While everyone in Chicago is undoubtedly disappointed that Carmelo Anthony chose the New York Knicks after a long wait, the Bulls did well filling their roster. Before Carmelo had even formally announced his intentions, the Bulls were rumored to be nearing an agreement with All-Star (and likely future Hall of Famer) Spaniard Pau Gasol.
Those numbers are almost official now (the front office is frantically trying to find a way to avoid amnestying Carlos Boozer, a foregone conclusion) and are very team-friendly for the Bulls. According to Adrian Wojnarowski, demigod of NBA reporting and utilizer of the #WojBomb, Pau’s deal will be for three years and $22 million with a player option in year three. Considering Gasol turned down offers of two/$20 million and 3/$29 million from the Lakers, this is great value for the Bulls. It also shows that Gasol believes that the Bulls have a brighter future than the Lakers.
Will Pau be a good fit? At first I wasn’t so sure, but the more I think about this move, the more I like it. The Bulls biggest problem since letting Omer Asik leave (for basically no reason besides cheapness) has been finding effective frontcourt combinations besides Taj Gibson and Joakim Noah. Gasol struggled badly defensively last season, but it wouldn’t be surprising if he was checked out on Mike D’Antoni–not to mention the fact that D’Antoni is the bizarro Tom Thibodeau: he only coaches offense. Playing in a strict system of accountability should bring out the best defense Gasol still has to offer, which I’m confident will be a step up from Carlos Boozer. In addition, Pau is possibly the best passing big man not named Joakim Noah, which should create some wonderful sets for Thibs to play with. Gasol can play at a high level with Noah or Gibson, making him a very solid addition at around $7 million per year.
Now let’s talk about the other guy. Replacing Boozer with Pau will improve the big rotation, but the addition of Spanish star Nikola Mirotic will solidify the Bulls’ almost embarrassment of riches down low. Bicky wrote a great player profile of Mirotic last summer, but he’s kind of like a poor man’s Kevin Love. His shooting should help space the floor in addition to giving Tom Thibodeau a number of frontcourt combinations to use. Mirotic reportedly will sign for three years and $17 million (#WojBomb), another terrific contract. It was feared that he would cost more to pry away from Real Madrid, but things worked out nicely for the Bulls. If Mirotic hits his potential, it’s a steal; if he disappoints, it’s a very manageable (and moveable) deal.
The biggest question mark going forward will be the depth on the wings. Jimmy Butler and Mike Dunleavy will presumably be starters, with Doug McDermott and Tony Snell coming off the bench. If Snell doesn’t take a big step up and McDermott is a bust, the Bulls offense will once again find itself in a lot of trouble come playoff time–especially if Jimmy Butler still can’t shoot. The upcoming signing of Kirk Hinrich (two years, $5.6 million, would you like to take my hand into traffic?) appears to lock up the roster.
The gut reaction of disappointment to losing out on Melo is understandable, expected, and justified. But once we start to piece together what next year’s rotation will look like, it’s hard to imagine the front office doing that much better this summer. The issue, of course, has been the treading of water since 2010, justified by “The 2014 Plan”, which failed to bring in another true star. Still, LeBron’s jump to Cleveland has thrown the East into complete disarray. The Bulls could easily be favorites to win the conference if Derrick Rose is back to an All-Star level.