It has been exactly two months since the Chicago Bulls were eliminated from the playoffs. In that time, we’ve seen three new additions to the Bulls — draft picks Tony Snell and Erik Murphy, along with Mike Dunleavy — and five subtractions — Nate Robinson, Marco Belinelli, Rip Hamilton, Daequan Cook and Vladimir Radmanovic. We’ve seen a coach let go under somewhat bizarre circumstances and a summer league blowout win.
So. The season’s two and a half months away. Where do we go from here?
Probably not much of anywhere. As of right now, the Bulls have 13 players under contract, with 11 of those being fully guaranteed. Derrick Rose, Jimmy Butler, Luol Deng, Carlos Boozer — he’s not going anywhere, and we’ll circle back to this in a minute — and Joakim Noah are the presumed starters. Marquis Teague, Kirk Hinrich, Snell, Dunleavy, Taj Gibson and Nazr Mohammed will definitely come off the bench, with Malcolm Thomas and Murphy considered likely to make the squad but that could change.
That leaves two open roster spots. The Bulls — being well over the salary cap and the luxury tax line at about $80 million and having used their mini mid-level exception on Dunleavy — can only sign players to minimum contracts from here on out. Informed speculation from some of the Bulls’ beat writers has them signing one more player, probably a big man, and then standing pat.
The only problem with such a plan is the extreme lack of decent bigs who might be willing to take the minimum. In a market where J.J. Hickson somehow got 3 years, $15 mil despite lacking quantifiable basketball skill, let’s just say most guys can probably do better elsewhere.
There are a few ways to go here. The Bulls can — and most likely will — be patient and see where things stand at the end of July and into August and then sign another big. By then, most of the openings around the league will have closed up, allowing decent players to be signed for below-market prices. This is how Nate Robinson became a Bull last summer.
They could also choose to sign another wing player, like old friend Ronnie Brewer. With Dunleavy and Deng around, they have the ability to go small for stretches, so rather than counting on a guy to play 15 minutes as the backup center, they could get 5-10 minutes out of him and give the rest to Brewer. This is unlikely to happen.
Or, they can roll with what they have. There are 96 minutes available at the power forward and center spots. Noah, Gibson and Boozer figure to get somewhere between 80 and 90 minutes combined. So, at most, you need someone to mop up the other 16, and that’s before we consider the possibility of going small. Malcolm Thomas and Nazr Mohammed aren’t world beaters, but they can hold the fort down for that long. Thomas is undersized to play center, but it’s not like Taj has had any particular problem at the five spot so far in his career. The Thomas/Gibson pairing could easily work for 5 minutes at a time, if Tom Thibodeau trusts Thomas enough to let him see the floor.
Oh, and as long as we’re discussing Malcolm Thomas, here’s an awful, awful photoshop I’ve made featuring the Bulls’ projected bench lineup as the crew of the Serenity from the show Firefly.
Now, I said we’d discuss Carlos Boozer, so let’s have at it. The end of the 2013 amnesty period is July 16, i.e. tomorrow. Boozer has not yet been amnestied, nor is he going to be. The only way a Boozer amnesty would have made sense involves a trade for LaMarcus Aldridge, and since that hasn’t happened, the amnesty isn’t happening either. There are simply no good alternatives, and remember that Jerry Reinsdorf would still have to pay Boozer’s salary, even if he weren’t playing for his team. He certainly isn’t going to pay someone not to play without a compelling reason.
So, on that note, I invite you to tell me what you’d like to see from the Bulls in the coming months. Just keep in mind that it probably won’t happen.