Not all Chicago Bulls fans are comfortable playing for ping pong balls. The fans who've been with the team since the Jordan era can give plenty of reasons why playing for draft position isn't always such a hot idea. They go something like this.
1999: Elton Brand #2
2000: Marcus Fizer #4
2001: Tyson Chandler #2
2001: Eddy curry #4
2002: Jay Williams #2
That's five top four picks across four seasons and not enough to push the Bulls past 30 wins ever. I can give you four reasons why tanking is a good idea.
2003: LeBron James #1
2003: Carmelo Anthony #3
2003: Chris bosh #4
2003: Dwyane Wade #5
This draft coming up? It may not be as good as 2003, but it's one of the best in recent memory. Much better than the crap shoot that was the early 2000s where the draft sucked for several straight years and had no true marquee prospects.
The example has already been set. The Chicago Bulls lost a crapload of games when Michael Jordan missed nearly one year. That injury allowed us to get Scottie Pippen and contributed to six titles. I think Jordan, and the Bulls, would have won eventually, but they wouldn't have won six without that injured season.
The San Antonio Spurs lost David Robinson for a year and went full on tank to land Tim Duncan and went on to win four championships including an immediate rebuild into championship contention the following season.
This isn't a "get bad until we get a superstar" effort. This is a get bad by moving guys who aren't part of the future anyway, taking advantage of your superstar player who will miss the season anyway, and reap the rewards of a strong draft class to facilitate an instant rebuild and come back stronger in 2014/15 than you could doing anything else plan.
Now that name lacks the efficiency of "the 2010 plan", but it has as much upside if it's successful.
Aim for 2015/16
That's when the Bulls should aim to strike to win the title.
First, it makes sense that if Derrick Rose will return to superstar form that 2015/16 is more likely to happen than 2013/14 where he'll still be trying to get a feel for the game again.
Second, the Bulls need time to retool and grow together. They're going to need to mix up their roster considerably regardless of whether they tank, and it will take time for the young pieces to integrate into the NBA and find their games. At a minimum, Nikola Mirotic is going to fit that scenario and possibly their draft choices from this season.
Third, the Miami Heat may or may not stay together after this season, but they're unlikely to be the domineering force in 2015/16 that they are today. Dwyane Wade is clearly on the way down, and they'll need to replace their aging cast without having much in the way of assets.
Finally, there aren't any other unstoppable teams being built to replace the Heat when they start to slip.
Given you aim to strike in two seasons...
It's time to evaluate how good every piece on the roster will look in two more seasons. Are Joakim Noah and Taj Gibson guys you want around when they're 30? Can you move one or both for picks now? Do you want Luol Deng on a contract making 14 million per season at age 31 with a couple seasons left?
I'm fairly certain most fans already agree that Carlos Boozer is out.
If you're going to move any player for assets that include draft choices. Now is the time. You want to load up in a stacked draft class where starting caliber players are more likely to be found in the mid rounds and the late picks will still have plenty of rotation guys left.
If you can get that star player in the top few picks by tanking even better, and loading up on more choices makes that even more likely.
The Bulls can't and shouldn't trade everyone. Luol Deng should definitely move if there's any interest at all [as I've noted in several posts]. Noah and Gibson are guys who should be dealt if they value is particularly good, or if the organization doesn't see them holding up well.
An inventory of potential assets at the start of 2015
2014 Bulls pick
2014 Charlotte pick (likely)
2015 Bulls pick
Marquis Teague, 22-24 years old
Tony Snell, 24-26 years old (technically 23-25, but birthday 2 weeks into the season)
Nikola Mirotic 24-26 years old
Jimmy Butler, 26-28 years old
Derrick Rose, 27-29 years old
Joakim Noah, 30-32 years old
Taj Gibson, 30-32 years old
Luol Deng, 30-32 years old
You're looking at building a three year title window starting in this season. It's important to have the right mix of veteran talent and youth when going for it.
Deng is likely gone due to expense anyway. Teague looks like he might be gone due to stinking at basketball, but we'll leave him on the list for now.
Noah, Gibson, Butler, Mirotic, Snell, and Rose make up a pretty good core depending on how Butler and Snell mature and play together. The pair look like they'll complement each other well. That group gives the Bulls a player at every position and a reserve big man.
In order for that group to be the core of a championship team without a significant piece added, Derrick Rose needs to return to superstar form, Nikola Mirotic needs to become a top 15 caliber player in the NBA, and Butler and Snell developed into above average starting caliber players.
Noah and Gibson would need to simply avoid fading out. All in all, not overly likely but not entirely out of the realm of possibility.
If the Bulls tank this year and land a top five pick, trade Luol Deng for a mid round first then the odds shift considerably. Instead of banking solely on Mirotic, the Bulls will have an excellent chance of getting that star player from the draft as well.
Instead of requiring Butler/Snell to become above average players, the Bulls will have three picks to potentially fill out the rotation instead of two.
The nice thing about this is that after the restructure the Bulls situation looks something like this:
1: Derrick Rose (superstar if he can recover)
2: Nikola Mirotic (extremely high upside prospect)
3: 2014 Bulls pick (if tanked) (extremely high upside prospect)
4: Jimmy Butler (versatile high quality forward)
5: Joakim Noah (quality big on decent deal)
6: Taj Gibson (quality big on decent deal)
7: Tony Snell (hopefully rotation caliber player)
8: 2014 Charlotte pick (should be a rotation caliber player)
9: 2014 pick from Deng trade (hopefully a rotation caliber player)
10: 2015 pick (who knows)
11: Marquis Teague (maybe he's around or maybe not)
Looking at that list of assets, the Bulls have no bad salary, tons of guys on rookie contracts, and could easily facilitate a big trade, their own internal rebuild, or potentially sign play the free agency market when Joakim and Taj expire. In short, the Bulls will still have a high quality roster with the potential to compete for a title if things work out, but tons of flexibility to make changes if they don't.
The key is to act now to maximize their potential going forward rather then making the playoffs to get annihilated in a farcical match up. We know it's not happening this year, so it's time to San Antonio this thing and improve for the next decade.