In a league where teams can drastically improve overnight (see: 2011 Miami Heat, 2012 Brooklyn Nets), high expectations are to be had when the offseason rolls around. This goes especially for young, contending teams. Where high expectations are held, high expectations are rarely met. This is an adage that generally holds true and can explain what many bewildered Bulls fans are feeling right now in this frustrating free agency bid. Let’s recap some of the moves made so far: first, management lets superstar duster Brian Scalabrine walk (along with more prominent players such as rotation guard Ronnie Brewer, backup center Omer Asik, and backup point guard C.J. Watson). Players like Scals don’t grow on trees. Then, they trade the sharp-shooting Kyle Korver to Atlanta in exchange for a briefcase full of Benjamins and a trade exception (more on this later). And just like that, the bench mob is downgraded into something that resembles more of a sob.
As far as additions go, the Bulls did a fantastic job… in making the city groan with disappointment. For those scared that there would be no more white guys to cheer for/make fun of, GM Gar Forman certainly addressed that need by acquiring former fan favorite Kirk Hinrich, as well as Vladimir Radmanovic for all you Euro enthusiasts out there (shouts to my guy DJ!). To top it all off, Forman is trying to go young by reportedly wooing 35 year old center Nazr Mohammed to a minimum deal. I would be somewhat excited at these deals… if they happened six years ago. What do I make of these signings? Well, for starters, there are some great nickname possibilities. Hinrich already established “Captain Kirk” during his seven year stint with the Bulls, but I’m leaning more towards “The Hinrich Maneuver” because he will likely make me and everyone else choke on their own tongue in disgust every time he tries to make a basket. Radmanovic, who is little-known to the casual fan, has a name with a panoply of possibilities. Off the top of the dome I can already think of “Vlad Rad”, “Million Dollar Mano” (no disrespect to the Chicago-based producer), or simply “Mano” (like the disease). Mohammed on the other hand, does not make it easy for me to come up with anything spectacular. This ancient Geocities bio does have some nice background info on him, though. Try not to drink anything by the time you reach his “primary inspiration in sports” because you might spit it out all over your computer. All jokes aside, only Kirk Hinrich will see significant playing time out of the three signees until the return of Derrick Rose. Rookie point guard Marquis Teague doesn’t seem ready to handle the workload and pace of a starting NBA guard just yet.
How excited are we? About as excited as taking a girl on an expensive date for the first time (or third time if you’re classy like that) only to find out it’s that time of the month for her and, to put it in basketball terms, you aren’t scoring on her basket (or penetrating the paint, if you like that better). But fear not, this metaphor has a happy ending, because you know you’re scoring on that next date. To tie it together, I’m saying that although the Bulls aren’t making moves this time around, they’ve did enough to make a big splash during a future offseason.
The question is which offseason? Probably not 2013, but the 2014 offseason. Here’s why:
Logically, it would have made zero sense to even attempt to sign anyone worthwhile this season. Why waste valuable dollars on a stud only to watch him try and anchor a team that will be missing its two best players for half the year? Even though the offseason isn’t over yet, you can further expect no major moves to be made by the Bulls. Reports have surfaced that the team
is in deep negotiations with has signed Italian sharpshooter Marco Belinelli to replace Korver. This leads me to believe that the selection of talent left is worse than what you’d see at an Old Country Buffet after Ray Felton stopped by for a pre game meal.
Next offseason doesn’t look much better. An unaltered Bulls team (minus the assumed amnesthizing of Boozer) cannot afford to make a bid on Dwight Howard. This leaves players such as Monta Ellis, Andre Iguodala (both must opt-out), Kevin Martin, Demar DeRozan, Josh Smith, David West, Paul Millsap, Al Jefferson and Andrew Bynum. Jefferson and Bynum can’t fit considering center Joakim Noah is locked up through 2016. Yuck. Not to mention that signing guys like Ellis, Iggy, Millsap, or Smith (none of whom are “championship caliber” players, in my opinion) is completely dependent on getting rid of Deng, which won’t be easy. The 2014 offseason looks like the one to watch. By then, Boozer will be gone via amnesty and Deng’s contract will have expired, freeing up roughly $30 million to spend.
The goal for management right now is to secure the core, which includes Rose, Noah, Butler, Gibson, Teague and the rights to Nikola Mirotic, who was drafted last year.
First on the list is presumably locking up power forward Taj Gibson to a reasonable deal. Gibson provided an irreplaceable role in making us forget about the many Carlos Boozer choke jobs. How many backup PFs in the league are capable of that? In all seriousness, Taj brings hard-nosed defense and a solid jumper off the bench and should be compensated for it. I imagine he gets paid somewhere in the Omer Asik range, which would be $8-10 million a year, three-to-five years. If the Bulls are smart, they will extend his contract far before the end of the season. They cannot afford to have another “poison pill” offer sheet (backloaded contract) diminish their ability to sign another key asset. If Taj’s agent suggests that he explore free agency, it will be in the best interests for the Bulls to trade him at the deadline in order to get something in return as opposed to just letting him walk (see: Asik).
Surveying the list of potential free agents, the summer of ’14 eerily mirrors the memorable free agency class of ’10. The entire Miami Heat trio has opt-out clauses, in addition to the New York Knicks’ Amar’e Stoudemire and Carmelo Anthony. The Bulls, however, are treading on murky water if they decide to try and make a big splash. It is very possible that absolutely none of these superstars opt out of their contracts and simply stay put, leaving the Bulls in another Carlos Boozer-type situation: tons of cap space, few options to spend it on. The remaining options for 2014 would essentially be Danny Granger, Dirk Nowitzki, Pau Gasol, Andrew Bogut, and Marcin Gortat. Yikes. The best option in my eyes would seem to be re-signing Luol Deng to a slightly cheaper deal and probably overpaying Gasol in order to best other offers. Gasol is an upgrade over Boozer but not a significant one. The summer of 2014 could very well be a repeat of 2010 for Derrick Rose and the Bulls. Is there a solution? Possibly.
It’s all about swinging deals. The Bulls have more than enough assets to swing deals and become even more flexible. There is a Charlotte Bobcats’ future first round selection available and a seemingly can’t-miss European prospect in Mirotic to name a few. Package one or the other with either Boozer, Deng, or Noah’s contracts and the Bulls are immediately in the running for Dwight Howard and a semi-star by the end of this offseason. A good example to analyze would be the Atlanta Hawks. They successfully moved one of the worst contracts in recent memory in Joe Johnson’s six year, $123 million, in addition to Marvin Williams’ ugly $8 million per year contract. Did I mention that this all happened in a single day? Who said Rome wasn’t built in a day? The Hawks have quietly positioned themselves as a top contender in snagging both Dwight Howard AND Chris Paul. It sounds ludicrous but makes sense, considering A.) Howard is from Atlanta and B.) Paul initially wanted to play in Atlanta coming out of college and C.) the Hawks would still be able to re-sign Josh Smith and Al Horford. Even if they don’t succeed in getting either free agent, you couldn’t say that the foregone Hawks team with Joe Johnson was able to compete with the Heat, right? At least they’re trying.
Moral of the story for the Bulls: Be proactive. Don’t be reactive. Certainly don’t be inactive.