Let's make it loud, proud, and crystal clear. The Chicago Bulls front office is busy rustling and wrangling up stray cattle rather than going after stampeding bulls.
With all the articles the readers (yes, you) have perused through since the start of free agency on July 1st, the Chicago Bulls (Jerry Reinsdorf, Gar Forman, John Paxson) have made it quite visible that the team will not be contending for a deep run at the big trophy during the 2012-2013 NBA season.
It's not exactly jaw-dropping or eye-opening, but before the city starts pillaging the Madhouse on Madison let's try to step into the minds of GarPax, get a glimpse of their reasoning, and how they can achieve the results Bulls fans have been yearning for since the days of the multicolored Worm. After leading the team to back-to-back seasons with the best record in the NBA, I'm sure supporters can rest assured that unlike personnel from other franchises, the Bulls are committed to winning.
The Dark Knight Rises
Make no mistake, the entire machine begins and ends with Jersey No. 1. Derrick Rose's over analyzed injury has been the catalyst for the controversial offseason and good news in the Windy City seems hard to come by these days. Yet, a gleam of shimmering hope shined off the Lake Front last week when Scott Powers of ESPN reported of Rose's progress. Dr. Brian Cole, who performed the surgery on Rose, said "Rose was ahead of schedule." With so many budding careers (Greg Oden, anyone?) cut short by setbacks after surgery, the future—so far anyway—is still promising. No need to release the emergency chute just yet, and Chicago's brass is thinking along the same lines as well.
On a side note, as many of you know the injury to the wrist of Luol Deng is also a concern for fans as he has elected to forgo surgery to play for Great Britain at the Olympics. While having surgery after the Bulls' elimination would have assured the fans a healthy Deng by the beginning of the season, the delay puts the early part of his 2012-13 campaign in jeopardy. A new rumor from ESPN reported that 'rest' might be all he needs.
With Rose still a half year away from jockeying for position before a jump ball, he is signed to a well-deserved $95M+ deal for five years. Captain Obvious says that for better or for worse, even with him not playing for a majority of the season, the Bulls are still locked in to pay that money.
With owner Jerry Reinsdorf wanting to have no part of a luxury tax (for a team that will not win a title this year without Rose) that includes a payroll consisting of Carlos Boozer's $75M, Joakim Noah's $60M and Luol Deng's $70M—the hands of GM Gar Forman are tied by King Jerry. The team simply does not have enough (or wants to spend) loot to reel in a big ticket free agent. With most of the prizes of the summer having been captured ,the sight is now set on the class of '13, that has names like Monta Ellis and Josh Smith, and '14 with Deng's contract set to expire. Hopefully by then Reinsdorf will want to throw his wealth around (he never had to tap into the luxury tax in the 90's, but it's a different game now) to enrich his kingdom with more championship rings.
An interesting aspect to think about is, is the fact that many free agents do not want to play in Chicago because of the 'big shoes' left by Jordan? Dwight Howard mentioned that as a reason as to why he wants to play for Brooklyn.
Ice Age 3: Continental Drift
Vocal critics that blast the departures of the quote unquote "Bench Mob" need to stop worrying or think the Bulls have shot themselves in the foot and have begun embarking on yet another Ice Age streak of listless seasons.
Let's break it down logically.
I apologize if I burst your bubble, but the NBA is a business. There is no loyalty in sports and the fact that Kyle Korver, CJ Watson, John Lucas III, Ronnie Brewer and Omer Asik were allowed to drift off are examples of that. If they kept each of them, as Nick Friedell of ESPN reported, the Bulls would be hovering around $15 million over the cap (with a stiff $15 million penalty to quickly follow). That's also not including matching the absurd sheet for Omer Asik, offered by the Houston Rockets, where the Bulls would have to pay him $15 million in the third year of the contract. Although they held down the fort long enough to clinch the No. 1 seed last season, the series against the the 76ers showed that at the end of the day, they are bench players and relatively replaceable.
The plan in motion, assuming they are in it to win when Rose gets back, is a brave one.
After the unnecessarily compelling amnesty saga of Carlos Boozer ending with nothing being done, the Bulls are heavily banking on learning from the historical 2010 summer to land at least one superstar in the process. The recent polarizing signings are nothing more than band-aids, but make sense. Signing a three-point specialist to replace Korver, such as Vladimir Radmanovic (one year, $1.3 million,) does not hurt because it is a one year contract in a transitional season. Meanwhile, players like Jimmy Butler (two years, $2.1 million) and Kirk Hinrich (two years, $6 million) are also coming cheap.
Reports have also surfaced that Richard Hamilton and his $5 million are on the trading block with a team option coming up after the upcoming season. As mentioned earlier, Deng is off the books after 2014 and Boozer will follow suit in 2015—Noah even later in 2016—so the expiration of the small contracts could not come at a better time.
The short, thrifty deals will undoubtedly help Chicago clear enough cap space to try and make a big splash once again when Rose is back to action.
Rest assured, the Chicago Bulls front office is not playing for the lottery. I doubt there are more than four to five teams in the East that will be better than them, but while like squads in Boston (Courtney Lee), Miami (Rashard Lewis, Ray Allen) and Brooklyn (Joe Johnson, Gerald Wallace, etc) have been gearing up, what bodies are left for the Bulls to nab and fill their gaps?
Sadly, not many. The latest names being thrown around are reports from ESPN on Darko Milicic and others about Michael Redd. One is still only 26 and most famous for being picked ahead of Carmelo Anthony, Dwyane Wade, Chris Bosh, etc. The other is a version of Hamilton; an often injured 30-something year old guard.
Using them as fillers for a season or two at the league's veteran minimum contract is worth taking a chance, but no one will be avenging last year's early playoff demise. Gar Forman has done the best he can under the circumstances, and while no one is picking the Bulls to go deep this season, it is a smart move to stay put for now and build the team around Rose, Noah and Taj Gibson.
Moreover, use the next year to see what Jeff Teague and Butler can do and entertain (any by all means) offers for Boozer. Trading him and Deng for draft picks would be alright as well since that would mean more money for the pursuit of happiness ala free agents.
While it's easy to scratch your head and point and blame the front office for the goodbyes of some of your Bulls, remember that it's a business and the head honchos thankfully have a tremendous coach. Jerry Reinsdorf could spend some more money right now, but seeing as the season is considered 'lost' we'll see if the wallet opens up once the contracts expire and Rose gets back. For now, you can sleep well knowing that there is a plan in motion and just as The Dark Knight watches over Gotham City, Chicago still has The White Mamba, so cut Gar Forman some slack!