When should the Bulls go all-in?

Every off-season the Bulls don't win a championship with Derrick Rose they are faced with similar question. Should we go all-in to win the championship next season?

This can be broken down into two primary sub questions:
Should we change the risk profile of how we bring players into the team? [Lakers bringing in Ron Artest, Bulls bringing in Rodman, Pistons bringing in Rasheed Wallace]

Should we take on large amounts of salary in order to increase our odds of winning by a small amount? [Mavs and Lakers both led the league in payroll when they won the title the last two seasons, Celtics have a massive payroll right now, Spurs just signed Richard Jefferson to a ridiculous deal to give it one last shot etc..]

The Bulls have built a very good team. A team that will challenge for an NBA championship without any changes, but also a team that is just as likely to come up empty without one last risk taken to put it over the top.

The risk of bringing on salary isn't a risk to fans. It's simply a risk to the owners. I don't want to go all-in on a Jerry Reinsdorf is cheap rant, because I can understand why he didn't want to splurge on a team with a second round ceiling [even if I could do without the complete outright lies in the season ticket holder letters saying they're raising prices to pay salaries when they're the highest profit margin team in all of sports and then repeatedly dump guys for expiring contracts faster than you can blink in order to avoid the luxury tax].

Given that Gar has little control over the salary risk, since Reinsdorf will either spend or not spend, let's assume for a moment that ownership is going to continue their consistently cheap view and not bring in lots of salary. A view which may also be mandated by the new CBA, at which point Reinsdorf will be off the hook forever in terms of us bitching about how cheap he is [and don't think he isn't one of the owners pushing for this just for that reason, I'm sure he'd love nothing more than to never again have to choose between trying to win a championship and profits or deal with the fans who are upset that he chooses profits].

That leaves us with when it makes sense to take on some character risk in order to attempt to win the title. Maybe the answer is never, and it's quite possible the Bulls could win a title without doing so. I'm proud that this team, as constructed, really doesn't have any complete knuckleheads.

Carlos Boozer's probably about as bad as it gets on the team, and I don't think he's a bad character guy, he's just not a full effort guy.

Generally, championship caliber teams have been able to cope with one complete knucklehead who has brings a lot to the table. The Bulls still don't have their knucklehead yet. They could fill the talented knucklehead void by bringing in J.R. Smith this off-season.

Say what you will about Smith, but he does many of the things this team really needs, and he has the physical tools at the shooting guard position to fill the void we have.

Create his own shot? Check. He's certainly not shy about it either.
Score the ball? Check. He's been an efficient scorer throughout his career.
Shoot the three? Check. Definitely a good outside shooter.
Play defense? He has all the physical tools and would only need to buy into Thibodeau's system.
Is completely available? Check. The Bulls can likely get him next season via S&T even if the MLE is taken away.

O.J. Mayo is another knucklehead who might be available. His knucklehead status probably isn't as well engrained as J.R. Smith's is with fans, but the signs are all there. Multiple drug problems, complaining about minutes, poor chemistry with teammates, decreased role for a guy who appears very talented, etc..

Much like J.R. Smith, you can check all of the same boxes except availability is a tiny bit of a question mark. He was traded for peanuts at the deadline only to have the deal rescinded though, so unless the Grizzlies long playoff run changed ownership's mind [it shouldn't he had a 12.5 playoff PER] about Mayo he's likely available though likely at a higher cost in terms of trade value making it not as straight forward a decision.

The real question is do the Bulls have to go for it now? Common sense would preach that the Bulls have another eight years of Derrick Rose's prime left to decide. They'll probably lock him into a five year deal after the new CBA is ratified, so they'll have a minimum of five.

However, the construction of the team makes their plight a bit more desperate. Carlos Boozer isn't getting any better, and Luol Deng is certainly at his peak now. They probably won't be able to keep both Joakim and Asik, and they might lose bench depth after next season when they have to decide on Korver, Brewer, and Watson's non guaranteed years.

They have a lot of talent that will stick around, but that talent is probably peaking over the next two seasons. If they don't strike over this period than bringing in new players might just break even with the outgoing and declining ones. This season, adding a legit SG is simply a bonus. Everyone else can come back the same, and everyone else [at least everyone important] can come back.

The alternative is to hope for a Pau Gasol trade in a couple of seasons. Maybe some team will be looking to dump a legit all-star for crappy draft picks and expiring deals in two years, but if the Bulls aren't so lucky, then their best chance at a title in the Derrick Rose era with the current core group is in the next seasons.

