Just when it looked like the league's claims of competitive balance and altering the system seemed like a joke -- with a reported deal that would have sent All-Star point guard Chris Paul from the NBA-owned Hornets to the Lakers, in exchange for Pau Gasol (who would have been dealt to Houston) and Lamar Odom -- things took an even stranger turn Friday evening.
Instead of Paul joining forces in a star-studded backcourt with Kobe Bryant, Gasol suiting up for new Rockets coach and Hall of Fame big man Kevin McHale (a match made in heaven, even if the rest of Houston's roster -- starters Kevin Martin and Luis Scola, as well as reserve Goran Dragic were New Orleans-bound -- would have been gutted) and the Hornets remaining competitive, even in the wake of their franchise player departing, NBA owners cried foul and lobbied league commissioner David Stern to cancel the three-team trade.
On the same day the NBA's new collective-bargaining agreement was ratified -- meaning training camps and the official start of free agency will simultaneously begin Friday afternoon -- that news was overshadowed by widespread reports of the proposed blockbuster deal and subsequent reports that it won't happen. In all, a whirlwind day for the league in general, which was looking forward to a Paul-Derrick Rose matchup to open the NBA season on Christmas Day.
As it relates to the Bulls and other upper-echelon teams, there has to be a big sigh of relief, just as small-market franchises must also be breathing easy with the knowledge that a nearly five-month labor standoff wasn't all for naught, something that would have been exposed if Paul went to the Lakers, especially so soon after the work stoppage ended.
However, that hasn't stopped the free-agency floodgates from opening, as other signings being reported as imminent include Bulls target Caron Butler signing with the Clippers and former Bulls draft pick Tyson Chandler heading to the Knicks, providing New York with the true center they've long coveted to play alongside All-Star Amar'e Stoudemire, bolstering their sieve-like defense.
Quietly, the Heat have also been active, reportedly agreeing to terms with Chandler's former teammate, Eddy Curry, to help plug their hole in the middle, as well as veteran small forward Shane Battier, who tweeted the news himself.
The Bulls haven't been completely idle in the hours prior to the official start of free agency, as a source confirmed to CSNChicago.com the Chicago Tribune's report that Chicago native and veteran shooting guard Luther Head has been invited to Bulls training camp.
Head, who spent time in Houston when Tom Thibodeau was a Rockets assistant coach under Jeff Van Gundy, isn't exactly the big name fans are looking for and it's likely the Bulls will make further additions, but at the very least, he provides them with an experienced player capable of knocking down outside shots. Additionally, the same source told CSNChicago.com that veteran reserve forward Brian Scalabrine is expected to be present for the first day of camp Friday and eventually be re-signed, as is backup point guard John Lucas III.
However, with fellow contenders like the Knicks, Heat and Lakers making moves (or at least attempting to do so; with or without Paul, it's suspected that a potential deal for Dwight Howard is looming) and potential options like Butler coming off the board -- meaning other candidates, such as Jason Richardson and Jamal Crawford, have a baseline for their market value -- the pressure to keep up with Joneses is increasing.
Furthermore, last season's shooting guard Keith Bogans may not yet be a done deal, according to a source. Bringing back big man Kurt Thomas -- a move made more significant if young reserve center Omer Asik further aggravated the leg injury suffered in the Eastern Conference finals by playing in the summer's FIBA EuroBasket tournament for Turkey, as well as the possibility that backup power forward Taj Gibson could be dealt -- isn't a foregone conclusion.
A person with knowledge of the situation told CSNChicago.com that the Trail Blazers, his hometown Mavericks and the Heat, the team that drafted him, are among the teams interested in the league's oldest player.
Clearly there's a need for a perimeter scoring boost in the Windy City, but if indications that the organization isn't willing to spend the money necessary to sign an impactful wing player are correct, the big splash many Bulls fans both hope for and expect might not happen.
Or will the Bulls, equipped with roster stability, tremendous team chemistry and coming off a 62-win season, join the NBA's arms race and make an addition that garners major headlines of their own?