The Bulls are 6-6 right now against a brutal schedule. That would appear to make them an above average team this year. Yet their predictor score from Jeff Sagarin ranks them as the 20th best team in the league. These two statements say a couple of things. First, the Bulls have outperformed their talent in the win/loss column (hooray Vinny!), and second, the Bulls need to get a lot better.
The primary problem with this squad is the offense, and I've dedicated many posts to pointing out the problems with the offense and why it's not likely to get better even if Derrick Rose stopped playing like garbage. He did. Bulls lost the next two games in blowouts anyway [against elite teams while on playing on the road though].
Those who've followed my rambling thoughts for a long time know that I'm a solution oriented person. I can't stand the guys who point out problems and make it seem as if the solutions are obvious. They aren't. The Bulls have three basic paths to choose from right now, and all three have their own merits.
Path #1: Sink the ship and build a new one
Seems pretty extreme no? It is. However, as well as Luol Deng is playing, he's not a good long term fit on his contract. At this point, be happy that he's playing well enough that he's a long term fit for someone else, so we can move him. Kirk Hinrich needs to play PG. He's okay as a SG, but he's an expensive option. John Salmons is playing poorly enough that opting in next off-season is a serious threat removing our ability to sign a max FA.
I said when Derrick Rose was drafted that he wasn't a good fit with almost anyone on the roster, and if you pick him that in two years almost the entire roster would need to be turned over. I still think that's true. Even if you don't go out and sign a max free agent this summer, you can reallocate your cap space smartly over the next two years to acquire guys who fit alongside Rose better.
Of the gruop, Luol Deng is the first guy I'd move. He's playing better than Hinrich and Salmons, so that seems counter intuitive, but moving any one of the three guarantees cap room next summer, and Deng's contract and fit are the worst long term.
- Bulls can reallocate cap space to players that fit along side Rose fastest
- Gives the team tremendous flexibility
- Guarantees cap space for next summer's free agent bonanza regardless of how low the cap goes
- Hurts the record this year which will piss off fans in the short term
- A poor record could doom the hopes of adding a big name FA next season
Path #2: Patch the ship
The second plan is fix it on the fly now, by attempting to acquire new contracts of good players via trade. See if Utah wants to swap Tyrus + Jerome James for Carlos Boozer. Go out and grab whatever talent is immediately out there to fill the holes you presently have on the team.
Teams out there are willing to dump players. Not elite players, but good players. We can probably grab some of those guys on the cheap if we're willing to give up cap space this summer. Kevin Martin, Monta Ellis, Carlos Boozer, David West? There's a lot of guys out there who may be available to choose from who've shown great ability at one time or another.
Some guys are riskier than others to acquire, for instance, Boozer's only on a one year contract, so there's very little risk in acquiring him. Other guys blow up your 2010 plan, but they're going to help you right now and 2010 may not land a star for the team anyway. The primary thing stopping this plan is that teams who want to execute it probably want to save money this season.
The Bulls are only 1 million under the tax, so it will be difficult to help a team save money by taking on a little extra this year. I discussed that at length when talking about the Gray, Pargo, and Byars signings/non signings. We spent almost an extra two million more than we needed to on guys who are basically non players. Swap out Gray with any guy making 450k and Pargo with Byars and this team is still playing just as well, but they'd have two million more under the tax to help a team out with.
With a luxury tax payment near six million dollars, the cost to go $1 into the tax is higher than ever. Don't expect the Bulls to make that leap unless a trade makes them overwhelmingly better.
- improves the team right now
- gives the Bulls a better shot at a good playoff run
- improves the quality of destination in 2010
- though the quailty of destination is improved, ability to pay a 2010 FA is likely gone
- difficult for the team to execute under the financial restraints they work under
- probably doesn't improve the team enough to make a title run likely now and could inhibit one in the future due to no stars coming
Plan #3: Hope the ship doesn't have as many holes as it looks like
This is the plan I expect them to execute if things continue on the direction they're presently headed. In order to radically improve the team, management needs to land a superstar. 2010 may be a pipe dream, but it's always a pipe dream to land a superstar. You rarely have three or four available to dream about in one summer in free agency, and we certainly hope we're not counting up ping pong balls at the end of the year anytime soon.
In order to get that 2010 free agent you need to be seen as a future winner. That star player wants talent to be there. You need to have money to offer, and you need to provide the intangible things players want [market size, media exposure, etc..]. The Bulls have an intriguing package of money, talent, and market size. They're the only team that can really offer all three. It doesn't mean they'll win the 2010 battle, but it means they're a legit contender.
If you go with plan #1, the Bulls may not have the talent. If you go with plan #2 they may not have the money. Either plan could potentially hurt their ability to draw that FA to Chicago this summer. The hold the fort plan requires Salmons to opt out, but as long as his game doesn't completely go in the tank that's still likely. Teams judge players on the most recent data, so an early season slump means nothing as long as he comes out of it. Preferrably in the playoffs where it seems many teams overly value performance.
The hold the fort plan also requires the team not to completely go in the tank. I've stated before even if the bulls finish this road trip 0-5 not to panic about that. This is the most difficult stretch of the season, and they'll make up ground later. I think a 5-10 record was a reasonable prediction for 15 games, the worst the Bulls can do is 6-9, and they can still best that considerably. If the Bulls take just one more game on this road trip, I'll be very excited about a 7-8 record through the opening schedule.
- Maximizes your likeliness of landing a 2010 star
- Still gives you a decent chance at a successful season
- Salmons could tank our max cap room if he continues to struggle
- Bulls record is probably better than their ability which means the team could fail
The Bulls are in a tough spot overall. The Bulls goals are something like this:
- Have a great season
- Have max cap room at the end of the season
Those two things are competing against each other as maximizing one minimizes the other, and maximizing neither leaves you at risk to fail in both. In the end, there are no straight forward answers as to what to do, and no decisions need to be made immediately.
Barring a trade of Tyrus + James for Boozer or some other move that can help the team immediately without effecting future payroll [ie the no duh trade], I'm a fan of holding the fort plan. Even though it sounds conservative, it's actually somewhat of an all or nothing plan. The Bulls success as a team influences whether or not Salmons opts out and whether a FA considers us.
If the team has a good season, they'll be in perfect position to capitalize in the summer, however, if things go south, they'll strike out in all spots. I called for a 45 win season in preseason. I still think that's a possibility going forward. If they pull it off then they'll be on the fast track to landing a star next year.