Bulls executive vice president of basketball operations John Paxson and general manager Gar Forman didn't provide a whole lot of clarity on the team's future during their 40-minute end-of-the-season meeting with reporters on Wednesday.
We learned Fred Hoiberg will definitely be back for a third season as head coach, and Paxson said there's a "really good chance" the Bulls will pick up their $13.4 million team option on Rajon Rondo's services for next season. Forman also indicated the Bulls would like to keep restricted free agent Nikola Mirotic.
But beyond that, there's a lot of unknowns, starting with Dwyane Wade's $23.8 million player option for next season. Wade has already met once with the front office, and Paxson said they'll meet again in the coming weeks to talk about the direction of the roster and the franchise. But given Wade's recent history of taking his time to make decisions about his future, the Bulls might not have anything concrete until the June 30 deadline.
Both Paxson and Forman talked about the importance of player development this summer, saying the Bulls are counting on all of their young players to spend meaningful time at the Advocate Center working with the coaching and training staffs. Forman said the Bulls still have high hopes for a number of their under-25 crew, including Bobby Portis, Denzel Valentine, Cris Felicio, Paul Zipser and Cameron Payne.
With the expected return of Rondo next season, look for Payne to be the back-up at point guard, with Jerian Grant a possible trade candidate. Grant fell completely out of the rotation at the end of the playoff series against Boston, and it's unlikely the Bulls would want to bring him back as the third string point guard, with little hope of consistent playing time. Don't expect to see restricted free agent Michael Carter-Williams return either. MCW will probably be joining his fourth team when the new season opens in October.
Obviously, the biggest decision for the front office involves the future of All-Star Jimmy Butler. While conceding Butler is the best player on the team and an All-NBA talent, Paxson stopped short of saying Butler was untouchable in trade talks. Like Wade, Butler is also planning to have a no-holds barred sit-down with the front office in the coming weeks, seeking some assurance about whether the team has a plan in place to become a contender in the Eastern Conference again.
Paxson said the Bulls aren't shopping Butler, and that's something Jimmy will appreciate hearing in person when their meeting takes place. He'll also want to hear what the Bulls plan to do with their available cap room (roughly $20 million if Wade and Rondo return) to add a consistent shooter off the bench.
At this point, it looks like the plan for the summer is to bring back the "Three Alphas", make the 2 draft picks on June 22nd, and possibly add a solid veteran bench player in free agency. But the upcoming meetings with Butler and Wade could force the front office to pivot to a completely new direction. Stay tuned.
AROUND THE ASSOCIATION
The Bulls aren't the only team contemplating an uncertain future this summer. L.A. Clippers coach and president of basketball operations Doc Rivers has to decide whether to take the franchise into unprecedented luxury tax territory by resigning upcoming free agents Chris Paul, Blake Griffin, J.J. Redick and Luc Mbah a Moute.
Resigning Paul and Griffin alone could cost the Clippers around $375 million over the next five years. Rivers has indicated he'd like to have everyone back, and to this point he hasn't been given any payroll limitations by deep-pockets owner Steve Ballmer.
Still, you have to wonder if bringing back the same crew is the best strategy for a team that routinely wins 50+ games during the regular season, then flames out early in the playoffs. Since the Clippers will be capped out by retaining Paul alone, their best strategy is probably to also bring Griffin back to preserve trade options down the line. They could explore sign-and-trade scenarios, including a previously discussed deal with the Knicks for Carmelo Anthony. But again, Rivers will have to get the green light from his owner to take the payroll to a level we haven't seen before in the NBA.
Are there roster changes coming in Atlanta? Head coach Mike Budenholzer relinquished his front office role after a first round playoff exit, and the Hawks best player, Paul Millsap, will be looking for a max deal in free agency. Are the Hawks willing to commit five years, and over $150 million to a very good, but not great 32-year-old power forward? Especially considering their core group of Millsap, Dwight Howard, Kent Bazemore and Dennis Schroder really isn't good enough to challenge Cleveland for Eastern Conference supremacy. Don't be surprised if the next head of basketball operations decides to take a different approach with the roster.
And, what might happen in Toronto if the Cavaliers complete a semifinals demolition of the Raptors? The Cavs' trapping defense has taken All-Star guards Kyle Lowry and DeMar DeRozan out of their comfort zones, and the addition of frontline defenders Serge Ibaka and P.J. Tucker has done nothing to slow down LeBron James and Kevin Love. Lowry, Ibaka and Tucker are all headed to free agency at season's end, and it seems unlikely the Raptors will be able to afford to keep all three players.
Ibaka would look good as a starting power forward in the Bulls' lineup with his ability to defend and knock down shots from 3-point range. Problem is, the Bulls probably won't have the cap room to add a max player, and the 27-year-old Ibaka will be looking to break the bank this summer.
Other power forward options in free agency include Danilo Gallinari, Rudy Gay, James Johnson, Ersan Ilyasova, Derrick Williams, Marreese Speights, Donatas Motiejunas and Patrick Patterson. But if Mirotic is brought back along with Bobby Portis and Paul Zipser, the Bulls won't have a major need at that positon.
If Mirotic does not return to the Bulls, finding a consistent shooter at the stretch-4 positon could jump to the top of the list of offseason priorities. The Bulls should be able to pick from a large number of college and international power forwards in the June 22 draft with their 16th and 38th selections.
Included among that group are Cal's Ivan Rabb, UCLA's TJ Leaf, Wake Forest's John Collins, Duke's Harry Giles, Kentucky's Bam Adebayo, Syracuse's Tyler Lydon, Baylor's Johnathan Motley, Purdue's Caleb Swanigan, Utah's Kyle Kuzma, Oregon's Jordan Bell Valpo's Alec Peters and SMU's Semi Ojeleye.
Based on what we heard from Paxson and Forman on Wednesday, as many as 11 of the 15 players on the roster for the Celtics playoff series could be back in Bulls' uniforms when training camp starts in September.
It looks like the marketing department already has it's slogan for the 2017-'18 season, "Let's Run It Back."