The Chicago Bulls appear to be playing this off-season awfully conservatively. They're looking to trim dollars everywhere they can rather than looking to put the absolute best team they can on the floor. Losing Kyle Korver for a trade exception doesn't make the Bulls better now and only helps them later if they use it. Losing CJ, Brewer, and potentially Asik won't help them either. However, there's a case for caution with Chicago.
First, let's assume that the Bulls don't feel they can legitimately win the title this season. That's probably a fair assumption as much as we dislike it. The returning champion Heat are coming back fully loaded and made huge additions with Ray Allen and Rashard Lewis while the Thunder return a dominant roster and the Lakers may have leaped past us as well. The Bulls are probably the fourth best team in the NBA if the Lakers land Howard, maybe even if they don't.
The Nets, Pacers, Celtics, and Knicks might challenge the Bulls in the playoffs if the roster isn't 100% (particularly Rose) as well. In short, this likely isn't the best year for Chicago to go for it if their decisions impact what they're doing in the future. While I wish the Bulls had traded C.J. Watson and Ronnie Brewer while they could still be waived by other teams in order to bring in prospects, it's certainly possible there was no great deal on the table.
Getting past that, when we discuss bringing them back, the Bulls cost cutting ways may pay dividends for the long term growth of the franchise.
C.J. Watson vs Kirk Hinrich
The Korver sign and trade greatly mitigates the use of having the MMLE to spend on a player outside of Hinrich, as the Bulls could acquire another player with it rather than settle on guys at the minimum if they so choose. As such, we're now left to just compare Watson to Hinrich straight up.
I think Watson's a better player, but I don't think it's crazy to hold the viewpoint that Kirk is better either. Watson adds more shot creation and shooting while Hinrich adds better decision making and defense. If Hinrich can improve his level of play over the past two seasons where he struggled with injuries then perhaps the move works out well.
I'm not in love with Hinrich as my starting SG next season, but he's not a bad player to have back in your rotation on a reasonable deal (much like Watson isn't). Overall, I think it's easy for me to view this as a wash even if I'd have gone the other way. In fact, the general managers of the NBA collectively appear to like Hinrich more as Watson ended up signing for the minimum with Brooklyn.
Ronnie Brewer vs Jimmy Butler
I think it's interesting how many fans have bought into Jimmy Butler already. Particularly when discussing Brewer's shortcomings on offense. Brewer's not a great offensive player, but he's good at moving off the ball, has a solid mid range jumper, and can handle the ball a bit.
Jimmy Butler has thusfar looked clueless on offense off the ball, doesn't have much in the way of handles, and has been very shaky shooting jumpers [much more so than Ronnie, who doesn't have three point range but very solid as a mid range shooter]. He does attack the basket quickly to draw fouls, but outside of that, he wasn't providing much last season. I'm not saying Butler can't be better than Brewer offensively, as early as this season he may overtake Brewer.
He also may not.
Defensively, Brewer is a beast, and while Butler also looks promising, Brewer is a first team all-defense caliber defender IMO. He's elite at his position. Butler's very solid in the small glimpses he's had and did particularly well against Carmelo Anthony in two match ups. However, we haven't seen all that much yet.
In general, I think it's fair to state that Ronnie Brewer is a much better player than Jimmy Butler right now. However, that doesn't mean the swap was a bad move. Jimmy Butler has potential to surpass Brewer, and if he doesn't get playing time than we know that won't happen for sure. He makes a fraction of the cost, and if he can knock down open threes in two years he'll fit the offense far better too.
It wouldn't take much for him to build up that ability, but he needs to play in order to improve. That wasn't happening with Brewer in front of him. If we accept the fact that the Bulls weren't going to keep Brewer long term, then developing Butler this season rather than keeping Brewer in front of him will be better for the team in the long run. Even if all that happens is they learn Butler isn't an answer for anything, the Bulls will be better for giving him the opportunity.
