One year ago, the Chicago Bulls faced an offseason full of questions. Derrick Rose was down and people wondered how to approach the next season. Should the Bulls keep the band together in anticipation of his return and hope to compete immediately? Or should they regard the season as lost and try to position themselves for 2013-14 and beyond?
As you doubtless know, they publicly professed to trying to split the difference, although it seems clear in retrospect they were much more concerned with saving money than anything else. Of course, the retooled Bulls did about as well as they could have hoped for, even amid countless injuries and with Rose sitting out the entire season.
This year, the questions heading into the offseason are more about the micro than the macro. Derrick Rose will almost certainly be back at the start of next season, and he figures to start along with Jimmy Butler, Luol Deng, Carlos Boozer and Joakim Noah. Taj Gibson will also be back, having signed a four-year extension at the beginning of the season, as will Kirk Hinrich and Marquis Teague. The rest of the roster is less clear.
Let’s start from the bottom and work our way up. Vladimir Radmanovic and Daequan Cook will almost certainly not be back for reasons pertaining to their utter suckitude. Both were brought in to shoot threes and do little else, but given that neither showed any particular ability to actually make the threes they shot, methinks they’ll be elsewhere next year.
Malcolm Thomas signed a contract in April that will, in theory, keep him in Chicago for next year. However, it’s non-guaranteed for the time being, and his performance in the Las Vegas Summer League — where he was excellent last summer — and in training camp will likely determine his fate. I myself would like him to stick around, and would like to slot him in next to Gibson as the Bulls’ fourth big man. Keep an eye on this over the summer.
Nazr Mohammed’s a tough one to figure. He was downright awful for the first half of the season and more or less fell out of the rotation entirely until constant injuries forced Tom Thibodeau’s hand in February. From there, he was actually pretty decent, especially in the playoffs, where he averaged 14.5 points and 10 rebounds per 36 minutes on 51 percent shooting. I swear to god I’m not making that up. He’s also been in the league long enough to make Rip Hamilton look like a rookie by comparison, so I wouldn’t be surprised to see him hang it up this summer. Don’t be surprised to see him back, but probably as little more than a locker room presence/extreme emergency backup.
Rip Hamilton, playoff mini-renaissance aside, is almost certainly on his way out. The Bulls have a $1 million buyout option which they will presumably exercise rather than pay the aging Hamilton $5 million next year. Could they bring him back on the cheap afterward? They could, but I don’t see any reason why they would. Rip’s constant injuries and declining game make him hard to keep around.
We’ve reached Marco Belinelli and Nate Robinson now, and that’s where things start getting interesting. One aspect of last year’s purge that was almost entirely overlooked was that in signing players to one-year deals, the Bulls do not own Belinelli or Robinson’s Bird Rights. For those of you who are not CBA scholars, that means those two players — both of whom were starters in the playoffs — cannot be resigned while the Bulls are over the salary cap without using one of their exceptions. This summer, Chicago will have their $3 million mini mid-level exception and … that’s it.
So, the choice is pretty simple, albeit somewhat unfortunate. The Bulls can pay one player $3 million per year — or split it between them — and forfeit any ability to sign other free agents to non-minimum deals, or they can try to convince one or both players to take minimum-salary deals. Or they can say to heck with it and let them walk. This last seems most likely.
Marquis Teague plays the same position as Robinson and already is under contract for next year. It seems unlikely that noted cheapskate Jerry Reinsdorf would be on board with paying two guys to play backup point guard, especially when he’s already paying Rose and Hinrich more than $20 million combined next season. If Nate wants to come back on a minimum deal, that might work, but it seems likely that he’ll get quite a bit more than that on the open market. Same goes for Belinelli, although there isn’t a ready-made replacement already on the roster. But I think it makes more sense to let Belinelli walk and explore other options in the draft and free agency. Kyle Korver comes to mind, for instance.
Now, obviously there’s a lot more to the offseason than this. There are trade rumors to explore, there’s the draft, free agency and a whole summer to discuss everything remotely related to the Bulls roster. If you have any bright ideas, feel free to comment with your own take on the Bulls offseason.