Watching the Conference Finals games over the last few days, I cant help but think about how the Bulls might stack up in future years against the Big 3s put together by Oklahoma City and Miami. Plus, there are a number of other young teams ready to take a jump in the standings next season like the Pacers, Grizzlies, 76ers, Nuggets and Clippers (yes, I know Vinny Del Negro is still coaching!).
So, the larger question is, have the Bulls already maxed out with the talent on the current roster, and should they consider making some major changes this summer to position themselves for a better chance to win the title in the 2013-14 season and beyond?
My friend Sam Smith at Bulls.com wrote an interesting column a couple weeks back basically saying that if Bulls management has decided theyve gone as far as they can with the current roster, they might want to consider trading one of their 10 million plus players for a lottery pick in the upcoming draft. Now, its obvious Derrick Rose is untouchable, and no team is going to touch Carlos Boozers contract (three years left at approximately 45 million), so that leaves Luol Deng and Joakim Noah.
Which teams might be interested in giving up cap space to acquire an All-Star caliber veteran player? Well, we can start with the Toronto Raptors. Their GM Bryan Colangelo had some interesting things to say in an interview with HOOPSWORLD. Colangelo thinks now is the time for the Raptors to add some veteran leadership to a roster loaded with lottery picks. He gave this response to a question about the teams plans for the 8 selection in round one, We are looking to increase the level of experience and thinking that you are going to get all of that at eight in this draft is probably not going to happen. Anything we take at eight is not going to have NBA experience so we are going to be looking at that in various other ways. We have the trade opportunities before July 1, trade opportunities and free agent options after July 1, so we have a lot of different balls up in the air with respect to the options that are going to be there for us.
Which brings us back to the Bulls. Would they be willing to trade Deng for that 8 pick, with back-up guard Jerryd Bayless possibly thrown in as a sweetener to fill in for Rose while he rehabs from knee surgery? The Bulls then could use the pick to grab one of the best college shooters available, like Floridas Bradley Beal, UConns Jeremy Lamb or Dukes Austin Rivers.
Okay, I know what youre asking, why would the Bulls trade an All-Star like Deng for a back-up point guard and a raw rookie? It all goes back to their salary cap situation. Just bringing back last years starting line-up would mean 61 million dollars in salary commitments, which already puts them over the cap for next season. And, when you add in the contracts of Taj Gibson, Jimmy Butler and a likely 4-5 million offer sheet for Omer Asik, the Bulls are already up against the 70 million luxury tax threshold with only eight players on the roster. If Bulls management has resigned themselves to not being able to contend with a rehabbing Rose, maybe now is the perfect time to start re-tooling the roster, and getting the cap situation in a better place.
Right now, it looks like the Bulls will decline team options on the contracts of Kyle Korver, Ronnie Brewer and C.J. Watson for next season because of cap reasons. Getting the chance to replace two of them with 1st round draft picks would save the team a bundle of money, and possibly open up a mid-level exception deal to add a free agent for the bench.
If the Bulls dont trade one of their core players this summer, theyll probably try to find a short-term replacement for Rose by offering the mini mid-level of 2.5 million dollars to a veteran like Kirk Hinrich, Andre Miller or Jason Kidd or possibly go after a young player who doesnt get a big offer in free agency like Raymond Felton, Jonny Flynn or the aforementioned Bayless (RFA).
Then, the major roster changes would likely wait until after the 2013-14 season when Dengs contract expires, the amnesty provision could be used on the final year of Boozers contract, and the Bulls will probably be able to bring prospect Nikola Mirotic over from Europe. With only Rose and Noah on the books at that time with big money contracts, the Bulls would be a player for a major free agent in the summer of 2014 when several stars, including LeBron James could be available.
So, the choice for John Paxson and Gar Forman basically is this: Do you wait for Rose to rehab his knee and hope to make a late season run with the current roster? Or, do you see the possibility of several up-and-coming teams passing you buy while youre locked in with a maxed out roster, and make the decision to try to move a big contract (Deng or Noah) to get the salary cap situation in a better place.
Either way, it figures to be an interesting summer around the NBA, with the two winning-est franchises in league history, the Celtics and Lakers looking to make major changes, and a number of teams looking to pounce on the big name players who should be available like Dwight Howard, Deron Williams, Pau Gasol, Kevin Garnett and Ray Allen.