Maybe they can rebuild a whole new group around him four or five years from now, and they won't have to deal with a Miami team in their prime at that point either, but Orlando has seen how difficult it is to build up while not getting good draft picks and never having cap space.

In short, despite Derrick Rose's age, the Bulls best chance to win it all is probably over the next two seasons. The time to go all-in is right now.


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  • Doug, another fine article...

    I don't need to compliment you unnecessarily, but you do nice work.

    Should the Bulls go "all in"? I think so for many of the reasons you mentioned. But here's a reason you didn't mention: Thibodeaux is a very good coach.

    In a strike shortened season, what team will have an advantage during the season to meld players and develop them into an excellent team? I like our chances with Thibodeaux's thoroughness and doggedness. Yes, the playoffs are different than the regular season. But it would sure be nice to be #1 again for home court advantage.

    I also don't think Reinsdorf is "cheap". He spends a lot on the White Sox in hopes of increasing attendance and making money. Any marginal increase in Bulls payroll will bring Reinsdorf little additional money, but possibly a ring to add to his "MJ six rings". I don't think Reinsdorf is cheap. I just think his motivations in spending salary money on the Bulls is beyond our understanding.

    Is J.R. Smith the significant improvement we need to win a championship? I don't know enough about his problems vs performance ratio to say. I do know that I predicted the Bulls would acquire Dennis Rodman years ago and that I felt Phil Jackson and MJ would keep Dennis Rodman's off-court antics under control.

    Rodman was a wonderful player in my opinion for the Bulls. He was a perfect rebounding/toughness complement to a slightly soft group under the boards. He even toughened up Luc Longley.

    Thibodeaux is good but Derrick Rose doesn't equal MJ in the tongue lashing department (Rose is great, just not as verbal as MJ). I'm not comlaining about Boozer but he does have behaviors that haven't been corrected (someone mentioned he doesn't contest shots hard because he rushes back to get a rebound, padding his stats perhaps).

    Boozer isn't bad, he's just resistant to changing his poor basketball behaviors, so far. If Coach Thibodeaux and Rose can't motivate Boozer to change some of his behaviors, what makes us think Thibs and Rose could motivate a J.R. Smith to be a total team player on/off the court?

    In a short season where "luck favors the prepared", I think Reinsdorf can make a difference with a significant SG upgrade. The greater question is can Coach Thibodeaux and Rose get underperforming players (Boozer and a problematic SG to be names later) to reach their full basketball potential.

    Long post, beautiful day. Thanks for your article Doug.

  • In reply to rkraneis:

    I agree with your take. It's definitely worth noting that the present Bulls locker room probably doesn't have the force of personality to keep someone in line the same way the old Bulls locker room did. Phil Jackson was also brilliant at knowing when to bend whereas Thibodeau hasn't necessarily shown that yet.

  • One spelling mistake:

    I should have typed: Boozer and a problematic SG to be named later.

  • Nice post!

    I just wanted to mention that in regards to a "Pau Gasol trade", I know you didn't mean Gasol himself, but remember we've got our new European Great Hope coming in 3 or so years with Mirotic and he dominated the Under-20 European championship tournament last month (was tourney MVP). Not saying he's the next Nowitzki or anything, but he might be a significant piece coming in just as Rose is reaching his peak.

  • In reply to kozzer:

    He might be, and the Bulls also have the Charlotte Bobcats pick which could give us a lottery selection at some point in the next five years as well.

    Gar Forman has done a nice job of trying to build in future flexibility to help with a rebuild situation down the line if they need to bust up this core. I think he's done as much as you could reasonably expect in that area, but it will still be hard.

    You don't know if MIrotic will ever even make it over here because his European salary might dwarf the locked in NBA scale contract, and the Bobcats pick could end up lousy if Charlotte is successful in rebuilding.

    That said, given what he's had to work with, I think he's done a nice job of pocketing future assets.

  • GarPax are under a lot of scrutiny now as they can become Krause II or Kevin McHale II. Even the 97-98 Bulls with MJ, Pip and Rodman was desperate for Bison Dele's addition. It is about adding the right pieces. This is a trial and error process. The faster the Bulls try to win, they will understand it better on what pieces complement Rose. Who knows... Rose's 3 pt shot might never get better or Rose's passing vision might never get better. Look at LeBron's game....it has plateaued for whatever reason.

