And I don't mean that in a good way. The 2010 plan was well executed, the Bulls were in position to become a dynasty. It didn't work out, but the plan itself was well thought out and still allowed them to become an upper echelon team even if they didn't get the players they coveted. The 2014 plan? I'm not sure it exists.
If it does exist, it sure doesn't exist in the sense the 2010 plan did. The 2014 plan is a fan construct created before the Bulls agreed to an extension with Taj Gibson when they could have had considerable cap space. Here's a look at the Bulls cap situation next year at a minimum.
|Mike Dunleavy Jr||$3,326,235|
|Richard Hamilton buyout||$333,334|
The NBA salary cap is projected to be 62.1 million next season [58.7 million this season]. That means the Bulls maximum cap room next season is 12.2 million. Probably enough money to get Luol Deng who may be the best free agent available in that price range.
Oh wait, in this 12.2 million dollar scenario the Bulls aren't bringing over Nikola Mirotic next season or signing their 2014 draft choice. Take on another three to four million for Mirotic and another 500k-700k for the Bulls draft choice [assuming the Bulls don't fall apart otherwise it's even more].
Now if Charlotte somehow lands pick #11 or worse then the Bulls also get to add on that salary.
In short, in order to get a Luol Deng level free agent, the Bulls would have to give up their draft choice, hold off on Mirotic, lose Luol Deng, and amnesty Carlos Boozer. That doesn't seem like the best team building plan for the future.
This list of penalties is the same even if we want to use that cap room to make an unbalanced trade rather than trying to sign someone outright though in that scenario you wouldn't need as much cap room [ie, swap Taj +picks for Aldridge and you don't need 15 million in cap room for Aldridge's salary].
It's clear that the Bulls evaluated next year's free agency class, evaluated how far they could get underneath the tax, and said "not worth it". When they signed Dunleavy to a two year deal to chew up 3.3 million of cap room and waived Hamilton under the stretch provision which saves them about one million in luxury tax payments but chews up 333k next season in cap room it should be obvious that they weren't maximizing what they were doing under the cap.
In fact, the best case scenario for the Bulls next season is likely to bring back both Boozer and Deng, use the MMLE on Mirotic and simply add their rookie salary. Such a team is similar to the one this year, but with a legit fourth big man in Mirotic stepping up and helping the squad and more seasoned depth with Teague/Snell having more experience.
Of course that team is in the tax again as most players get small raises totaling around five million and Mirotic would replace most of Hinrich's salary. They'd probably sit in the level one tax area [five million and less] but would then pay repeater tax.
For that reason, I find the most likely scenario is that the Bulls part ways with one of Deng or Boozer in order to get well under the tax and save the repeater penalty. Parting ways with Deng obviously saves them a crapload more money as they'd still have to pay Boozer if he's amnestied, they'd just save the eight million or so on the tax.
The Bulls would have a rather large void if either player leaves though. With Mirotic coming in, Chicago could expect him to fill that void, but that's fairly high expectations for an international player in his rookie season, especially with no viable fourth big man behind him if he flops.
As for Deng, Butler's ready to step up in my opinion, but then Hinrich's also leaving, so you have to hope both Teague and Snell are ready to step up in the next year or else you're looking for 1-2 rotation players in your backcourt while having already used your MLE on Mirotic leaving the team with just their late draft choice and minimum salaries, and the bi-annual exception to fill the void.
In short, many Bulls fans have been looking at 2014 as a year the Bulls can shake it up and make something happen. If the roster is shaken up, then it will almost certainly come back worse talent wise with a better financial outlook. Not too exciting for fans. If they bring everyone back they'll have maximized talent but destroyed future flexibility.
It's not an easy off-season coming up for Gar Forman and John Paxson.