If you've followed this blog for awhile, you know I have the utmost respect for the Miami Heat as an opponent. I think they're clearly the best team in the NBA by a significant margin. They're good enough that the Bulls will simply not be better on paper regardless of what they do. That means picking the window and method to beat the Heat becomes tricky.
The good news for Chicago is that while they don't have the talent Miami does, they do have some of the players that can create significant mismatches for the Heat. They have (hopefully) an elite, penetrating PG that Miami will struggle to contain. They have an extremely good rebounding team that can beat them up inside and get second chances. They have a team with tremendous help defense, that can deter LeBron and Wade at the rim when they get past the perimeter defense.
In short, the Bulls are already built to beat the Heat without equal talent, so building more in that direction probably is not necessary. They simply need to maximize their talent level at the right time to have the best shot at beating them. Chicago needs to start making those decisions this summer.
The first and most important decision will be whether they trade, extend, or do nothing with Luol Deng.
Chicago could trade Deng easily enough, the question is what could they get back for him? He's got one year left on his deal at a rate that's a bit higher than you'd want to pay Luol Deng, but not terribly out of bounds and the lack of years eliminate any real problem with that. That said, given his age and impending free agent status, who's really going to pony up big bucks for him?
You could probably get an expiring and a mid round pick for him if you're looking for a salary dump. I'm not an expert on this draft, but I've heard it's weak and lacking star talent so this isn't doing much for me. The Bulls might be able to take a shot on Eric Gordon's knees and do a Deng/Gordon swap which would give them the secondary creator/shooter that they need.
That said, Eric Gordon's hasn't been nearly the shooter that he has a reputation of being with a three point percentage of a pedestrian 36.4% that has dropped virtually every year he's been in the league. He hasn't ever been able to stay healthy either. At 24, he's young enough that he could still come back and have an excellent career though.
Put in a better situation where he's happy, doesn't have to be the primary shot creator, and gets better looks might allow him to really blossom as a secondary scorer. Either that or he could simply be a flash in the pan that never really has a truly productive season again. If the Bulls trade for Gordon it blows up most of their other options to upgrade the team for the next two to three seasons. Is he good enough to lock in on?
Those are probably the Bulls best two possible options with Deng (and it's quite possible neither is really possible either, and they'd have to do something even worse). Neither really gives me the warm and fuzzies about beating Miami in the next two seasons.
If those trade options aren't good enough, and there isn't something else better out there, then the Bulls could look to extend Deng instead. That said, they'll have to be cautious with how much they offer him. Deng's shooting hasn't been particularly good the past couple years, his defense will likely slow down as he ages, and Chicago has kind of run him into the ground.
I think even a 4/40 extension for Deng will likely look bad on the back end of the deal, and there's no way in hell he's signing for less than that, and quite probably wouldn't take that deal either. Still, if you're looking to keep talent on the roster, offering him the 4/40 extension now might lock him up and allow you to keep continuity.
Of course, doing so will remove your flexibility in 2014, but the problem is there's not likely much the Bulls will be able to do in 2014 anyway. The one important thing to note in 2014 is that the Heat will likely decide to reup or not. If the team breaks up, then the Bulls may be fighting a different animal all together in terms of what they're doing and having more flexibility to shift the roster around might be valuable.
The best course of action depends significantly on whether or not Miami stays together and how good they look in two to three years. Dwyane Wade looks considerably slowed down right now, but that might be an acute problem due to a specific injury and not reflective what he'll do in a year or two. LeBron shows no sign of wear and likely won't. The cast will need to be recycled there, and that will present some difficulties with the new rules.
In short, I've said before, this is likely Miami's most talented team this season. Unless they hit a home run in FA/draft, they're going to be more beatable next year, the following year, and into the future than they are right now. Saying that, they aren't exactly blowing Indiana out either, though I believe they'll ultimately get past Indy and San Antonio to win their second title.
If the Bulls believe they have a legit shot to beat Miami with the core they have then keeping Deng/Boozer around and screwing the 2014 plan is an option too. We've all assumed there would be a 2014 amnesty of Carlos Boozer, but that depends largely on whether Chicago has a better play. Complain about Boozer all you will, but he's a big, strong body that eats up space, scores points, and can play physical. The Bulls need that against Miami even if he's not delivering in the fourth.
The Bulls have difficult decisions coming up. With a healthy Derrick Rose, they are still amongst the elite teams in the NBA, anything to significantly shake up the roster is more likely to make it worse than better, and they need to be careful with that too. There's a long way to fall and only a little room to improve.