Bulls

20 in 20: Grading each team's offseason

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20 in 20: Grading each team's offseason

Thursday, Sept. 9, 2010
5:30 PM

By Aggrey Sam
CSNChicago.com

A historic summer for the NBA has passed and for the Bulls, while they didn't acquire quite the star power many expected andor hoped for, optimism runs high, both within the organization and throughout the team's fan base. With the offseason coming to an end, the time to fully delve into the upcoming NBA season is here. Instead of a traditional season preview, issues both throughout the league and in Chicago will be probed daily here on CSNChicago.com up until the squad officially convenes for training camp toward the end of September.
2. Which NBA teams had the best and worst offseasons?
The Bulls' offseason was discussed in this space yesterday, but with reports that Denver Nuggets All-Star small forward Carmelo Anthony's trade preference is Chicago or New York (with the Bulls being the supposedly more realistic option) and the organization having "internal discussions" about whether to include star center Joakim Noah in a proposed trade for Anthony, an addendum must be made.

Although the potential addition of Anthony would obviously bring more star power to the Windy City, there are several aspects to consider. Chicago's front office has repeatedly indicated to CSNChicago.com that both Noah and All-Star point guard Derrick Rose are "untouchable" in trade scenarios.

Noah, who is due for a contract extension, would obviously see a major pay raise (an unsubstantiated report indicates Noah recently rejected a five-year, 60-million deal from the team), but still would unlikely be as costly as Anthony, who will also be a free agent after the upcoming season. In addition, even if Anthony fervently desired to come to the Bulls, a big part of that reasoning would be to join a team with Noah -- not one with a gaping hole in the middle after the departure of one of the league's top big men. While the temptation to assemble a Miami-like "super team" is hard to resist, if the price to be paid for Anthony is Noah, discussions should be tabled -- for now -- as Noah's presence on both ends of the floor, potential, status as both a franchise cornerstone and one of the NBA's rising stars can't be dismissed.

Furthermore, if speculation that Denver is reticent to take on Bulls small forward Luol Deng's contract in a trade for Anthony is accurate, then Chicago would be potentially left with two players at the same position with similar games (regardless of how much of an upgrade some consider Anthony to be over Deng) and seeking either a third trading partner or a separate trade for Deng to acquire another center. With the increasing chances of Anthony likely hitting the free-agent market in the summer of 2011 and the Bulls considered to now be an upper-echelon Eastern Conference team, all signs point to nothing occurring in the near future. Adding to that notion is a league source relating to CSNChicago.com that "nothing at all is happening at the moment" on the end of Denver's front office, especially since new Nuggets general manager Masai Ujiri has yet to formally sit down with Anthony to discuss a trade in person since his hiring late last month.

As far as the rest of the Eastern Conference goes, there are some clear-cut winners and losers this offseason, taking organizational personnel moves, free agency and the draft into consideration. Let's briefly examine them by division, with winners in the "yea" category, losers in the "nay" section and teams who didn't cover much ground either way in the "eh" denomination.

Central:

Yea: The aforementioned Bulls obviously had an excellent offseason, but Chicago's neighbor to the north, the Milwaukee Bucks, quietly added some solid role players--namely underrated young talents Larry Sanders, Chris Douglas-Roberts and Jon Brockman (Sanders was their first-round draft pick; the latter two were acquired in trades with New Jersey and Sacramento, respectively). The Bucks also added veteran free-agent point guards Earl Boykins and Keyon Dooling--and re-signed swingmen Carlos Delfino and former Bull John Salmons, as well as kept intact a roster that advanced to the playoffs and opened eyes around the league.
Nay: It's hard to bounce back from losing the reigning two-time MVP and hometown hero (LeBron James), not to mention a coach (Mike Brown) that won more than 60 games in each of the past two seasons and the general manager (Danny Ferry) who assembled the team in the first place. Byron Scott patrolling the sidelines and Chris Grant ascending to the GM role might help give the Cleveland Cavaliers a fresh outlook, but it's sure to be an uphill battle and when backup point guard Ramon Sessions is considered a major acquisition, things probably won't get better any time soon.

