The Bulls may not have any cap space, but the direction of the franchise hinges on free agency this off-season. Every successful team has a group of core players in it which they attempt to build around with everyone else fit in based on how they complement the core players more so than overall talent level.
The Bulls have a major decision to make on their core this
off-season. Derrick Rose is in After that, it's a series of
question marks. The next best player on the team going forward is
free agent shooting guard, Ben Gordon.
Gordon represents an inflection point for the franchise. A defensive
pairing of Gordon and Rose seems like a nightmare, however, Gordon
isn't as bad defensively as commonly perceived. The part time Bulls
media (talk show hosts and sports editorialists who only occasionally
follow the team) tend to write the book on a player after a year in the
league. ESPN 1000 and the score haven't picked up on the fact that
Gordon's defense improved tremendously over the past five seasons.
That said, Gordon has likely peaked defensively as an average defender
who does a solid job staying in front of his man and fighting through
On the other hand, Gordon's fit offensively next to Rose may not be as
ideal as his supporters think either. Yes, he spaces the floor for
Rose, but he also operates much more effectively on the ball rather
than off the ball. I've gone to great lengths to point out that he
doesn't go to isolation more than other great shooting guards, but next
to a dominant PG he needs to transform his game to become more Ray
Thusfar, Gordon hasn't been a stud coming off of back screens and
hitting turn around threes and catch and shooting threes based on off
the ball movement. He's been great with his feet set or when creating
off the dribble. Will Gordon adjust to that type of role and can he be
as effective in it as he is on the ball?
The Bulls must decide how much money to tie into the backcourt as
well. Rose may be on a rookie contract for the next few years, but
the #1 pick in the draft isn't on the same bargain deal as the rest of
the first rounders, and assuming he reaches his potential, he'll be
maxed out in a few years as well.
A dominant PG/SG pairing isn't something that you've seen successfully
utilized around the NBA. Whether that's because it's hard to have
dominant players at those positions or merely coincidence is up for
debate, but typically good teams have a dominant player at just one of
those positions. If the Bulls keep Gordon, then they must hope to
buck that trend.
On top of the "should we" debate with Gordon is the "will we" one.
Despite being the most profitable team in the NBA over the past decade
(by a wide margin), the Bulls have been deathly afraid of going into
the luxury tax. Depending on which version of the truth you care for,
that fear certainly cost the Bulls Tyson Chander, and many believe Pau
Gasol wasn't obtained because the Bulls refused to do a S&T with PJ
Brown to create an expiring deal for the Grizzlies.
Keeping Gordon under the tax will be a very difficult feat this
off-season as the Bulls would need to free up considerable salary space
to do, and the Bulls will need to lose another asset to convince
another team to take on that cap room. Whether the Bulls could even
pull off such a trade in this economy is a question in and of itself.
Going forward, the media and the team keep discussing building off of
last year's season. The team is on the rise. We're turning it
around. However, losing last year's best player, and replacing him
with James Johnson and Taj Gibson isn't going to be building. The
team simply won't be the same without him.
That might be the best long-term decision, and a healthy Luol Deng
combined with an improved Derrick Rose may mask the loss. If the
Bulls strike it big in 2010 free agency with saved cap space no one
will be the wiser. Alternatively, Deng may not be healthy, and Rose
may struggle to carry the team without Gordon leaving the Bulls back in
the lottery and out of the minds of big name free agents.