The Bulls top priority this off-season was to resign back up center Omer Asik. Were they really cut off at the knees due to the Gilbert Arenas loophole or were they never going to match a serious offer on Omer anyway?
Reportedly, the Bulls offered Omer the full MLE [the most they could, but still considerably less than what Houston was allowed to offer], but when you look at how much the Bulls would have had to pay the team if they kept him, it seems unlikely that this would have worked out well as Taj Gibson would almost certainly needed to go in order to keep Omer long term.
That said, with Omer gone, one of the Bulls greatest strengths, big man depth, took a significant hit. They now have three big men, and quite frankly, it's hard to count on the group staying healthy despite having a reasonably healthy 2011-12 campaign. Carlos Boozer has historically missed considerable time, while Noah and Taj have both had recurrent nagging foot and ankle injuries.
However, while their depth may look a little shaky now, how will it look if Taj Gibson walks away next year? I've thought before it might be one of Omer or Taj needing to go, but looking at the numbers it might be both.
So far, the silence on the Gibson extension front has been deafening.
It's easy to see why. The Bulls don't want to pay Taj 10-12 million per year in an extension now, but if I'm Taj Gibson, it might prove difficult to convince me to sign for less. My thought process might go something like this if I were Taj "Omer freakin Asik, the teammate whom I'm vastly superior to just received 8 million per year, why the heck would I sign for less than 10". Quite frankly, I don't know how to argue against that.
The problem comes down to, surprise-surprise, money. The Bulls have 63 million wrapped up in Rose, Boozer, Noah, Deng, Hinrich, Butler and Teague. Add 1 million for Hamilton's buyout if they're unable to find a taker for him at the trade deadline, and Chicago's sitting at $65,554,343 for seven players. Imagine if you added five million for Omer?
If Taj starts at nine million with a four year extension worth 40 million the Bulls would be at 74.5 million for eight players with a minimum of adding around 4.4 million to fill out the roster with minimum salaried players pushing the Bulls to 79 million dollars. The early number for luxury tax projection for next season is 72-73 million which sets up Chicago to pay 9.5 to 11.5 million in luxury tax if they only use the minimum to fill out the roster. [Yes, that means not using their draft pick]
Of course Chicago could afford to do that. The Lakers are likely to spend somewhere over 60 million in luxury tax next season which makes the Bulls potential bill look like a silly complaint, especially given their profits.
However, even if the Bulls are willing to spend 10 million or so in luxury tax next summer, they'll have to make tough choices. This scenario leaves Teague as the starting SG with Butler backing up both SG and SF, Hinrich starting at SG, and a minimum salary player backing up Center, not using their Korver trade exception, and not using their draft pick.
In other words, as disappointing as this off-season was, don't expect much more next off-season. Chicago has shown a lack of commitment to winning this year, and I find it unlikely that they're going to change anything in a single season. They'd rather keep together a very good team at a reasonable price than attempt to build a great team and lose profits.
Sadly, the only action that is likely to change this is if Derrick Rose walks in and demands change the way many superstars before him have. The only thing that threatens the Bulls profit train is Derrick Rose making a stink about it, and of all the superstars in the NBA, he seems poised to be the least likely to do so. Especially publicly.
If Chicago isn't willing to spend a significant chunk of change on Gibson, then they need to start exploring trade scenarios for him now while they can still turn him over for something valuable. I said the same thing about Omer Asik last season. The Bulls should have looked at the writing on the wall and knew they couldn't match a decent offer on Asik and moved him for value. As much as it'd kill me to see Gibson go, it will kill me even more if we hang on to him to watch him walk away for nothing.
You can't play at being the Lakers and Clippers at the same time. If you're forced to run your team by making largely financial decisions, then it's imperative to make good ones even when the choices are hard. If Gar and Pax don't have permission to pay 10+ million in luxury tax next season, then Gibson needs to go now for the best off rather than watching him walk away for nothing next season.