Eh: It will be interesting to see if the Detroit Pistons' addition of Tracy McGrady to already crowded group at the wing will pay off, especially since the other offseason moves in Motown -- no disrespect to draftees Greg Monroe and Terrico White, as well as reserve guard and Windy City product Will Bynum, who was re-signed by the team -- are unlikely to make much of a significant impact.

After years of searching for a reliable floor general, the Indiana Pacers brought in Darren Collison via trade (along with vet James Posey), and while the former Hornets' rookie numbers are a source of optimism, Indy's youth movement (there are high hopes for draft picks Paul George and Lance Stephenson, despite the latter's summer arrest) may not pay immediate dividends.

Atlantic:

Yea: While the New York Knicks didn't necessarily make the splash many in the Big Apple hoped for (although bringing in the likes of Anthony, Chris Paul and Tony Parker next summer means New Yorkers are in for another year of speculation), they did acquire a true superstar in power forward Amar'e Stoudemire. And with the addition of players like point guard Raymond Felton, shooter Roger Mason, banger Ronny Turiaf, swingman Kelenna Azubuike and versatile Anthony Randolph (the latter three were acquired in a sign-and-trade with Golden State for free agent power forward David Lee), the team now has the pieces to play the run-and-gun style New York head coach Mike D'Antoni is known for.

Nay: After the expected loss of star power forward Chris Bosh via free agency, the Toronto Raptors didn't necessarily rebound with a multitude of strong moves. Instead, the acquisitions of Leandro Barbosa, Linas Kleiza, David Andersen and Julian Wright, as well as high-risk, high-reward draftees Ed Davis and Solomon Alabi (they also re-signed energy guy Amir Johnson to a deal that raised eyebrows around the league) have even further dampened hopes for the upcoming season.

Eh: With the addition of the veteran O'Neal centers (Shaquille and Jermaine) to hold down the fort while Kendrick Perkins returns from injury, re-signing both Paul Pierce and Ray Allen, the return of former draft pick Delonte West and the selection of Avery Bradley for the future, in addition to other less prominent moves, the Boston Celtics were certainly active this summer. But whether the added depth results in Boston hoisting another banner at the conclusion of the postseason is another story.

Hiring former Bulls coach Doug Collins and exec Rod Thorn (who will be team president after "retiring" from the same role in New Jersey), subtracting disenchanted center Samuel Dalembert and adding versatile No. 2 overall draft pick and Chicago native Evan Turner should help the Sixers bounce back from a tumultuous 2009-10 campaign. But, they are still a team in need of an identity and with a somewhat redundant roster (not to mention the albatross-like contract of power forward Elton Brand, who has yet to resemble the pre-injury form of his Clippers days), don't be shocked if an in-season overhaul is made.

Along with the Clippers, the New Jersey Nets were the perceived "loser" during free agency, as they failed to acquire a max free agent (despite the deep coffers of new Russian billionaire owner Mikhail Prokhorov). But at the same time, they did acquire some serviceable (albeit overpaid) role players in sharpshooter Anthony Morrow and jumping jack Travis Outlaw, drafted highly touted power forward Derrick Favors (although not getting the No. 1 overall pick and the opportunity to draft John Wall was a disappointment) and underrated Texas product Damion James. The Nets also made a late-summer steal in picking up New Jersey native Troy Murphy (an expiring contract after this season, Murphy not only produces on the court, but will save Favors from being immediately thrown into the fire) and added both a new coach (Avery Johnson) and GM (Billy King) to develop a young, talented roster, so things are looking up after a dismal 12-win campaign.

