Changes coming to Bulls, but when?
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Now that Derrick Rose is sidelined with another knee injury and the championship window for the current nucleus of players is essentially sealed shut, it's clear what the Bulls need.
They need a second go-to scorer and a lower payroll, which would create more flexibility for roster changes.
How to accomplish this next step is open to debate. And that debate will carry on through the rest of the season and into the summer.
Is this a "lost season"? Considering the Bulls came into the year expecting to challenge for a championship, yes. But there are still 69 games left to play.
"We realize it's difficult for our players to go through this," general manager Gar Forman said in a phone interview Tuesday. "With that said, we believe in the makeup and character of this team. We think we've got some tough, competitive guys in our locker room.
"Our feeling is that they'll band together and come out and compete on a nightly basis."
Of course, there's a fine line between competing on a nightly basis and slowly sinking in the standings. A No. 8 playoff seed won't do the Bulls much good in the long run, but a high draft pick probably would.
"I guess the best way I could put it is we'll continue to evaluate where our team is at — as we do every year — and what opportunities may present themselves," Forman said. "Are there opportunities to improve our team or opportunities to continue to help us toward our ultimate goal, which is to be a championship team? That's our job every year."
Relying on Rose to be the lone superstar, surrounded by a quality supporting cast — that strategy has run its course.
As mentioned here before,
Rose's camp pushed to trade for Carmelo Anthony when he was exiting Denver in the 2010-11 season. The principles in such a deal likely would have been Anthony and Nene for Luol Deng and Joakim Noah, but who knows if the Nuggets would have taken that over a strong offer from the New York Knicks?
This is all hindsight, but it's easy to see where such a trade might have put the Bulls in a better spot today. Now Deng is likely to change teams, either by trade or free agency, and back then, the Bulls could have replaced Noah with Omer Asik.
So how can the Bulls find another scorer to complement Rose? Landing a high pick in a strong draft is one strategy. The Bulls could potentially end up with two first-rounders, since they'll get Charlotte's pick next year if it's not in the top 10.
The Bulls have drafted well in recent years, and keep in mind that the best player from the 2010 draft is Indiana's Paul George, who went No. 10. So a team doesn't have to win the draft lottery to take home a nice prize.
Free agency would be difficult. Most of the strong players with a chance to hit the open market next summer (many have opt-out clauses) are looking for big money.
Even by letting Deng walk in free agency and using the amnesty clause on Carlos Boozer, the Bulls wouldn't be far enough under the salary cap to make a maximum offer. They'd need to move another player off the payroll, which isn't easy.
Trading Deng will be difficult, because his contract is about to expire. In theory, it makes sense to send him to a team in need of veteran guidance for a young player in return. But why would, say, Washington give back Otto Porter or Charlotte trade Michael Kidd-Gilchrist when there's no guarantee those teams could re-sign Deng next summer?
Deng would be a good risk for a team vying for a championship, but teams such as San Antonio, Oklahoma City and the L.A. Clippers don't have many pieces that would fit into a trade with the Bulls, unless the Clippers were willing to part with J.J. Redick.
To make a bold move, the Bulls might have to expand a trade to include Noah, Taj Gibson or Jimmy Butler, players who are under contract beyond this season.
Still, with a healthier Rose, the Charlotte pick — which they'll get in one of the next three years — and the chance to sign European rising star Nikola Mirotic next summer, Forman feels good about the future.
"This is a bump in the road and something we didn't see coming," he said. "It's early in the process and we're not going to make any rash decisions. We still feel we have a real bright future ahead of us."
Changes are coming. It's just a matter of when.
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