The Chicago Bulls are in the middle of a tumultuous off-season, caught between retooling for the 2012-13 NBA Playoffs and rebuilding for 2014. The Bulls have lost valuable veteran bench contributors C.J. Watson, Kyle Korver and Ronnie Brewer already, will likely lose Omer Asik this week, and intend to replace them with Nazr Mohammad and Kirk Hinrich.
Chicago's best strategy is to rebuild for the 2013-2014 season, when Rose will be healthy and the team will have the flexibility to make the valuable additions needed to contend.
The Bulls have many compelling reasons to adopt this strategy. It all begins with Rose, the team's franchise player.
Rose's injury is extremely serious and while not career threatening, usually requires between 12-16 months to return to full health. Chicago knows that Rose will not be fully healthy or effective, not to mention rusty and in poor shape, for the 2013 NBA Playoffs and the team cannot win an NBA title with him at less than his best.
Equally important, team leader Luol Deng's wrist injury might make him ineffective this season as well and there is no telling whether he will be healthy for the 2013 NBA Playoffs. Knowing that, Chicago decided its 2013 NBA title hopes were largely dashed and prudently decided to preserve the franchise's financial maneuverability for 2014 and beyond.
The team is also banking that its mix of underrated draft picks and low impact signings will soften the blow of this off-season's losses. Chicago expects Jimmy Butler, the team's 2011 No. 1 draft pick, to defend well and demonstrate a capable mid-range game while taking the departed Brewer's minutes.
Marquis Teague, their 2012 No. 1 pick, and Kirk Hinrich will provide depth at the point guard spot and Rip Hamilton, who spent most of last season in injury rehab, will need to step up at shooting guard and small forward.
Omer Asik, the Bulls' young, shot-blocking center from Turkey, is the most painful, irreplaceable loss of this off-season. Asik was a fan favorite who played outstanding post defense. However, he was an atrocious offensive player who never learned to score and whose fouling kept him from playing extended minutes on the court.
Bulls fans will miss his tenacity but Noah is the starter and the Bulls will find a way to replace Asik's 15 minutes per game.
The Bulls' strategy is to trim payroll but keep the team's core intact for a stronger run after next season. Rose will return to full health in 2014 and at only 24, will still be entering his prime. Both Deng and Noah, the team's two other cornerstones, will still be under 30 years old.
Chicago is also looking forward to giving more minutes and opportunities to Taj Gibson, their young power forward. If he steps up next season, improves his offense and proves himself a starter, the Bulls will extend his contract and lock him in alongside Noah as their front-court of the future.
Equally important, the Bulls will add European star forward Nikola Mirotic, their 2010 No. 1 pick, in 2014. Mirotic is a tall, athletic scorer from the forward position whose game resembles that of former Chicago star Toni Kukoc, the team's invaluable sixth man during the second Jordan dynasty.
So, Bulls fans have a lot to look forward to in 2014 and beyond. A core of Rose, Deng, and Noah, with Gibson, Mirotic and Teague adding strong value behind them, and the financial flexibility to add several more quality veterans chasing a championship, may well get Chicago over the hump and deliver the franchise's seventh NBA title.
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