Southeast:

Yea: Miami was clearly the league-wide winner this summer, but as their acquisitions have been covered ad nauseum, let's instead focus on the Washington Wizards, who not only selected potential superstar point guard Wall with the top overall draft pick (big men Trevor Booker and Kevin Seraphin could develop into solid role players), but also acquired steady veteran Kirk Hinrich and still-promising forward Yi Jianlian from the Bulls and Nets, respectively, for basically nothing. They also re-signed swingman Josh Howard on the cheap (if he fully recovers from last season's ACL injury, the former Mavericks standout could turn out to be a bargain) and -- love him or hate him -- high-scoring Gilbert Arenas (who averaged 22 points per game before getting suspended last season; here's a bet he'll be on his best behavior, whether he's shipped out of D.C. or not) returns to add firepower to the offense.

Nay: After making the playoffs for the first time in franchise history, the Charlotte Bobcats are now faced with the prospects of a new starting point guard and center, and while Raymond Felton and Tyson Chandler weren't superstars, adding the likes of Kwame Brown, Erick Dampier, former Illinois high school star Shaun Livingston and undrafted Chicagoan Sherron Collins means re-signing former Bull Tyrus Thomas was the team's biggest offseason move, which is a somewhat frightening proposition.

Eh: The Atlanta Hawks pretty much backed themselves into a corner by re-signing star swingman Joe Johnson -- but at least it keeps them a viable on-court product, if not a major draw for home fans -- but bringing in free-agent big men Josh Powell and Etan Thomas, drafting scorer Jordan Crawford and re-signing veteran Maurice Evans aren't moves that engender confidence in an already lackluster fan base. By basically standing pat -- save for the additions of backup point guard Chris Duhon and sharpshooter Quentin Richardson, a Windy City product, as well as re-signing veteran Jason Williams and outbidding the Bulls in order to acquire the services of shooter J.J. Redick -- demonstrates the organization's confidence that the squad is indeed a contender.

While the Miami Heat's coup of re-signing Dwyane Wade and acquiring both LeBron James and Chris Bosh has been much celebrated, the franchise also did a solid job of complementing the superstar trio with dependable and experienced role players, such as versatile Mike Miller, offensive sparkplug Eddie House, playmaker Carlos Arroyo, swingman James Jones and veteran insiders Juwan Howard, Zydrunas Ilgauskas and Jamaal Magloire, as well as re-signing hometown product Udonis Haslem.

Pacific:

Yea: The young Sacramento Kings shored up their interior deficiencies via trades (acquiring Dalembert from Philadelphia) and the draft (top pick DeMarcus Cousins is an early Rookie of the Year candidate, while second-rounder Hassan Whiteside is full of potential), but with a lot of overall talent -- particularly in the Tyreke Evans-led backcourt and on the perimeter in general -- sometimes less is more.
Nay: The Golden State Warriors' acquisition of free agent power forward David Lee, the "discovery" of former Harvard star and Bay Area product Jeremy Lin and a new ownership group is tempered by losing some of the team's once-promising core. They enter the season with the return of an unstable coaching staff and front office, an injured top draft choice in Ekpe Udoh and less-than-exciting pickups of middling vets like Charlie Bell, Rodney Carney, Dorell Wright and Dan Gadzuric.

Eh: The defending champion Los Angeles Lakers didn't have to make any major additions, but added depth in the form of steady point guard Steve Blake, gritty small forward Matt Barnes, veteran shot-blocker Theo Ratliff and rookie forwards Derrick Caracter and Devin Ebanks. The new acquisitions shouldn't take away from chemistry, while bringing back high-flying Chicago-area native Shannon Brown and most importantly, head coach Phil Jackson, maintains their top-dog status.

Another underwhelming summer for the Los Angeles Clippers included drafting athletic tweeners Al-Farouq Aminu, Eric Bledsoe and Willie Warren, acquiring role players Ryan Gomes, Craig Smith, Brian Cook and Randy Foye, re-signing sharpshooter Rasual Butler and hiring former Bulls head coach Vinny Del Negro. However, a dose of optimism comes with the postponed debut of 2009 No. 1 pick Blake Griffin, who missed the entirety of last season.

