The majority of NBA experts out there picked a Miami over Oklahoma City NBA Finals in preseason and that's exactly what we got. The long path gave us many moments of hoping it wouldn't end up that way, but here we are.
Miami losing last year took a lot of the sting out of them winning this year for me. I think they were humbled somewhat by not waltzing to the title last season. They thought it would be easy, and it wasn't. LeBron in particular came back this year with a considerably expanded game and while he still doesn't look like an unstoppable ice cold assassin in the clutch he came up big plenty of times and melted away far fewer this year.
I think with the confidence gained from this title that only injury will stop the Heat from winning the next couple of years. For the sake of argument, we'll say we're entering the the 2014/15 season. Wade will be 32, Bosh 30, and LeBron 29 (almost 30). The team will also be in seriously deep luxury tax territory if everyone stays together.
While the players might love to win eight titles, we know that's not going to happen. I'd say if everything goes well with their health then three to four is probably an expected amount. We'll see how much money they'll each sacrifice to stay together as well, because they'll need to keep their salaries around 15 million per player to keep things going. While these three have different ages, they're all similarly old in NBA years each coming into the draft in 2003.
I give them two more years where they're the prohibitive favorite. Miami vs the field good. However, after that, things get interesting. After two more seasons, the big three will have played 11 seasons in the NBA, Wade will be 32, LeBron 29, and Bosh 30 entering the season. Wade and Bosh have already had considerable injury problems in their career, and their odds of staying healthy will get worse with each passing season.
It will be most interesting to see what happens with LeBron. He's been a complete ironman so far, but he has an extraordinarily heavy body for the type of athleticism he plays with. Typically, that ends with the body breaking down eventually rather than going on strong forever. The muscle is all there to support his style of play, but typically the joints aren't made to absorb as much shock as a 265 lb dude jumping 3+ feet in the air 50 times a night and landing for 11 straight years.
In general, I see it difficult to stop the Heat outside of injury for two seasons, but we should start to see some decline in the big three and their ability to keep a cast together in a couple of years to open things up.
For the Bulls, they need to pick their best chance to win. They have serious decisions to make right now in terms of whether they want to continue on with the core they have or attempt a serious retooling. The Rose ACL injury gave them a unique opportunity to retool this coming season. An opportunity they could never take with a healthy Rose.
Chicago could go on with a similar cast. A cast which we've felt at times could have won the NBA title. In all seriousness if Rose and Noah were not hurt, but Bosh stayed hurt (I know the ultimate unfair hindsight scenario here), I think the Bulls would have beaten the Heat in the ECF. However, you can't play the "what if our guys weren't hurt, but your hurt guys still were" game with any real meaning.
A healthy Heat team still beats a healthy Chicago team most likely, and the Chicago team coming back next year will likely be similar to last year except notably worse for not having the depth that allowed their bench to beat up on the Miami bench. They'll be missing Brewer, Korver, and Watson most likely while Miami will come back with the confidence of having won.
I don't see Chicago beating Miami under those circumstances in the next two seasons without getting lucky with a Heat injury. That said, what if you break up this team to rebuild and then Dwyane Wade goes out with an injury, and the Bulls are no longer in position to win? It's still a large sacrifice to not go back with your best team next season because anything can happen.
That said, if the Bulls trade Deng for a mid lottery pick (seems like a fairly easy thing to do right now) in a deep, talented draft, Chicago could position itself for a quick rebuild in 2014/15. Nikola Mirotic probably comes over around that time and looks like he has star potential. They'd have a high pick in this draft, their own pick, plus whatever Jimmy Butler turns into to team with Rose, Noah, Gibson, and Asik.
That team then has the youth and prospects to trade for a star player later if one becomes available as well as field the best team in 2014/15 when the Bulls would likely lose Deng in free agency or deal with a long term contract with him as his skills and abilities decline if they were to keep him instead.
In short, the Bulls need to look at when they can create the best window to win a title. With Derrick Rose, I think the best window lies in the 2014 through 2017 seasons. It will be the midst of his athletic prime, the Heat will be on the decline, OKC will likely have had to break up the big three by then, and Chicago should have the pieces to make a serious run year after year.
There is more than one way to maximize those seasons though. Trading Deng now isn't the only path to do it. They might hang on to Deng and attempt to trade him in a package for a star later. In fact, trading Deng now could limit the Bulls ability to trade for a star later and lead the Bulls to a worse team.
There's no clear cut decision here. The Bulls front office is in a brutally difficult place. 9 out of 10 moves they make likely leave them worse off than they are now. They have a lot further down to go than up, and as such, they'll likely be judged harshly regardless of what they do.
The toughest thing to do is go from top tier team to champion, and sometimes, when a juggernaut like the Heat are in your way, there's nothing you can do to make it happen. The Bulls may have to sacrifice dearly to maximize their window. They may have to sacrifice in a way that doesn't pay off and makes the team forever worse. They may have to concede not winning the title the next two seasons to position themselves to win it in four seasons.
There's no clear answers, no clear path to victory. They can't be the Miami Heat and merely grab a couple top five players in the NBA to pair together, Dwight Howard made clear he's not in on that plan if it means coming to Chicago. The Bulls will need to gamble and hope they win, but most gamblers lose, and the Bulls fans are more likely to end up disappointed than cheering on champions regardless of the moves the front office makes.