made with Utah last offseason to clear room for Andre Iguodala.
At the moment, I believe the Bulls have a better championship contender in place than Houston. However, joining Howard and James Harden would have to be enticing for Anthony, as they would become a new big three to be reckoned with. There is no doubt both teams will push hard for Carmelo.
Here’s how the finances would shake out for Chicago. The 2014 salary cap is project to be approximately $63 million. If the Bulls amnesty Boozer, they would have just under $17 million in cap space. Max players with 10+ years experience can earn up to 35 percent of the salary cap, so expect Carmelo to be fielding offers in the $22-23 million per year range.
So, to get Melo, the Bulls would either need to convince him to take a discount (unlikely) or move Taj Gibson, which would clear space but decimate the team’s PF depth. Yes, Melo had plenty of success playing the 4 in New York, but this is a tough nosed, defensive minded team coached by none other than Tom Thibodeau. If Mirotic comes over from Europe, that would be a huge help, but the Bulls would have to be at least a little concerned about losing Gibson. Ideally, Chicago would like to land Melo or another star without giving up a piece like Gibson, but that is a bit farfetched. We’ll have to wait and see, but we should have a better idea of the Bulls’ situation in the coming days with the NBA Draft on Thursday and an impending Kevin Love trade to someone.
Let’s turn to the draft for a moment. If the Bulls keep the 16th and 19th picks, whom should they take? Should they package the two to try and move up? Rumor is they really want Doug McDermott, the Creighton University star. With the track record of the Bulls front office, I wouldn’t be surprised if he’s the only player they came away with this offseason
But, if the Bulls keep both of their picks in Thursday night’s draft (unlikely), there are a couple players I would look to add.
TJ Warren out of NC State is a big time scorer and will immediately provide a scoring punch for the Bulls. He has an ideal small forwards body and is NBA ready. Adreian Payne out of Michigan State is a guy who could be an insurance policy in the case of the Bulls having to get rid of both Gibson and Boozer. He is built like an NBA power forward and has “Bulls draft pick” written all over him. That being said, he won’t completely replace for Gibson.
The Bulls could also look to stash a couple of European players like they did with Mirotic a couple years ago. Dario Saric and Jusaf Nurkic will both be looked at by the Bulls organization if they’re available when the Bulls are on the clock.
Ultimately, I see the Bulls trying to trade up for Doug McDermott or Michigan’s Nik Stauskas. Taking on two late first round contracts when they are trying to create cap space doesn’t make a whole lot of sense.
Mirotic is a bit of a wildcard because we don’t know if he is going to leave Europe to join the NBA this season. When he finally does, he’ll be an immediate game changer – someone who would be a high lottery pick if he was in this year’s draft. He has been termed as “the best player from Europe not in the NBA yet” and some compare him to Dirk Nowitzki. If he comes over and the Bulls get a couple of players with the 16th and 19th picks or package them to take Doug McDermott or Nik Stauskas, Chicago would vault into championship contention. That would be some serious offensive firepower to add to the defensive cornerstones of Jimmy Butler, Taj Gibson, and Joakim Noah. That scenario would be decent – but we still don’t know if Mirotic is ready to leave Europe.
So, for the Bulls to really establish themselves as championship contenders for years to come, they really must land LeBron or Melo.
In my opinion, Derrick Rose is too explosive for his own good. For the Bulls to put together a team who can compete for multiple championships in the next few years, they cannot depend on Rose to carry the offense night in and night out as they have in recent years. If that kind of weight is put on his shoulders in 2014, he might crumble beneath it via injury once again.
One final caveat to keep in mind: the Clippers and Lakers are also vying for top free agents. I don’t know why LeBron or Melo would want to go play with Kobe Bryant at this point in his career, but they are the Los Angeles Lakers and they will always be in the conversation when they have the cap space to sign free agents. Chris Paul and the Clippers seems to be an attractive destination and the Mavericks already have plans to meet with Melo. The Bulls are far from the only team trying to land these guys.
If you remember back in 2010, Bulls fans thought Chicago would end up with one of the superstars available that year and got Boozer instead. Even though Carmelo is a real possibility this year, so is the chance that Chicago, again, comes up empty in the superstar sweepstakes.
All I’m saying Bulls fans, is don’t get your hopes up.