After a surprising playoff run, the Phoenix Suns lost star power forward Stoudemire to New York and general manager Steve Kerr to the TV studio. Although a return to form isn't expected, a new front office (headed by Cleveland expatriate Lance Blanks in the GM role and new president and former player agent Lon Babby as president) and acquisitions of free agents Hedo Turkoglu, Euro League experimenter Josh Childress and former Bull Hakim Warrick (along with unsung rookies Gani Lawal and Matt Janning) should make things interesting.

Southwest:
Yea: By re-signing key role players Luis Scola and backup point guard Kyle Lowry, trading for talented and versatile Courtney Lee, signing former Bull Brad Miller in free agency and drafting mature and underrated Patrick Patterson, the Houston Rockets quietly improved -- and that's without mentioning the potential return of former All-Star center Yao Ming.
Nay: While retaining star head coach Lionel Hollins and small forward Rudy Gay -- and to a lesser extent, bringing in reserves Tony Allen and backup point guard Acie Law -- was a move in the right direction following an improved season, the hard stance of Memphis Grizzlies owner Michael Heisley and his front office regarding the oddly incentive-based draft picks Xavier Henry (who could really help the team with his outside-shooting prowess) and Greivis Vasquez have wiped away much of the previously-generated goodwill.

Eh: Long one of the model franchises in the league, the San Antonio Spurs were somewhat quiet this summer. But although the almost below-the-radar signings of, among others, European star big men Tiago Splitter (via buyout from his overseas team) and American NBA newcomer Gary Neal don't seem like much on the surface, given the organization's history, they must be at least acknowledged, as does the surprise re-signing of the disappointing Richard Jefferson.

The Dallas Mavericks, another upper-echelon team, didn't make many changes either, but bringing back franchise player Dirk Nowitzki, center Brendan Haywood, energetic guard Jose Juan Barea and versatile forward Tim Thomas (who didn't suit up last season due to personal issues), drafting pure scorer Dominique Jones and adding center Tyson Chandler via trade should keep them in contention.

New Orleans Hornets head coach Monty Williams and general manager Dell Demps (both new hires) have a lot of work to do in trying to appease reportedly disgruntled All-Star point guard Chris Paul, but trading for athletic swingman Trevor Ariza and shooter Marco Bellinelli and drafting live bodies Quincy Pondexter and Craig Brackins is a start.
Northwest:
Yea: Bringing in sharpshooter Daequan Cook from Miami and veteran leader Morris Peterson from New Orleans via trade, as well as drafting space-filling center Cole Aldrich were all good moves, but locking up young superstar Kevin Durant to a long-term deal cemented the Oklahoma City Thunder as a force to be reckoned with for the forseeable future.
Nay: Even before the recent Anthony saga, the Denver Nuggets had a disappointing offseason, as veterans Al Harrington and Shelden Williams were acquired to bolster the frontline, but nothing else was done to improve an already flawed and aging squad -- perhaps a microcosm of a reportedly disjointed front office -- meaning new general manager Masai Ujiri has a lot on his plate, despite the expected return of head coach George Karl.

Eh: While their youth means they have a longer leash than aforementioned division rival Denver, the Portland Trailblazers' very public front-office dysfunction was an ugly sight to witness (former general manager Kevin Pritchard was fired on draft day; Rich Cho replaced him later in the summer). But by stealing swingman Wesley Matthews out of Utah (likely overpaying for him) after an impressive rookie season and drafting sleepers Luke Babbitt, Armon Johnson and Elliot Williams, at least the cupboard isn't anywhere close to bare.

