No one is envious of Gar Foreman, John Paxson or any major player in the Bulls’ organization these days. They have some very difficult decisions to make in the next few months that will determine what the next 7-10 years hold for the franchise after Derrick Rose suffered another major knee injury Friday. Over the next couple of days, I will offer my three-step plan to set the Bulls up for a successful offseason that will allow the team to be prepared to succeed when Rose returns next season.
First, however, I have to address the small, but growing number of obnoxious Bulls fans who are clamoring for the Bulls to find a deal for the injured Rose. Stop it. Just stop. You’re not thinking straight in your putrid state of irrationally severe depression. Rose isn’t going anywhere. He is one of 9-10 true superstars in the league and, even if he comes back a changed player, the Bulls aren’t anywhere near the point in which they would part ways with him. Superstars create value to their franchises far from what they contribute on the court- marketability, drawing power, merchandise sales and a host of other business factors. When you have a cash cow in your pocket, particularly one under 30, you don’t give up on him easily. So, calm down and stop talking until you have something useful to contribute to the conversation.
After indulging myself with that mini-tirade, I present to you the first of three tasks the Bulls management should make their focus in the next 218 days until the 2014 free agency period opens. The team can choose to either accrue some serious money to make a run at a $23-25 million max salary player in one of the next two superb free agency classes (LeBron, Carmelo, Rudy Gay, Kevin Love, etc.) or build up some young players/draft picks to pair with the Bulls draft pick that will come from the Bobcats within the next three years and Nikola Mirotic (who is hidden in Europe for the time being). The core of Rose, Joakim Noah, Jimmy Butler and probably Taj Gibson will remain to join forces with whatever new additions are made. Remember, the bounty that was presumed to be the Bobcats unprotected 2016 first round pick from the Tyrus Thomas trade has turned into a sort of fool’s gold. I won’t get into it here, but check out this article for a good analysis.
Key to the Bulls’ Continued Success #1. Trade Luol Deng
Luol Deng must be traded. Note that I didn’t say that he “should be traded” or that “it might be prudent to trade him”. No, Deng must be traded. With his contract set to expire at the end of this year and the Bulls title hopes effectively dashed, Deng is merely a luxury item that the Bulls can’t really afford. Here’s why the Bulls need to overcome the city’s love affair with the all-star small forward and deal Deng.
General Manager Foreman’s current roster has composed an identity of being a diverse, humble, hard working, over achieving and successful group that has made it greatly appealing to fans in the Midwestern city that reflects many of these same traits. The team has worked hard to uphold this image in it’s recent personnel decisions, bringing in hard nosed players like Deng, Jimmy Butler, Ronnie Brewer and Taj Gibson. While this unique blend is certainly a rarity in the NBA, the Bulls have to make sure that they don’t become so focused on maintaining this image that it becomes detrimental to the longterm success of the franchise.
Above all players, Deng has come to personify the afore mentioned identity of the Bulls with his multi-dimensional game. While Deng is undoubtably a useful player that contributes in all facets of the game, his value has become somewhat inflated with Chicagoans who have fallen in love with his defensive tenacity. While I love what Deng brings to the table, he simply is not the secondary scorer the Bulls need and he is about to get very expensive. Some general manager will get desperate next summer and offer Deng a monster contract when they are unable to lasso in one of the jewels of 2014 free agency market (my money is on the Bobcats and their wonderfully inept owner Michael Jordan). The Bulls will most likely not match an offer of $15-17 million a year with Deng-clone Jimmy Butler waiting in the wings, and need to make sure they get either a draft pick or a young piece for him as opposed to letting him walk after the season and getting nothing in return.
There are several teams that would be heavily interested in making a deal for Deng later in the season. The Cavs are a team that could really use him- they need a veteran defensive presence and their small forward position is lacking. Trading for Deng would allow them to make a good playoff run this year, but he wouldn’t jeopardize their goal of bringing LeBron back to Ohio because his contract is expiring. Cleveland doesn’t need another young player in their rotation, so trading either a first round pick or a young player like Dion Waiters to the Bulls for Deng might make sense. The Wizards, Bobcats, Suns, Wizards, Knicks and Mavericks are other teams that might be looking to add a player like Deng when the play off picture clears up later in the year. No matter who the trade partner is, it is imperative that the Bulls turn Deng into some sort of piece rather than just letting him walk.
Stay tuned for the next two steps in the rebooting process for the Bulls.