Derrick Rose is done. Jimmy Butler is battling issues of his own. Joakim Noah is posting his lowest PER number since his rookie season as he struggles to right himself coming off of a preseason groin injury. Marquis Teague looks like a potentially solid starter for any of these fine basketball teams. Kirk Hinrich looks more like a potential bridge opponent for my grandparents than a contributing NBA player.
For the Chicago Bulls and their fan base, which entered the season with extremely high expectations, things are shitty.
The reality is that this team, as banged up and short on talent as it may be, is still without a doubt a team poised to make the post season, considering the extreme struggles of the Knicks, Nets, Cavs, Bucks, Pistons, Raptors or Wizards. After Miami, Indiana and (gulp) Atlanta, the Bulls, who will continue to play stellar defense for Tom Thibodeau regardless of who is on the court, could easily slide into that fourth seed in the east (Editor’s note: someone from the dreadful Atlantic division will automatically snag a top four seed because of archaic seeding rules).
But what good is that? We watched last year as the Bulls clawed their way to the 5th seed in the East. We were delighted when the shorthanded Bulls took down the Nets in round one. We rejoiced when they stole the first game of round two from Miami. But when it was all said and done, the season will only be remembered as the DRose Rehab year. A second round exit did not quench the thirst of Chicago’s basketball fans who are starving for a return to glory.
It seems as though this season will play out exactly like the last one. Unless, of course, the front office decides to shake things up. By no means am I suggesting that the Bulls will enter full on tank mode. Thibodeau demands effort every night from his players and would be sickened by the idea that the front office is intentionally sabotaging the season. But by moving one of the valuable pieces on this team destined to go nowhere, the Bulls could position themselves nicely for the future by snagging a couple of interesting prospects, salary cap relief and/or a first round draft pick.
When considering potential Bulls trades there are a few key players to consider: Jimmy Butler, Joakim Noah, Carlos Boozer and Luol Deng. I would be shocked if the Bulls even LISTENED to deals involving Butler. The former final pick of the first round in 2011 is slotted to make just $2 million next season. For a Bulls team that is currently in the position to pay the luxury tax (for only the second time ever under Jerry Reinsdorf, last year being the first) I can’t see Gar Forman willing to part with such a cheap commodity. And beyond the salary cap concerns that this team faces, Butler very capably fills the role of shooting guard, the position long believed to be the missing piece to a Bulls title run. Remember this guy? So ya, Jimmy isn’t going anywhere.
Joakim Noah, the Bulls dynamic center, is definitely a player other teams would love to snag from the Bulls should they enter fire sale mode. But its just not likely that the Bulls would be able to get equal value in return for the anchor to their defense. Under team control for this season and the next two at the very fair price of about $12 million a year, there shouldn’t be an urgent rush to kick this guy out the door. With the latest Rose injury, basketball pundits are throwing out the idea that this Bulls core roster should be dismantled. But I see no reason as to why Jo shouldn’t be a part of the next contender the Bulls put together. While the issues with Noah’s feet are real, I can’t see a fear of future injuries dictating the Bulls’ front office in this regard. Noah isn’t going anywhere.
Bulls fans would love to see Carlos Boozer shipped out of town. Boozer, the ultimate consolation prize of the post-Decision fallout, has not exactly been the second superstar the Bulls hoped to pair with Derrick Rose. Boozer remains one of the last amnesty candidates left in the NBA (players can only be amnestied if they signed contracts before the current collective bargaining agreement. So don’t even think about using the “A” word with Derrick) and if he is amnestied this offseason the Bulls would have plenty of cap space to chase one of the big names set to his the market this summer. Boozer is owed $15 million this season and nearly $17 million next season.
While Carlos leaves much to be desired on the defensive end, he is still an effective offensive threat, even if his patented mid-range moon ball jump shot is the victim of frequent ridicule from Bulls fans and stat heads alike. Boozer is averaging 17-9 on 51% shooting and is basically the only Bulls capable of putting up consistent scoring numbers every night with Rose sidelined for the rest of the season. Trading Boozer will prove difficult for the Bulls simply because very few teams will be willing to take on all of that salary, but unlike with Butler and Noah, the Bulls will certainly entertain offers should any team propose one.
The final movable asset for Chicago is ultimate warrior Luol Deng. Deng, a two time all-star and one of the best wing stoppers in the NBA, is set to hit free agency this summer. Deng’s camp was unable to negotiate an extension over the summer with the Chicago front office, as this capped out team is wondering how much Deng, who has averaged nearly 39 minutes a game the last three seasons, has left in the tank. Lu is just 28 years old and believes he is worthy of the type of money Andre Iguodala got from Golden State this past summer, but the Bulls think otherwise. Iggy is a much more complete player than Luol and is able to take on the role of primary ball handler when his team is in a pinch. With a career average of 5 assists per game, including an impressive 6.3 through 13 games this season, Iguodala’s offensive value dwarfs that of Deng, who has always needed someone else to get him going when his team has the ball.
With Deng poised to walk away, the Bulls front office would be wise to try and get something in return for the veteran small forward. Deng’s skill set, attitude and expiring contract make him an ideal trade candidate for a team trying to push itself into the “contender” discussion.
Perhaps the most obvious trade partner for Chicago is the Cleveland Cavaliers. The Cavs made some big noise this offseason when they signed Andrew Bynum, Jarrett Jack and drafted Anthony Bennett with the number one overall pick. Owner Dan Gilbert is hellbent on the Cavs reaching the postseason for the first time since Lebron split for the beach and would likely approve a move that risks the long term success of the franchise for a quick fix now.
Should the Bulls move Deng, it would be crucial for them to get a first round pick in return. With first round picks being considered one of the most valuable commodities in the NBA today, fetching even a late lottery or pick in the 20’s would be considered a win for Chicago.
Moving Deng for a pick, and no long term money, would open up a lot of flexibility in what will be an exciting summer in 2014. The Bulls could also amnesty Boozer, creating the type of max space that could attract serious talent to Chicago.
Rose’s injury may seem dire now, but the Bulls still have plenty of valuable pieces for both the short and long term future. A “rebuild” does not necessarily have to come via tanking. A rebuild on the fly is very attainable, and the Bulls will be fine.