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updated: 7/27/2012 7:15 PM

Bulls bypass big splash while Rose rehabs knee

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  • The Bulls officially signed Nazr Mohammed, shown here playing for the Knicks.

    The Bulls officially signed Nazr Mohammed, shown here playing for the Knicks.
    dan white/Daily Herald file photo


The Bulls officially signed veteran center Nazr Mohammed on Friday, giving them 12 players on the 2012-13 roster.

They'll need to add a couple more before training camp begins Oct. 1, but this is a good time to address those incessant fan questions.

They usually fall into one of these three categories: "Why didn't GarPax do more this summer? Why are the Bulls so cheap? Are the Bulls planning to tank next season?"

They are all questions that require closer examination. The obvious and overwhelming reality for the Bulls is Derrick Rose's knee injury puts a serious cramp in their championship plans.

If the Bulls reached the finals or even gave Miami a good battle in last year's playoffs, chairman Jerry Reinsdorf might have brought everyone back this season, but we'll never know.

As an aside, the GarPax reference is out of date. Gar Forman and John Paxson both received executive of the year votes in 2011, but general manager Forman is making the basketball decisions now. Paxson still has input after transitioning to more of a consulting role.

Anyway, keep in mind the Bulls still have their top six players returning -- Rose, Luol Deng, Carlos Boozer, Joakim Noah, Rip Hamilton and Taj Gibson. Rose figures to miss at least half the season, but the Bulls went 18-9 without him last year. Even if Deng has wrist surgery after the Olympics, he should be ready to go by mid-December.

So there's no reason to think they're playing for the lottery. Rose might resemble his old self by playoff time, assuming they can finish in the top eight. Here's a closer look at other issues:

Don't sweat the "Bench Mob:"

Depth was a huge part of the Bulls' success the last two seasons, but it made sense to make some changes. It's tough to ignore C.J. Watson shooting 24 percent against the 76ers in the playoffs. Then the Bulls feel Jimmy Butler is ready to fill Ronnie Brewer's role as the best perimeter defender.

Watson (Nets) and Brewer (Knicks) signed for the minimum salary of around $1 million, while the Bulls would have spent $7.5 million to keep both.

Kyle Korver couldn't get his shot off against Philadelphia once Rose was sidelined, so how good would he be next season while Rose recovers? The Bulls will be hard-pressed to find another backup center as good as Omer Asik, but it's tough to justify paying $15 million in a single season for a second-teamer. That's the unfortunate price of drafting well.

If there's a move to second-guess, it's not re-signing John Lucas III. As much as he dribbled the ball endlessly, Lucas also won three or four games with his 3-point shooting last season.

Bargains ignored:

Granted, Kirk Hinrich, Marco Belinelli, Vladimir Radmanovic and Nazr Mohammed aren't exactly championship building blocks. But they don't need to be.

A popular gripe among fans this summer is why the Bulls didn't try harder to land O.J. Mayo, Courtney Lee or Lou Williams, who all signed elsewhere at reasonable prices.

Look at it this way: Lee averaged 11.4 points and shot 43.3 percent in 30 minutes per game for Houston last season. Belinelli averaged 11.8 points and shot 41.7 percent in 30 minutes for New Orleans.

Lee will be paid $4.6 million in Boston, according to reports, while the Bulls signed Belinelli for $1.9 million. Now double those numbers because the Bulls are above the luxury tax threshold. Is adding Belinelli at a $5 million saving over Lee being cheap or is it a smart decision?

Mayo is a slightly different story because he was the No. 3 pick of the 2008 draft and has shown some all-star potential at times in his career. During the playoff series against the Clippers, Mayo averaged 5.0 points and shot 17.6 percent from the field in the final five contests. He shot 1-for-11 in the decisive Game 7.

Does that sound like a guy who's going to complement Rose and lead the Bulls to a title? Same with Williams -- if he's not the long-term solution at two guard, why waste the money? Only time will tell if passing on those three was a mistake.

Don't rely on 2014:

In the coming months, the Bulls need to rebuild their salary structure as much as anything. Having four players making more than $11 million is the reason they were handcuffed this summer.

No one's really to blame for this. Rose is obviously the franchise player and Noah is a long-term pillar. The Bulls overpaid for Deng back when he and Ben Gordon were up for extensions at the same time. In 2010, they had to come up with someone in free-agency and felt Boozer was the best available.

This group led the Bulls to the best regular-season record in consecutive seasons. They'll probably need to amnesty Boozer when it's time to re-sign Gibson next summer. In fact, signing Gibson to an extension now and avoiding another Omer-style offer sheet seems vital.

There's been talk of a 2014 plan when the Bulls could create some cap space, but it's more complicated than that. At this point, there is no superstar, in-his-prime free agent due to hit the open market in 2014.

The Bulls need a third star to join Rose and Noah, and must decide if Deng's the guy. If not, the best options aren't free agents. They should keep an eye on the Eric Gordon-Austin Rivers chemistry in New Orleans, be ready when Oklahoma City has to part with James Harden, and monitor Brooklyn's Marshon Brooks, now a backup to Joe Johnson.

The Bulls weren't big spenders this summer, not compared to teams like the Lakers, who rang up a $20 million tax bill trying to win one more title for Kobe Bryant. The Bulls know this season will be tough and saved the big splash for later.

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