    The Bulls better not hope for a Gasol type trade as it is once in a decade lucky move. It might be better to go for it all for the next 3/4 years and then tank(fail) for a year with lots of cap-space and rebuild again.

  • In reply to schaumburgfan:

    I don't think you can tank/fail with Derrick Rose at the helm.

    First, Rose will never endorse the plan. Second, he's too good to allow you to fully tank/fail, third even if you successfully pull it off [say Rose is hurt for a year], you're only going to get one shot at that lotto pick. The Bulls can't tank fail for 5 years here.

    One shot at a lotto pick without knowing how strong the draft is or how high you can draft is a terrible idea. Even if you get the right guy it might take several years for him to get to the right level which might be too late.

    The Bulls can't look to the draft to solve their need for a significant talent upgrade. They can only look to it to trade picks for veterans or niche role players that can help them,

  • Doug, you kind of went all Road Warrior on us today, good long read to take a break from the dog days of summer, 110 and humid in Vegas today.

    The way that I look at it the Bulls have a chance to have 2 runs with Rose or one really long one. Rose is young enough and the Bulls are good enough early in his career to go all in now, and rebuild in 4-5 years when the current "all in" contracts expire. With the Charlotte pick and Mirotic already in the cubboard for the second half of Rose's career, we should be in a position to have cap room and not have to strip the team down to zero at about the same time, 4-5 years.

    We are currently at the point where going all in is the appropriate thing to do. We are good enough to get close, but not likely to be good enough to get past Miami, and someone will rise in the West that is likely to be better than we are as currently constituted.

    The question then becomes, what is the best all in option either this year or next(Dwight Howard, and the free agent class of 2012)

    I just don't see Reinsdorf paying Joe Johnsons contract under any circumstance(even if we dump, Boozer), so are there really any all in options for this upcoming season. I still think that Monta Ellis and Iguadala is the best move that we can make this year, which given their contracts puts us all in.

  • In reply to BigWay:

    If we had a realistic chance to get Howard than waiting would be the thing to do. I don't think we have a realistic chance to get Howard though.

    I think if you could go all in on Iguodala or Ellis and get one without giving up any real assets other than salary relief then the Bulls need to make that happen.

    Of course, we can't do that until we see the new CBA, because a hard cap foils the plan.

  • rkraneis, I agree more with Doug in saying that Boozer isn't that big of an issue (more of an effort rather than character) and the Bulls could take a bit of a gamble on a JR Smith type. And as great as a coach Thibs is, he need an offensive minded assistant to help balance him out. Some of his flaws as a coach were exposed during the playoffs.

    My next thing is that a shortened season would most likely help the older teams trying to give it one last chance to win. The Spurs, Lakers, Mavs, Celtics, all their odds increase with a shortened season so their guys can save some legs. Now that's if there is a season.

    And I don't think Ellis is a good idea, but we've beaten that horse dead enough already.

  • In reply to bpmueller:

    I think Ellis is a good idea if he's basically available for expirings, there's no hard cap, and Reinsdorf opens up the check book.

    I'm not sure that any of those three things will happen and all three seem particularly unlikely.

  • Well, of course Bulls fans including myself agree with Doug that Reinsdorf should go all in(wonder what the TV ratings/money would be like with that extra piece-s/scintillating Bulls offense)? Maybe not $1.9 Mil a game like the Lakes, but possibly a major increase in revenues perhaps beyond the extra payroll/cost?

    My points simply are Rose plays some SG to free him from instant PG doubles and playing defense on other PG's through all those damn screens he get's crushed on. If so, he could just explode offensively especially if they add a somewhat potent SG low end J.R. Smith and upper end Joe Johnson. I keep harping on Prince with a Shawn Marion good two way player add with Lu playing some stretch four bulking up just a little more.

    If Booz was used in the right spots/when needed with plenty of rest to aviod injuries and ready him for the playoffs that would be a Phil move. But Thibs seems to prefer to run people into the ground. Of course with his thin offensive talent maybe he's had no choice? If the Bulls picked up a Joe Johnson and Tayshaun Prince along with an offensive assistant with some bright ideas that Thibs whose solid on the fundamentals does not posess, this Bulls team could go all the way provided Noah bounces back from his injuries/major drop off. Course' the new CBA may very well eliminate the option of "going all in" if there is a hard cap. But even that scenraio could have a silver lining in regards to Miami/ no MLE.

  • How is lack of effort not a character issue, what else is it.

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