The Utah Jazz were seemingly raided by the Bulls in the offseason, but the always-steady franchise recovered nicely by acquiring 20-and-10 big man Al Jefferson via trade, signing veteran swingman Raja Bell in free agency and drafting Butler's Final Four hero Gordon Hayward.

The strategy of the Minnesota Timberwolves remains confusing as ever, as they let their best player (Jefferson) leave for a division rival, rewarded Darko Milicic (who general manager David Kahn famously compared to Chris Webber) with a hefty contract for showing signs of life, traded for troubled forward Michael Beasley, drafted a swingman (Wesley Johnson) and subsequently traded for another (Martell Webster), acquired yet another point guard in Luke Ridnour and for good measure, brought in two more post players in free agent Anthony Tolliver and touted European import Nikola Pekovic.

Aggrey Sam is CSNChicago.coms Bulls Insider. Follow him @CSNBullsInsider on Twitter for up-to-the-minute Bulls information and his take on the team, the NBA and much more.

With 2021 NBA Free Agency looming, Bulls fired Jim Boylen in the nick of time

With 2021 NBA Free Agency looming, Bulls fired Jim Boylen in the nick of time

In retrospect, we should have all seen it coming. On the final day of the NBA regular season, Arturas Karnisovas fired Bulls head coach Jim Boylen, ending a nearly two-year tenure that saw the team play to a 39-84 record.

“I thought the timing was right right now, going into the lottery and the draft process. It’s an official offseason for us. So we thought it was good timing,” Karnisovas said in a conference call Friday.

The seeding phase of the league’s restart ending Friday and the draft lottery six days ahead does provide a nice bit of symmetry. But was Aug. 14 too long to wait? Karnisovas officially accepted his position as executive vice president of basketball operations on April 13. He brought in new front office hires in Marc Eversley, J.J. Polk and Pat Connelly in early May. Yet Boylen’s tenure dragged into the dog days of summer.

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Why? Karnisovas addressed that on said conference call.

“I took my time for a reason. It was a process to make that decision. Over the last few months, since I was hired in April, I had no timeline,” he said. “This was the right time to make this change.”

“Since it was a very unique situation to be hired in April, we took our time. The restrictions were lifted a little bit more. Interaction was involved.”

That answer echoes Karnisovas’ reputation as a thoughtful and deliberate decision-maker. He’s also said in the past that, in his eyes, forming personal relationships is requisite to holding employees accountable — player or coach. Some will appreciate that approach applied in this context, especially given that he’s inheriting a franchise that has twice in the past has parted ways with coaches on Christmas Eve. Some may not.

But bottom line: The end result is the one the Bulls badly needed to reach, and just in the nick of time.

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The cruciality of moving on from Boylen now is multi-layered. For one, there appears to be burbling optimism that the eight teams excluded from the NBA’s Disney World restart will find a way to resume basketball activities in some capacity soon. It may not be in a second bubble, but even organized OTAs with group activities would be a step up for a Bulls team that has been constrained to voluntary individual workouts with stringent protocols thus far. 

“The players now can work out individually in our practice facility, and our gym is pretty,” Karnisovas said on the call. “So while we’re waiting, if we can get any additional support from the league — again, overall the league regrets that we couldn’t get anything done until now. But I’m hopeful to get something soon.”

Starting the search “immediately” (in Karnisovas’ words) could have a new coach in the Advocate Center doors for all or some of those activities, should they come to fruition. Even if it doesn’t, the Bulls still have plenty of runway before the start of the 2020-21 campaign, which has yet to be finalized.

And in a big picture sense, getting fresh blood in the building has the potential to further a much-needed shift in the Bulls’ league wide perception that was catalyzed by its front office facelift months ago. 

Because this decision makes the organizational message clear: No half-measures. With a new executive vice president of basketball operations and general manager, burgeoning player development personnel, and soon a new coach — particularly, one that will replace a coach that lost games at a historic clip and often prompted questions about his player relationships — there are no caveats required to call this a new era of Bulls basketball; an era in which player development appears to be king, and mediocrity isn’t tolerated.

