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Should the Chicago Bulls Plan Ahead to 2014 NBA Off-Season?
The 2013 off-season hasn’t even begun but Chicago Bulls fans already have so many ideas for how their team can tweak the roster in order to finally get past LeBron James and the Miami Heat. What they fail to realize is jumping the gun before evaluating the entire picture could rob Chicago a rare opportunity. As it stands the Bulls roster is good enough to keep reaching the playoffs. Once the players return healthy after a rare, injury-riddled season they should have a good enough core in place to take at least one more shot at the Finals with the group they have. If it doesn’t pan out, then the better idea for GM Gar Forman is to hatch a plan around making changes in 2014.
Luol Deng and Carlos Boozer
The first major changes that year would center on the contracts of core players Luol Deng and Carlos Boozer. Deng becomes a free agent and experts agree the expensive contract of Boozer will have reached a point where the Bulls can feel safe using the amnesty clause or may find a team interested in trading for him. Those two corresponding events would clear $30 million off the books and would open up the opportunity to go hunting for some high-priced free agents who can help Derrick Rose.
It should be a very interesting free agent class too. Both Heat stars James and Dwyane Wade will become available unless Miami does something to keep them. Kobe Bryant and Carmelo Anthony also offer that potential second scorer the Bulls have lacked since drafting Rose. Also, among the sleepers of the group is Indiana Pacers star Paul George (17 points, 8 rebounds, 4 assists per game). DeMarcus Cousins (17 points, 9 rebounds) and Larry Sanders (9 points, 9 rebounds, 2 blocks) offer excellent insurance on Noah who continues to struggle with injuries. If anything else the group is a superb mix of proven veterans and up-and-coming talents.
Obviously James is the prize once again but after shunning the Bulls once before, Forman must have a plan in place in the likelihood the King decides to stay in Miami or return to Cleveland. Anthony’s offensive skills would look very nice next to Rose, but his unwillingness to play second fiddle could be a problem. Cousins is a tremendous talent and will only be 23-years old. His problem is maturity. A lot of experts view him as a locker room poison. The player that makes the most sense is George, who fits the Tom Thibodeau style of defense first followed by effective offense.
Another key piece to the growing 2014 puzzle is the fate of promising international draft pick Nikola Mirotic. Forman and the Bulls were willing to draft the young Spanish talent with the knowledge he wouldn’t be able to join the team because of prior contract commitments to his European League. It seems to have proven a very wise move. Since that time Mirotic has developed into a star. He became the youngest player in the history of the ACB Spanish League to win the MVP award. This is the same league that produced NBA stalwarts Marc and Pau Gasol, Ricky Rubio, and Jose Calderon. It is perhaps the second most prestigious league in the world next to the NBA.
That is why the rise of Mirotic cannot be considered a fluke. During his latest season he shot 43% from 3-point range, was an 80% free throw shooter, and averaged 12.5 points in 23 minutes per game. That averages out to 21 points in 40 minutes. At 6’10” he offers instant size advantage in the front court. The best part is he plans to leave the Spanish League in 2014 when his rookie contract expires, meaning the Bulls would add another young piece to an already talented roster including Rose, Noah and Jimmy Butler.
The last and perhaps most critical piece to the puzzle is the 2014 draft. Scouts have said repeatedly that the 2013 class is historically weak in terms of superstar talent. What that means is a team like Chicago who would love to find a second star to pair with Rose should not waste their time thinking about trading up this year. The best thing for them to do is sit tight and try to add a solid talent to their roster. However, one bold strategy they could think about is trying to add a second first round pick for next year.
Many already believe the 2014 class could be stacked with potential. The obvious favorite is top ranked high school player Andrew Wiggins who draws a lot of comparisons to James in terms of size and athleticism.
It doesn’t end there though. Scouts believe, depending on whether certain players decide to stay in college or not, that as many as eight names have the talent to become the #1 pick in the draft next year. Among the biggest names are small forward Jabari Parker (compared to Paul Pierce), power forward Aaron Gordon (compares to Dominique Wilkins) and center Willie Caulie-Stein (compares to Dwight Howard). Now the chances of the Bulls actually having a shot at those names are not great since they expect to compete in the playoffs next season. Then again there is the possibility they can maneuver their way into the draft lottery.
The key to that is what they do with Deng. There are a number of teams around the league with a big need at small forward. Despite how his season ended Luol was an All-Star, is 28-years old, an elite defender and has good range from the 3-point arc. If the Bulls could get a team interested in a trade, instead of asking for players in return they could instead ask for their 2014 first round pick. For example, the Philadelphia 76ers need serious help across their starting lineup. By giving up their first round pick in 2014 and perhaps a cheap bench player, they could get Deng in return and keep their 11th overall pick for the draft this year.
Such a move would give Chicago two first round picks next year. Given how unlikely it is Philadelphia will become an instant contender even if they traded for Deng there is a good chance that pick could sit somewhere in the low teens. That means if there is particular players the Bulls really like who won’t make it out of the draft lottery, say a guard like Marcus Smart, Andrew Harrison, and Wayne Selden then they could package those two picks to move up and get them.
Suddenly the Bulls have solved their main problems. They dumped the Boozer contract, unloaded Deng before he became a free agent, brought in two front court forces in George and Mirotic and get their shooting guard in a loaded 2014 draft.
Obviously a lot of things would have to go right for this sort of thing to happen. That usually isn’t possible in pro sports business. Still, the prospects for improving isn’t too far in the future for Chicago, especially if they’re willing to stall on any big moves until 2014.