Quality general managers do not become stubbornly and inflexibly married to a specific blueprint. Instead they are decisive in changing their organizational plans on the fly when intervening circumstances require such action. This was the case when Bulls’ guard Derrick Rose suffered a torn meniscus to his right knee that could keep the star out anywhere from weeks to several months. For Bulls’ General Manager Gar Forman, this should immediately set in motion a complete course change for his team.
Forman made the correct decision last season when he built the Bulls’ roster in anticipation of a pre-playoffs Rose comeback that never occurred. He was again correct in reshaping the roster around a healthy Rose in an effort to dethrone the Miami Heat this season. From the early returns, despite the Bulls 5-5 record with Rose (6-6 overall), Rose’s career-low statistics belie the explosiveness and burst with which he was beginning to play, particularly in Saturday’s game.
We remain skeptical that even with a healthy Rose, the Bulls could have deposed the Heat or pushed past the Indiana Pacers, who have the best record in the Eastern Conference this season.
With a robustly healthy Rose and a Heat team still seeking an identity, the Heat dispatched the Bulls in five games in the Eastern Conference Finals in 2011. Fast forward three seasons. The Heat are much more formidable as winners of the last two championships and the Bulls have also upgraded with the addition of guard Jimmy Butler and the re-acquisition of guard Kirk Hinrich. But the Bulls still lack the second shot creator to serve as an antidote to the Heat’s Lebron James trapping defense on a healthy Rose.
We scoff at those who believe Rose cannot return to full strength next season or later this one following his latest setback. However, to achieve their championship aspirations, the Bulls must change course midstream, perhaps the only silver lining to Rose’s injury if it forces Forman to the same realization. The course we set forth does not guarantee a quick resolution or even one at all. But it is no less risky, and with a much higher reward, than the plan reportedly being pursed by Forman.
First let’s dismantle the Bulls’ purported current plan.
It has been assumed that the Bulls will use the amnesty provision on forward Boozer at season’s end and, before making any effort to re-sign forward Deng, will try to attract a major free agent next summer with the significant salary cap space they have amassed. If they were unable to attract any of Miami’s Big Three when Rose was about to embark on his MVP season, why does Forman believe the Bulls will be a more attractive destination for marquee free agents in 2014 with a hobbled Rose?
Sure they might sign a free agent akin to Boozer or Ron Mercer or Eddie Robinson–afterthoughts to other teams pursuing the Holy Grail–but not the difference maker who will help the franchise hang a seventh championship banner. And will the player they sign be an upgrade over Deng and Boozer, both or whom they would likely have to jettison to accommodate the mystery free agent? That is highly doubtful.
Our plan is predicated on the belief that the Bulls, as currently constituted, cannot win a championship and are unlikely to upgrade their roster through free agency enough this summer to become viable contenders. Like Forman, we believe the Bulls should sign European Real Madrid sensation, forward Nikola Mirotic, whose rights the Bulls acquired in the 2011 draft. However, we also believe the Bulls should immediately seek out trade partners for Deng, Boozer (who is having a decent season), Hinrich and other veterans.
Theses trades, hopefully, would yield some promising young players from contenders looking for veteran depth and/or and expiring contracts, the latter necessary in order to make the salaries match under NBA salary cap rules. The second benefit would be for Bulls guards Marquis Teague and Tony Snell to experience a Baptism by Fire. Against Portland, Teague made a number of solid plays, and after a dominant Summer League for Teague, the Bulls need to know if they have a potential backup to Rose or even a backcourt mate to him in certain lineups. Snell would also benefit from additional playing after making some strong plays Sunday against the Clippers. Butler’s development would continue apace once he returns from a toe injury.
Finally, by trading away several key players, the Bulls would certainly plummet in the standings and likely land in the NBA draft lottery, full of riches the league has not seen in probably a decade. College sensations Andrew Wiggins, Jabari Parker, Julius Randle, Aaron Gordon and several others should be available in the top five of next year’s draft. If the Bulls were fortunate enough to acquire one of these players and team him with Rose, Mirotic, other young assets and a player acquired with the pick the Charlotte Bobcats owe them at some point in the next three drafts, they could build a draft-driven powerhouse like the Oklahoma City Thunder.
Then, a legitimate free agent would likely be lured to Chicago with the Bulls’ largely undisturbed cap space to complete the roster.
Yes, our plan asks for a year or more of patience. Yes, it is a risky proposition, but no more risky than Forman’s plan of hoping he can lure a superstar through free agency, at which this organization has never succeeded. At a minimum, our plan could also create a contingency in the event that Rose, who has been felled by injuries three consecutive seasons, does not recapture his MVP status. At a maximum, it could take some of the pressure off of Rose by acquiring a second superstar and unleashing an Eastern Conference wrecking machine. Like we said, high risk and high reward.Powered by Sidelines Follow paulmbanks