Basketball isn't too far away. Thank the Gods for that. The NBA's preseason will begin in less than a month, with the Bulls getting things underway on October 6, facing last season's playoff foes, the Milwaukee Bucks.
A lot of hype has built up for the Bucks, and for good reason. The mission statement of the franchise has been clear; Get young, quick and versatile, and smother people defensively with length. When you think about 'position-less basketball' in the modern game, Milwaukee, amongst others, are breaking down the existing norms.
They've gone out and signed free agent center, Greg Monroe, a nice, young big who passed on the bigger markets to join the Bucks. Jabari Parker is set to resume his career after a torn ACL derailed his rookie campaign, and we can expect natural progression from the rest of the roster, particularly Giannis Antetokounmpo. Good times are ahead. For fans of an organisation that has faced constant rumors of relocation, that has to be exciting.
For the Bulls, there hasnt been any 'hype' coming into this season. It was too quiet for anything of merit to draw a frenzy. Virtually no changes have been made to the roster outside of Bobby Portis, the rookie, replacing Nazr Mohammed. Instead of player movement, management will be banking on the transition from Thibodeau to Hoiberg to progress the team past the second round, but is this change enough, or are there more inherent issues at play with the roster that need to be resolved at some point this season?
Analyzing the Bulls roster, whilst it has virtually remained unchanged, the dynamics seem...well, weird.
For simplicity's sake, let's assume that an average NBA player's best years are in his mid-to-late 20s - say 25-28-years of age. On face value, with the average age of a Chicago player next season being a little over 27-years old, one could argue the age profile of this team is right in its 'sweet spot' of performance. Is it really, though?
As it stands, the Bulls have six players who are 30 years of age or greater, six players who are 24-years old or younger, with only three currently in their prime (25-28). Now, this fact isn't necessarily a bad thing, especially if those three players are destined to give you their best years, something Oklahoma City looks poised to do with Kevin Durant, Russell Westbrook & Serge Ibaka.
Unfortunately, this isn't the case for Chicago.
E'Twaun Moore, Derrick Rose and Jimmy Butler are the three players set to enter their 'prime' for Chicago. That doesn't really compare with the Thunder core, does it?
Moore is no star. He is barely a rotational piece. The best years of Rose should be now. Instead, sadly, they may be behind him. That only leaves Jimmy Butler. No wonder he is working on his point guard skills, the Bulls may need it!
Further review of the roster suggests the team is lacking in players within the age of 26-28, meaning the transition from the veterans to the less experienced won't be as seamless as it should be. It's a troublesome thought that the influx of younger players to the roster will begin to reach the apex of their careers when the veterans of the team will no longer be here. The roster construction would be perfect if we could somehow turn back the speedometer, taking the best part of a decade off the aging Bulls. We won't get to see the peaks of Joakim Noah and Nikola Mirotic in parallel, despite the obvious fit. A true shame.
As time goes on, it's becoming increasingly clear that Pau Gasol, Mike Dunleavy and Kirk Hinrich won't be here for the next Chicago championship, nor will journeyman Brooks. After a very poor 2015 season, with free agency looming in the background, can we say with any confidence that Joakim Noah will remain a Bull past 2016?
Derrick Rose and Taj Gibson - both of whom combine for $30.25 million in expiring contracts - will be free agents at the conclusion of 2016-17, coincidentally at the same time that a potentially large extension to Nikola Mirotic will be due. Following soon after, both Doug McDermott and Tony Snell, assuming they've proved they can consistently remain in an NBA rotation, will also be in line for their first non-rookie scale contract.
This begs the question - what direction is Gar Forman taking this franchise?
Is the plan to consolidate young talent and future assets for ready-made players via trade, or are we moving on from the elders of the collective, by dealing them for future (or younger) assets to accompany the next wave? With seemingly no change to the roster, the answer is clear - neither.
I almost can't blame him for his inaction. It's the elephant in the room that everyone is tired of discussing, but it can't be ignored. Derrick Rose and the 'will he/won't he' scenarios that plague his return to stardom, still haunt us all. No other team has had to deal with this level of insecurity for consecutive seasons. An already risk-averse franchise, you can begin to understand why this situation has caused even greater levels of conservatism.
One must also factor in the constraints the General Manager has in terms of financial flexibility. Derrick Rose and Joakim Noah are set to bank $33.49 million combined in 2015-16 - an amount equating to 48% of the salary cap. Filling out the roster with depth and quality is an extremely difficult task when your two best and highest paid players are under-performing. Is anyone really going to want to trade for the contracts of Rose and Noah, especially if they show no signs of rediscovering their former selves?
Perhaps Rose can return to an All-Star level? It's not an impossible notion. He did show flashes of utter brilliance.
These moments, again, continue to have us all lingering onto hope.
If he can, it would look highly stupid to trade a piece like Joakim Noah or Pau Gasol now and risk losing them for a future asset if the Bulls former star were to reascend to his peak under the new coach and his system. So, again, the rationale of being content with the what is on the books for now is understandable, but this can only be a temporary solution.
Unless the Bulls can work against the odds and win a title in 2016, we should expect this to be the last season with this group. Changes will be required next season, and frankly, may be needed. A succession plan for the older brigade will need to be implemented, most notably in the front-court. Recommitting to a lengthy extension to Joakim Noah at age 31, could also prove to be a terrible contract of Ben Wallace-esque proportions. If Rose continues to battle injury and mediocre play, the time to move on from the fallen superstar will present itself.
Sitting on your hands and doing minimal during this off-season can be defended. There was no cap space, no full mid-level exception, and the obvious trade piece (Gibson), was injured. These excuses will not be afforded next season, nor should they be accepted.
I'm giving you ten months to work out the correct path, Gar. It's time to pick a lane.