Every year, Bulls fans look forward to the off-season, waiting for the big move to put them over the top. Waiting for management to do something, anything, to get better than the Miami Heat. After all, we'd better answer Reggie Rose's call and get some talent in here or perhaps Derrick Rose won't play again. Every year the Bulls make some minor moves on the bench and appear to come back worse.
It started with Watson + Brewer + Korver + Asik turning into Teague + Hinrich + Nate + Belinelli + Nazr. It continues with Nate + Belinelli turning into Dunleavy Jr + Snell. Minor moves, no big splash, and we're not even happy with the minor moves. How could you let go of Nate Robinson after all he did?
There are two dynamics at play here. The first is the lack of the big splash.
The Bulls aren't in position to make a big splash. Who is the big splash player that puts you ahead of Miami? What roster move do you make and then say "the Bulls got this now"? Dwight Howard was the only player in the NBA (when healthy) that I would have said that about. Dwight Howard who didn't want to come here and proved he had the balls to walk away from the extra year and leave as a free agent.
I was in the trade for Howard either way camp. Bullet dodged. Let's be thankful I wasn't the GM, the Bulls would be far worse off if we had traded for Howard.
After that? The Bulls will always be worse on paper than Miami. It doesn't mean they'll lose, but it does mean that we'll enter the season feeling pretty uneasy about our chances. It does mean we'll feel that we didn't do enough. How could we have done enough if we still feel like the underdogs after all?
That's crux of the Bulls position in terms of getting significantly better. However, in order to add a 'star', the Bulls would likely need to give up the Bobcats pick, Jimmy Butler, and Nikola Mirotic to make another team bite with Luol Deng matching salary, and even after that package you are only 'maybe' getting Kevin Love or LaMarcus Aldridge who could both split in two years are your low tier stars not your superstars and both would play the same position as Carlos Boozer who wouldn't be leaving in the trade package.
Don't get me wrong, I drool at the idea of adding Love or Aldridge, but when the cost becomes two key rotation players, your two best future assets, and the result is a mismatched roster where you won't easily be able to trade your way into a good one because no one wants Boozer? Time to stand back and say this probably isn't worth it. Especially since after that mess everyone can walk away in two seasons.
Oh by the way, good chance that both teams would have said no to that package anyway given that they both rejected packages including the #1 pick for their players.
So when you slowly back away and realize the star route wasn't the way to go (at least this season) that leaves us with discussing the bench. There was quite a bit of anger about the Bulls blowing up the bench mob last season, but in the end, the new bench mob lacked the big man depth of the previous one but added more of what this team really needed. Shot creation and scoring.
The Bulls last season were far better off with what they had than if they had kept the old group together even including Asik, and while I wish Asik was back here, if the Bulls stay healthy then they won't miss him all that much. You can't play four on five basketball against a team as athletic on the perimeter as the Heat.
Now we're going through the motions again, watching the beloved Nate Robinson walk away, and I loved Nate Robinson as much as you. I think the Bulls needed someone with Robinson's attitude coming off the bench, and I'm not sure I see that. However, much like Jimmy Butler stepped up and destroyed what Ronnie Brewer could have done, the Bulls will look to fill Robinson's void internally.
The biggest way it gets filled is by Derrick Rose returning. In the end, the need for a Nate Robinson went from 48 minutes a game to about 10 minutes a game with the return of Derrick. Marquis Teague can't shot like Nate, but he can get to the hole and create his own shot. I'm excited to see what he can do.
Jimmy Butler looks like he's improved his shot creation skills as well. The Bulls don't have that true ringer off the bench like they did with Nate, but going into the season, Nate was on a non guaranteed deal and wasn't viewed as what he was either.
In the end, I think the Bulls can help make great bench players with their system, coach, and trust. When you look at the Bulls off-season in players in and out, it looks like a miss, but it looked like one last year too. Instead, I think Chicago will be better than Bulls fans think. A year without Rose has left us feeling that they're mediocre.
They're not. Make no mistake, the Bulls are coming back as one of the best teams in the NBA. They'll threaten to win 60 games [and possibly win more], and they'll be the Heat's biggest nemesis this season. We'll see Jimmy Butler step up, we'll see Marquis Teague play better than expected, and the guys we thought we'd miss will be filled in for successfully.
The Bulls are a star player away from having a shot to look as good as Miami on paper, but they're only a role playing big man away from hitting about as high a mark as they could in the off-season and still have a shot to fill that void.