So the off-season begins in earnest, and we're left wondering what to expect from the Bulls when July 1st hits. Let me throw this situation out there. LeBron stays in Cleveland which seems more likely than not. Here's my quick list:
LeBron -> Cleveland (if they win the title, otherwise, all's fair)
Wade -> Miami
Bosh -> Miami
Amare -> New York
Boozer -> New Jersey
Johnson -> Atlanta
David Lee -> Chicago
It could go in a number of ways, and my powers of prognostication have never landed me that job in Vegas setting odds, so breathe easy if the list appears scary.
First, I think LeBron stays for lack of a better destination. New York is a mess, New Jersey is a mess, Chicago is good, but does he want to deal with being the second best player in franchise history? The more I see LeBron, the more I think his ego would say no, he can't cope with that.
Cleveland is likely to be a mess in a couple years, but I look for LeBron to do another three year deal with a fourth year option to keep the pressure on their front office to continually spend money and improve the team. Thus, the 2013 plan will be born on July 2nd.
Dwyane Wade has basically discussed how he wants to stay in Miami, but that discussion is peppered by statements that he knows he'll be playing with a star next year, and that Miami better bring in someone. If Miami's front office can't swing that, then Wade could leave, but that's a long shot, because there are three big men available, and Miami will bid on all three to keep Wade happy. They'll get at least one of them most likely.
Chris Bosh is my best guess as to which of the three they get. First, Bosh and Wade share the same agent group, and Wade has discussed with certainty the idea that they're going to land someone. Maybe that's because he's already talked to Bosh or their agents have talked, or maybe he just thinks they have the room. Either way, Miami seems like a prime destination for Bosh to play with a star in a city he'd love to live in.
I don't consider this one a lock or even close. I think the Bulls almost just a high shot at Bosh as does Miami, and there may be a team over the cap willing to put together a good sign and trade package for Toronto. We'll have to wait and see what happens. I do think the Bulls S&T package (likely Gibson, Charlotte 1st rounder, and trade exception) trumps whatever Miami will offer (likely Beasley and their on draft picks which will suck if they get Bosh). Does that play a factor? Perhaps, but probably not.
If Bosh is in Miami then I think the Bulls would be the logical destination for Amare or Boozer, but I think the Bulls fail to bid on both players. They both are guys who you worry about holding up, have F management attitudes, and are likely to cash checks six months after being signed.
Personally, I think you've done so much to get to this point then you take the chance on Amare. The talent level is obviously there, and they have to hope that the craziness and injuries simply don't rear their ugly head. They may do that, but I don't expect them to. The Bulls as an organization are very risk adverse.
It also depends how risk adverse other franchises are. If the pricetag of either guy falls below the max then the Bulls are far more likely to bid. Neither guy is worth a max contract IMO, but in this environment with so much money available I expect both to get such deals from New York and New Jersey. If those teams prove to be more risk adverse than I expect then the Bulls stand a greater chance of being in the running.
If they do take a chance on one then I look for a five year deal.
Next comes Joe Johnson, whom everyone believes is going somewhere. I'm not sure why that belief is there. Of the FAs available he doesn't seem to have had any major beef with management [not that I'm a die hard Hawks fan so maybe I missed something], and he has a very solid team around him right now.
He may not upgrade his situation by joining the Bulls, and he certainly isn't upgrading it by joining the Knicks or Nets. I think he just settles down back in Atlanta assuming their offer is competitive. If not, then I think he'll decide between the Bulls and Knicks if both offer him max deals. I expect the Bulls to do this even though I don't particularly approve of it.
It's not a terrible situation to get Johnson at the max as long as the team is willing to throw away it's cap structure, for many reasons I'm very concerned that they'll bid on Johnson at the max and then play conservative with the rest of their money, and if so it will be a horrific mistake. Bidding on Johnson with the willingness to go 10-15 million into the tax would be good, but bidding on him with a hard cap at the tax would be bad.
Finally, that leaves us with David Lee. If all the teams who have big money spend it on the above guys, then Lee might be available for less than the max, and his max is lower than the max of the other guys by about five million a season anyway.
Much like Johnson, signing Lee to a huge money deal is a mistake if we're not willing to spend, but is a good move if we are. Signing Lee also leaves the Bulls enough room to acquire another decent sized FA as well.
If the Bulls end up with one of the big men then I expect them to pursue a shooter with the leftover money. Anthony Morrow, Mike Miller, and JJ Reddick are some players who can shoot who will be available in free agency. Morrow's the popular choice amongst the Bulls blogosphere due to his ridiculous three point percentage and young age, but really any great shooter would help this team tremendously.
In the end, the likely scenario is that the Bulls come back a significantly upgraded team. They also likely come back one piece shy of being a top tier title threat with enough future salary to make it awfully difficult to add that final piece with their past spending patterns.