The Thunder and Heat might be the last of a generation in terms of how their teams are built. The new NBA salary cap model will make three star teams like theirs incredibly difficult to put and keep together. Only by a confluence of drafting three stars and getting them through their rookie salary structures will this be possible with the new cap limitations which will punish teams financially and by limited flexibility.
It might not be choking by LeBron that stops the Heat from winning three championships but the mere fact that keeping the Heat together for another three years will become a Hercuilian task even with the ability to sign ring chasers cheaper than many other teams.
The Thunder will face similar problems themselves, and when James Harden comes up for an extension, they'll likely have to move either him, Westbrook, or play with a particularly pathetic front court that is filled with two or three players on the minimum or near it and only one guy with any real competence.
The Bulls are almost in a worse situation. They don't have a big three, but a big four, and their big four isn't performing at the same level as the big three of those above teams but still commands the dollar amounts. They can get out of Carlos Boozer's contract by using the amnesty clause if it becomes too unpalatable while they only have to hold off for two seasons on Luol Deng prior to his expiring.
Chicago needs to make the tough choice and ask themselves, can the team as constructed really beat Miami or OKC at their peak next year while fighting through a poor seeding situation, losing much of their depth, and likely still having their marquee player at less than 100% in the playoffs as Rose tries to build back the mental/physical trust in his leg after ACL surgery?
The obvious answer to that question, if we're honest with ourselves, is no. They don't really have a chance. They'll come back with less talent and worse problems and would have struggled to do it this year if they were at their peak which they almost certainly won't be next season.
If Chicago reaches that conclusion then the next thought is what do things look like in 2013/14? Your big four are going to cost you around 57.3 million by themselves. If you keep Asik and Gibson as well, you're already at the tax limit with six players on the squad and Derrick Rose as the only guard.
You can (and likely will) amnesty Boozer to free up salary space, but whatever flaws you ascribe to Boozer, trying to fill up seven roster spots with his 15 million while tossing him off the team isn't going to make things better. The obvious answer is that Luol Deng needs to go.
He's a solid, but not great, two way player. He's very good defensively, a great character guy, and a good system player on offense. However, he's not a dynamic player. He's not a player who can fill up 14 million on the books and provide that value. If we make the leap that Deng has to go, and the leap that the Bulls aren't likely to win next season. It becomes a matter of timing.
Chicago's best chance to get value for Deng is right now. It's a very deep draft where Chicago can likely find an impact player through proper scouting in the late lottery area. Deng could likely be moved for such a pick fairly easily.
Possibly trades for Luol:
Kings: John Salmons [2/15.6 mil + non guaranteed year] + #5
Warriors: Jefferson [2/21 mil] + #7
Warriors: Biedrins [2/18 mil] + #7
Raptors: Calderon [1/10.5 mil] + #8
Pistons: Gordon [2/24 mil] + #9
Pistons: Villanueva [2/16.5 mil] + #9
Hornets: Ariza [2/15 mil] + #10
I don't know that I'd do all or any of these trades, but these are trades which might make some sense for the other team as well as Chicago, but these are the types of deals the Bulls could use to trade short term value for long term value. I guarantee there will be a player in this draft that emerges to play better than Deng at #10, the question is would the Bulls find him? The odds will be difficult because the majority of prospects won't be better, and it would take some great scouting to pull it off.
Chicago can keep rolling down the conservative path they're on, and they'll likely perform better over the next two seasons by doing so. They'll likely fill us with hope with quality play in the regular season and come up short in the playoffs. They'll watch assets like Deng, Omer and Taj decline. Deng due to age, Omer/Taj due to new market value contracts.
If a star emerges on the trading block, they'll have to hope that Mirotic + the Charlotte pick + a veteran is enough to get it done because they won't have much else to offer.
Don't get me wrong, the team won't be doomed to failure if it goes this route, they'll likely remain one of the top two teams in the conference with Miami being the top team. They'll just be a top two team on the decline hoping to get lucky one season. Dallas won the championship with that model. Of course, Dallas also had a 94 million dollar pay roll to add incredible depth, something that won't happen again with the new tax rules.
The plan of reinvesting in a youth movement has the most likely result of leaving Chicago worse off over the next two seasons than they are now and possibly no better off in season three [though they'll be looking to rebuild in season three either way with Boozer/Deng both likely gone at this point]. However, this is a good draft class to invest in.
There's ample opportunity to get score big with players in this draft to set themselves up for a big run in two or three years. Do you sacrifice maybe a 10% chance of winning the title next two seasons in order to try to build yourself a much higher percentage in seasons three through five from now?
Few GMs would have the backing of ownership to make such a move, but I believe Gar Forman and John Paxson have that type of security that they could.
Trading away expensive assets doesn't necessarily mean Chicago needs the draft picks to become stars for them either. When a player becomes available on the trade market, reloading with cheap prospects will allow them to put together a reasonable package to offer another team. Something that they'd struggle to do right now.
Moreover, I think the new look NBA is going to prevent teams from stacking up big contracts. You're going to see the developed talent in the league spread out a heck of a lot more with teams frequently looking to reinvest in the draft in order to load up on some cheap talent to balance out their expensive veteran talent.
Chicago was ahead of the game on their use of non guaranteed contracts two summers ago. They should get ahead of this curve as well because Luol's value will decrease next year and the draft class won't be as stacked even if they pull off a trade. It's time to pick the window to win a title, and the best chance to win won't be with Luol Deng in the next two seasons.