Kyle Korver vs a Trade Exception
A trade exception hits no threes, and the Bulls lost something from their roster that they presently don't look likely to fill. However, there are possibilities still. Brandon Rush may be signed and traded into that trade exception to give the Bulls a younger, more athletic, well-rounded version of Kyle Korver. They may sign Courtney Lee into that exception [I believe this scenario may end as soon as Houston signs Asik to an offer-sheet as they won't have cap room any more to make the signing for a legal sign and trade and renounced Lee's bird rights].
I'd say the odds are pretty strong that they won't use this exception this off-season though. It will be available during the trade deadline, during the draft, and next free agency period for the Bulls to attempt to get something done. If they're able to use it, the odds are awfully high that it returns something that helps them long term far more than having Kyle Korver this season. If not, it will go down as a wasted asset, but the Bulls weren't going to flip Korver into anything else anyway.
In short, the Bulls most likely tread water
I don't think this team is stronger than it was last season by any stretch, but it's not necessarily all that much weaker either. They'll have to hope Marquis Teague pans out [of course], and they'll need Jimmy Butler to prove that he's worth gambling on as well as Kirk Hinrich to remain healthy. However, if those three things happen [and it's not a particularly crazy set of things to happen], then the bench mob may be just as good next season as it was this season.
The Bulls will still be one move away from the upper, upper echelon of teams, however, plenty of teams have won the NBA title starting in a similar spot to the Bulls. The 2006-2006 Miami Heat, the 2010-11 Dallas Mavericks, or the 2003-4 Detroit Pistons are all good examples.
It's not to say Chicago's likely to win, they aren't. However, if they have a 10% chance of winning would you want to give that up to rebuild around draft picks? How'd the 1999-2004 Bulls work for you? On the one hand, fans feel the front office is incompetent, but on the other they want them to blow up the team and trust in them entirely to pluck two stars out of this draft by trading Noah/Deng for lotto picks?
Why not bet on Dwight Howard?
On the surface I would bet on Dwight, however, the Bulls may not have the opportunity anyway. There are two problems with the gamble on Howard theory:
1: Howard has said he doesn't want to be here, and while I think we could convince him, Bulls management may have been told far more directly that there's no way in hell he's staying in Chicago in a way that's far more convincing than what we'd imagine.
2: Reports are that the Lakers are looking for high lotto picks and prospects not quality veteran players, in which case our offer went to complete crap unless we swing Deng/Noah for such players to a third team, and who knows how complex such a deal would be.
In short, while I'd make a full press for Howard myself theoretically, in reality, I may not make such a press if I had the full information and such a press may not really be possible anyway if we can't meet Orlando's demands.
It's not basketball hell
I've seen the phrase thrown around [most recently by Nick Friedell, ESPN Chicago], but by fans as well. The Bulls aren't in basketball hell right now. They have nearly as legitimate chance to win the title as you could hope for when a superteam like Miami is sitting in front of them.
Basketball hell isn't for teams who would be favored to make the ECF when healthy. It's reserved for teams getting knocked out of the 1st round with terrible cap situations. The Bulls may in fact get knocked out of the first round this season, but only if they enter the playoffs while significantly injured or have a particularly bad seed from playing most of the season that way.
The Bulls probably won't win a title with the Rose, Deng, Noah, Boozer core, but they'll be in the mix for the next two seasons and then have an opportunity to try and mix it up after that. There's no magic formula to get the Bulls a title, there's no formula to add a second superstar. Most teams would be thankful even to have one.
The Derrick Rose era may not end in titles, and we may play the role of the 90s Knicks. The Knicks weren't beating Jordan no matter what they did, and the Bulls may not beat Miami no matter what they do. Knicks fans still love those Knicks teams though, and I'll still love this Bulls one.
I'll also look to Dallas, who was persistent for over a decade. Who resigned Dirk when many thought they should just rebuild. Who won the title out of nowhere. I'll look at Dallas and remember that the truly epic stories don't start out as the favorites, and I think Derrick Rose has an epic story in his career.
Filed under: Free Agency