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Is It Time To Break Up The Chicago Bulls?
Posted By HOOPSWORLD On May 16, 2012 @ 6:00 pm In All,Main Page,NBA | No Comments
The Chicago Bulls have emerged as the Eastern Conference’s most dominant regular-season team, but injuries have hampered them from reaching their postseason potential. Some are saying it’s time to break up the band, despite their success. HOOPSWORLD’s Joel Brigham and Mark Nugent are based in Chicago, and tackle this issue head-on.
Joel Brigham writes:
Before I get into too much detail about the benefits of dismantling this current Chicago Bulls team, understand that I do not believe the franchise will do anything of the sort, nor do I personally believe it’s in their best interest, anyway.
That said, there are a growing number of people who are adamant that this Bulls team cannot win a championship as they’re currently built and so should set Derrick Rose aside and then absolutely revamp everything else. Realistic or not, there are merits to this particular argument which are worth exploring.
Since there’s less than a zero percent chance the Bulls do anything with Rose while he recovers from ACL surgery, the only real changes the Bulls can even consider making have to involve Carlos Boozer, Luol Deng, or Joakim Noah. Those three guys, combined with Rose, will earn just shy of $56 million in 2012-2013, pushing them right up against the $58 million salary cap before even fielding the other two-thirds of their 12-man (at least) roster. This is a team that’s going to be sniffing at luxury tax next season, and that alone is enough of a reason to explore making some sort of salary-related moves to improve the financial future of the organization.
But let’s face it—the team with the best record in the NBA two years running isn’t looking to dump salary. If they move someone like, say, Joakim Noah or Luol Deng (or both) it will be because they think they can return a star player who will help them more than those two guys could. And, truthfully, it’s not outrageous to think that there would be a team out there interested in precisely those two players as part of a pretty major package deal.
The Dwight Howard-to-Chicago rumors never gained any real traction over the course of the season, but that’s exactly the sort of thing worth considering for this organization. All of the playoff favorites right now have two and often three big-time players; Oklahoma City has Kevin Durant, Russell Westbrook, and James Harden; San Antonio has Tony Parker, Manu Ginobili, and Tim Duncan; the Lakers have Kobe Bryant, Andrew Bynum, and Pau Gasol; and the HEAT have LeBron James, Dwyane Wade, and Chris Bosh. Even the Celtics and Clippers have at least two guys they can lean on heavily on any given night.
What Chicago has proven is that without Derrick Rose—the lone player with star quality on the team, despite Deng’s All-Star appearance this past February—they’re not a particularly impressive team. To win, you need more star power than just one guy, and if there’s a trade out there that can ship away Deng and Noah to return a more formidable star, now would be the time to make that trade.
Certain Bulls fans will cry that a two-for-one involving those guys is unwise because there are few better passing big men in the game than Noah, or that Deng has been with the team so long that his presence as a leader in the locker room is irreplaceable. Yes, we love to see how hard these guys work, and how well they get along as a group, but the fact is that they’re flat-out short on talent, and as superstars become available—like Dwight Howard last year and Carmelo Anthony the year before, and Pau Gasol and Kevin Garnett in the years before that—they need to act on pulling the trigger instead of overvaluing the players they’ve already got.
You’ve got to hand it to the Chicago front office for putting together a group of hard-working, basketball-first personalities that have such great team chemistry, but there are simply too many similar players on that team right now. Beyond just adding more talent, it could do the Bulls well to simply add some different talent. Outside of Rose, this team tends to pass on athleticism in favor of character and work ethic, but maybe it’s time to get some athletes and scorers—even if they don’t look like typical Bulls—to see how they respond in head coach Tom Thibodeau’s system.
By varying up the kinds of talent on the team, and just flat-out adding more of it, the Bulls could potentially find themselves in a better situation to seriously pursue an NBA title. Any team with Derrick Rose healthy is making the playoffs and performing reasonably well there; replace the Bulls with a bunch of other players and they might not the top team record-wise in the Eastern Conference, but they’re still a headache of a team in the postseason. The success this team has seen is because of Rose, not necessarily all the players around him (though there are some admittedly respectable players around him).
Adding another big star, if that were at all possible, would completely change the long-term outlook of the organization, and that’s an incredibly easy argument to make, particularly in the wake of their embarrassing first-round playoff exit.
Change isn’t a bad thing. What’s hard is convincing the fans of that . . .myself included.
Mark Nugent isn’t at all convinced that the Bulls need to mess with that has been, when healthy, one of the best teams in basketball.
Talk about an overreaction. Breaking up the Bulls because the team flamed out in consecutive playoff appearances? What the Bulls have accomplished over the past two seasons, some franchises have never achieved. Bulls fans waited more than a decade for the team to get back into championship contention, so why would it make sense to break up the team?
The Bulls have won more regular season games than any team in the NBA over the last two years and have earned the top seed in the playoffs during that time. What sense does it make to break up a team that has dominated the regular season?
