There are some phrases an NBA organization never wants to hear, and “It’s time to clean house” is one of the worst. Unfortunately, the Chicago Bulls are dangerously approaching this breaking point. After an incredible postseason fight in last year’s playoffs against the Boston Celtics, many saw the Bulls as a young group ready to play on the main stage. Many believed they could be a successful team within the Eastern Conference, who, most likely would not win their division (seeing as how they play in the same division as the Cavs), but could compete with any team in the conference – sort of what the Atlanta Hawks are doing now. In reality, the Bulls are doing exactly the opposite. In the first quarter or so of the NBA season, they have fallen to a poor 11-17 record. Granted they have secured wins against some of the elite teams in the NBA, but they have also fallen to the worst of the worst. The team took another step towards the depths of damnation on December 21st, when they blew a 35-point lead in the 3rd quarter to the Sacramento Kings. The Kings ended the game on a 58-19 run to win by four. That kind of occurrence is not supposed to happen in the NBA. Teams are supposed to be able to coast on a 35-point lead, but obviously the Bulls are not the team they, the media, and fans thought they were. For that reason, it seems as if it’s time for the Bulls to clean house.
Luckily for the Bulls, they have a few key pieces to the puzzle of success. The most obvious of those pieces: Derrick Rose. Derrick Rose has the skill, the vision, the tenacity to be a superstar in this league, and it’s only a matter of time before he realizes his full potential. He reminds me of a young Dwyane Wade, only he possesses the court vision and passing ability of a Chris Paul type player. For Derrick Rose to truly become the superstar he is capable of being, he must work on his game. First off, he must become more aggressive on the offensive end. Too many times, Rose gets comfortable in his sets, and does not use his incredible explosiveness and quickness to get to the rim. From watching a mere 2 minutes of an NBA game in which Rose plays, it’s easy to see that he can get to the rim at will, but for him to truly be an unstoppable force, he needs to develop a jump shot. Like Dwyane Wade, Rose did not enter the NBA with a pure shot, but with the development of an outside shot, Rose will be virtually unguardable. Rose is obviously a keeper in the rebuilding process of the Chicago Bulls.
At the culmination of the current NBA season, other than Derrick Rose, the Bulls will have six players under guaranteed contracts, one of which is Tyrus Thomas, who is a restricted free agent. Thomas is owed just over $6.2 million next season, and it seems as if he will most likely stay with the Bulls. In addition, John Salmons has a player option for the 2010/2011 season worth $5.8 million. Assuming Salmons and Thomas return to the Bulls, the Bulls will have $43,915,782 of committed contracts. NBA executives project the NBA salary cap to be around $54 million and the luxury tax threshold to be somewhere around $67 million, leaving the Bulls around $20 million or so to play the free agency game, in what looks to be the best free agent class in the history of basketball.
Of the players under contract, the Bulls will be retaining some key players, such as Joakim Noah, Luol Deng, and Kirk Hinrich. Joakim Noah is player who can be a key part of the future of the Chicago Bulls. Noah’s relentless attitude on the court combined with his size makes him a hot commodity to any NBA team. He is player who can comfortably play the center position, and do it with relative success. He is a monster rebounder, a decent scorer, and a great defender. Luol Deng is an athletic small forward who is owed over $11 million in the coming season. Deng is playing at a relatively high and efficient level this season, averaging 18 pts and 8 reb per contest. Kirk Hinrich is a different story. Don’t get me wrong, I am a Hinrich fan, but he is not worth the $9.5 million he is being paid this year and the $9 million he is owed next year, especially coming off the bench as he is now. Hinrich is averaging a mere 8 pts and 3 assists this season while shooting an abysmal 36% from the field and 32% from long range. The Bulls are definitely not going to be able to restructure Hinrich’s contract, so their best bet would be to unload his contract to a team in need of a smart point guard who is usually a good shooter and is always a pesky defender. Ideally, they would love to get back an expiring contract, but with so many teams looking to play the free agency game this coming summer, I find it hard to believe they would be able to get something worthwhile.
If the season continues the way it is going now for the Chicago Bulls, it will be a fun time for fans this coming summer. As of now, the Bulls would be fighting for an 8 seed in the Eastern Conference playoffs, but let’s assume they do not make the playoffs and end up in the NBA lottery. The coming year’s lottery picks feature many NBA ready players that could make an impact sooner rather than later, but where the real fun comes in is the free agent market. As stated earlier, the Bulls are looking to have a significant amount of spending money this summer, and hope to be able to lure a top tier free agent. Sadly, seeing as how I am a die-hard Heat fan, it seems as if the Bulls most likely choice in the free agent market would be Dwyane Wade. To fathom a team of Wade, Rose, Deng, and Noah, with a supporting cast of Hinrich, Thomas, and Salmons is amazing. That team could do great things very quickly, but I do not think it’s going to happen. The Bulls, though, do need to lure in a big name to continue being successful. Ideally, the Bulls would want to pair Rose in the backcourt with an athletic 2-guard that can shoot from the outside; somebody like Joe Johnson or Tracy McGrady or even a Manu Ginobili. This will space out the court, allowing Rose more flexibility to penetrate the lane and kick out to shooters. In addition, the Bulls need to add somebody to fill in the starting role as a power forward. Tyrus Thomas, although an athletic freak, is not fit to start in the NBA. He is a great energy burst off the bench and could best be utilized in that capacity. One option would be to pursue the likes of Chris Bosh, Carlos Boozer, or Dirk Nowitzki (if Nowitzki decides to use his Early Termination Option). All are big names that will be unrestricted free agents in the coming summer, and as stated before, the Bulls have the money to sign a free agent of that caliber. To fill out the roster, the Bulls should acquire a veteran point guard to teach Derrick Rose the ins and outs of the NBA game, preferably at the veteran’s minimum salary. Some players that fit this description would be Jason Williams, Steve Blake, or even Derek Fisher (if they could ever coax him to leave the Lakers).
Although the Bulls are going through tough times at the moment, they are not far from becoming a successful team. They have some key pieces needed to be successful, and with the addition of just a few more, they could be a dangerous team in the Eastern Conference. The last thing the Bulls would need to do to really get over the hump would be to fire Vinny Del Negro and bring in a coach capable to teaching a young team to play together offensively and, most importantly, defensively, in an attempt towards reaching the ultimate goal. The capability is there; it is simply a question as to whether the organization can make it happen.