“The signal is that we’re changing things. It signals that we’re looking forward to what comes next,” Karnisovas said. “We just felt this program needed a change and needed a change now. And I can’t wait to find the next coach for this group.”

The looming free agency period of 2021 makes sending that signal now all the more important. Of course, firing Boylen doesn’t guarantee the Bulls Anthony Davis or Giannis Antetokounmpo. It might not even get them a meeting. 

For the time being, the Bulls are pretty much locked in place from a roster standpoint. Otto Porter Jr. opting in to his $28.5 million player option — which still qualifies as a near-certainty — and the cap hits the team’s first- and second-round draft choices will eventually invoke will cinch the Bulls in as an over-the-cap club for the 2020-21 season. 

So, the ship likely isn’t getting entirely righted overnight. Whatever your opinion of Boylen, some share of the blame for a 22-win season falls on the roster, as well. However talented you deem the Bulls’ core pieces, new leadership won’t vault them straight to title contention. 

But they don’t necessarily need to, at least not next season. The foundation has to start somewhere, and that summer of 2021 is where things get interesting. To steal a chart from myself, here’s what the Bulls books roughly look heading into that summer, as matters stand right now (via Spotrac): 

  2020-21 2021-22 2022-23 2023-24
Total Cap Allocations $106,027,707 $65,249,867 $9,344,636 $0
Signed Players 13 8 2 0

A possible Lauri Markkanen’s extension is pending, but partial guarantees on the third years of Tomas Satoransky and Thad Young’s contracts, as well as a team option on the third year of Ryan Arcidiacono’s, provides flexibility. Bottom line: They’ll be in a position to make major changes, possibly a splash — assuming the salary cap holds in the vicinity of its current $109.1 million status.

Which makes it all the more imperative that the 2020-21 season not play out as 2019-20 did. The Bulls are an attractive coaching job for the same reasons they were an attractive front office gig — young talent on the roster (albeit largely unproven), own all their own draft capital, cap space coming, big market, rabid fanbase — but to leverage all of that into being a desirable player destination, the soggy hunk of clay that is this rebuild needs to take shape. 

To follow in the footsteps of recent successful rebuilds — think Brooklyn Nets, Boston Celtics, Los Angeles Clippers; big-market teams that parlayed modica of promising talent into scrappy overperformance on the court, and, in turn, big moves on the trade and free agent markets — the Bulls need to transform themselves into a team on the rise. 

That doesn’t have to mean a top-four seed or a first-round playoff victory from the jump. But it starts with maximizing the pieces on the team now and improving next season, so that, in the age or perpetual player movement, when opportunity comes knocking, they’ll be prepared to seize it. It’s evident by the results that Boylen wasn’t the person to foster such progression.

A coach with a specialization in player development and relationships — which Karnisvoas said will be a focal point in the search — will be a foundational step. What the changes necessary will look like specifically may have to wait until Karnisovas and Co. have a precise candidate in their sights. Fortunately, there’s just about nowhere to go but up.

For now, it’s at least refreshing to know the Bulls are on the right track.

Bulls Talk Podcast: Jim Boylen is out as Bulls head coach

Bulls Talk Podcast: Jim Boylen is out as Bulls head coach

Once the regular season ended, the official start of the offseason began and the Bulls' first move was to let Jim Boylen go. In an emergency edition of the Bulls Talk Podcast, host Jason Goff is joined by Bulls insider K.C. Johnson and Bulls beat writer Rob Schaefer as they discuss the decision.

(1:30) - What led Arturas Karnisovas to the decision to let go, Jim Boylen

(6:00) - Arturas Karnisovas on having full power to make decisions

(16:30) - Potential candidates to replace Jim Boylen

(25:20) - How can a coach get the best out of the current Bulls roster

Listen here or via the embedded player below:

Bulls Talk Podcast

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