Much of the talk about breaking up the Bulls revolves around Carlos Boozer. There’s no question he isn’t living up to the 5-year contract he signed in the summer of 2010, but what options do the Bulls have with him? They can either trade him or amnesty him.
The market for Boozer has arguably never been lower. It’s unlikely there is any team that would be willing to take on Boozer for free, much less trading something of value back to the Bulls. The only trade that makes any sense for a team acquiring Boozer would be if they require the Bulls to take back more money than Boozer has remaining on his contract.
The best example would be a Boozer and Ronnie Brewer trade to the New York Knicks for Amar’e Stoudemire. This may or may not make the Bulls better, but it would definitely limit the options the Bulls have in the next two or three seasons. If Stoudemire were to get injured, the Bulls would have to eat his contract; on the other hand, if Boozer were to get injured while still on the Bulls the team could use their amnesty clause on him and wipe his contract off their books. If the Bulls trade Boozer, they are essentially pushing all of their eggs into the basket of whatever player or players they receive in trade. That’s a pretty big risk.
If the Bulls were to use their amnesty clause on Boozer this offseason, it wouldn’t help them do anything but get worse. The Bulls sit at approximately $75 million next season if they bring everyone back (this also includes Omer Asik’s cap hold), which is likely to be over the luxury tax threshold. If the Bulls then Amnesty Boozer it puts them around $60 million, well above the salary cap which is likely to be in the $57-$58 million range.
Meaning the Bulls would only have the Mid-Level Exception, which is approximately $5 million. Can the Bulls sign someone better than Boozer for the MLE? That seems very unlikely. Fans may argue that subtracting Boozer and giving those minutes to Taj Gibson and Asik would instantly make the team better, but that would also hurt the team’s greatest strength: it’s size and depth up front. If the Bulls want more minutes for Gibson or Asik, coach Tom Thibodeau can easily move Boozer to a sixth man role.
For the Bulls to get under the projected salary cap, they would need to amnesty Boozer, let C.J. Watson, Kyle Korver, and Brewer walk, all three are on non-guaranteed contracts, and then renounce the rights to Asik. That would leave the Bulls at roughly $45 million, some $12-$13 million under the projected cap.
That’s a good chunk of money, but the Bulls would need to add six players to fill out their roster. Also, this year’s free agent class has some talent, but many of them, like Eric Gordon and O.J. Mayo, will likely be restricted free agents giving their current team an opportunity to match any offer the Bulls make them. This would add even more risk to an already tumultuous offseason with Derrick Rose’s ACL surgery and Luol Deng and Joakim Noah likely playing in the Olympics.
There has been some talk that the Bulls may pursue Dwight Howard this offseason if the Magic make him available. While that’s fun to fantasize about for Bulls fans, it’s fairly unrealistic and also might not make the Bulls a better team.
To obtain Howard, the Bulls would likely have to give up a package of players and picks that includes Noah, Deng, the right’s to Nikola Mirotic (who had a great season in the Euroleague), and the rights to a future first round pick from the Charlotte Bobcats.
That’s an awfully big package for a player coming off of major back surgery, surgery so serious he didn’t join his team on the bench during the playoffs because his doctor told him not to travel. Howard also just spent last season waffling back and forth about whether or not to re-sign with the Magic. This constant media attention was at best a distraction to the Magic, at worst it was the eventual downfall of their season.
Howard also got into several public spats with head coach Stan Van Gundy. There were even rumors that he told upper management that he won’t play for the Magic again if Van Gundy is coach. Is this really the type of player the Bulls want to pair with Rose? Lastly, Howard will be an unrestricted free agent at the end of the season and could easily leave the Bulls to play for another team. Meaning the Bulls will have traded away quality players and several assets that could help them in the future for a player that might not be on the team by the time the 2013-14 season begins.
Howard seems like a perfect fit playing next Rose and Richard Hamilton, but this is a team that appears to love playing together. They have a college team vibe and bringing in a player who had a me-first attitude all of last season isn’t likely to make the team better.
There is no question that the Bulls have been a disappointment during these last two playoffs, but to break up the team after everything they’ve accomplished is a bad idea. The Bulls lost in 2011 in five very close games to the Miami HEAT, and this season they lost because Rose tore his ACL in the first game of the playoffs and Noah sprained his ankle in the third game of the playoffs. No team in the NBA could overcome the loss of arguably their two best players.
The only move the Bulls should even consider is letting Brewer leave as a free agent, thus getting the team under the luxury tax threshold. Brewer is the obvious choice for the Bulls to let go because they have a similar, cheaper option on the bench in Jimmy Butler. Since it’s unlikely the Bulls can make the team better immediately and it’s also doubtful they could put themselves in a better position moving forward, the Bulls need to stand pat this offseason, and bring back essentially the exact same team next season.
Carlos Boozer has certainly been a disappointment in Chicago and the Bulls have failed to reach expectations due largely to injury, but is it time to blow them up? Our experts don’t think so. Put your thoughts in the comments section below and let the debate continue . . .
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