By using the amnesty provision on Carlos Boozer, the Bulls didn't necessarily close the book on their summer moves, but they're getting close.
The Boozer move has been expected for more than a year. During the free-agent frenzy of 2010, the Bulls probably knew at the time they overpaid for the former Utah power forward. He's set to make $16.8 million this season.
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By using the amnesty clause, the Bulls release Boozer and still must pay his salary, but it doesn't count toward the salary cap or luxury tax. They'll use that cap space to sign Pau Gasol and Nikola Mirotic in the coming days, while teams under the cap can bid on Boozer.
When the expected signings are complete, the Bulls will have 11 players under contract and can acquire others only through trades or signing free agents for the minimum salary.
The roster includes Gasol, Mirotic, Derrick Rose, Joakim Noah, Taj Gibson, Jimmy Butler, Kirk Hinrich, Mike Dunleavy, Tony Snell, Doug McDermott and second-round pick Cameron Bairstow.
They still need to add a couple of players, but this is a good time to assess how the new roster lines up for next season. Here's a rundown of the positive and negative:
Reasons for optimism:
1. Improved shooting: There was no mistaking the Bulls' biggest problem in the playoff loss to Washington last spring.
They couldn't score, other than the time Dunleavy hit 8 of 10 shots from 3-point range in Game 3. The Bulls scored 69 points in their playoff finale.
They have a chance to be a much better 3-point shooting team next season by adding McDermott and Mirotic.
If summer league means anything, Snell might also contribute. Through three summer-league games, McDermott is 11-for-21 from long range and Snell is 12-for-23. Mirotic shot 46 percent from 3-point land for Real Madrid last season.
Gasol isn't going to post Carmelo Anthony numbers, but he has averaged at least 17.4 points in 12 of 13 NBA seasons. In comparison, Boozer averaged 13.7 last season, 9.6 in the playoffs.
2. Strength inside: Another awful memory from the playoff loss was the Bulls getting abused by big men Nene and Marcin Gortat.
Whether the Bulls have corrected the issue against those two opponents remains to be seen, but they should remain strong inside with Gasol in a three-post rotation with Noah and Gibson.
In some ways this goes against the trend of success in the NBA. San Antonio essentially uses three perimeter scorers with Tim Duncan in the middle. Miami won two championships without much inside presence at all.
Maybe the Bulls still are missing the magic formula, but they might be able to take advantage of teams trying to play small.
An inside scoring presence like Gasol should give the 3-point shooters room to launch.
3. Not much new in East: Obviously, the gargantuan move in the Eastern Conference is LeBron James leaving Miami to return to Cleveland.
This weakens the four-time conference champs and improves the Cavaliers, who finished 10th in the East last season.
The other contenders in the East stood relatively still.
Indiana and Toronto figure to return the same basic lineup, assuming the Pacers re-sign Lance Stephenson.
Washington lost a couple of key pieces in Trevor Ariza (to Houston) and Trevor Booker (Utah), while adding Paul Pierce, who will be 37 when the season begins.
Brooklyn could benefit from the return of center Brook Lopez from injury but has an aging lineup.
Atlanta had trouble finding anyone to take its cap space. New York tried to mix things up, but is waiting to get cap space next summer.
Reasons for pessimism:
1. Department of health: The idea of the Bulls residing among the Eastern Conference elite depends largely on Rose playing a full season. All fingers are crossed.
Gasol also has a an unhealthy history, missing 55 games in the past two seasons. The Bulls probably have lower minutes in mind for Gasol, since he can split time with Gibson and Noah.
2. Floor balance: As it stands now, the roster is overloaded with small forward types: Dunleavy, Butler, Snell, McDermott and possibly Mirotic. The only true guards right now are Rose and Hinrich.
Butler likely will continue to start at shooting guard, and Snell conceivably could see time there.
So it remains to be seen if they'll swing a deal to move one of the wings. At 6-foot-10, Mirotic is considered more of a "stretch four" but probably needs to play small forward because the Bulls have Gasol and Gibson at the four.
3. So many unknowns: Rose has played just 10 games in the past two seasons, so that's the biggest variable.
McDermott should be a valuable addition, but he could land anywhere on the performance scale from Larry Bird-like to poor man's Kyle Korver.
Mirotic is often billed as the next European NBA star, but he's new to the league, so it's tough to tell what to expect.
The Bulls essentially are adding Rose, Gasol, McDermott and Mirotic to a 48-win team, while losing Boozer and D.J. Augustin.
It's easy to imagine the Bulls battling Indiana and Cleveland for the top spot in the East, but a number of variables need to trend in a positive direction.
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