With the draft nearly a month away, Reports out of Chicago state Taj Gibson has been told by upper management to be prepare himself to play as a starter next season. This has Chicago hoops fans buzzing with hope that the Bulls will finally part ways with Carlos Boozer. Since the reports have surfaced Gibson has debunked them in recent interviews. However, I do feel there is merit to the report and that Boozer's long awaited departure from Chicago is drawing nearer by the day. The news also has helped me frame together what potantial moves can be expected to improve the team. The ideal situation for Chicago would be to trade away Boozer's large salary and receive a marquee player like Carmelo Anthony or Kevin Love in return. Unfortunately, it is highly unlikely that will happen because of Boozer's low stock among NBA general managers, and it is likely the team will use the amnesty provision to free themselves from Boozer's contact.
As far as receiving a marquee player, The front office views the price too steep and would much rather deal with those players as free agents rather than trading away all they have build just to acquire them. Which in Anthony s case could still be this summer if he invokes his player option and becomes an unrestricted free agent. However, Boozer's salary would not be enough cap space the sign Carmelo to a max deal and the Bulls would still have to move out salaries to sign him. There are three players under contract that could help create cap room for such a signing; Mike Dunleavy, Jimmy Butler or Taj Gibson. Since recent reports state Gibson will start next season we then can eliminate Gibson from that equation. Which leaves Dunleavy and Butler as trade bait. Though a good role player and solid shooter I doubt Dunleavy has enough stock left to pursued NBA executives to pull the trigger on a deal with Chicago. Butler however is still on his rookie deal paying him close to $2 million dollars next season and has improved consistently since his drafting by the Bulls. His defensive game and improving offensive tools could intrigue teams into acquiring him via a trade and could be worth moving back a few spots in the draft.
Predicting what an NBA team is going to do on draft night is virtually impossible, although many try ever year, and most are as wrong as I will probably be as well. Before, I delve into my mock selections I first want to discuss the state of the New York Knicks. All the rumors of Tom Thibodeau being traded have continually surfaced over recent weeks, and the coach has yet to dispute these reports. At first I felt this was because he truly was unhappy in Chicago, but I have Rik Bucher of Bleacher Report to thank for the ease in my pain. Mr. Bucher reports that Thibs has stated the only place he would be willing to leave Chicago for is his "dream" job as coach of the New York Knicks. Although New York has recently acquired Phil Jackson to run the ball club, without Carmelo Anthony in the fold New York's goose is cooked. Which is where the story begins. New York hopes to get Carmelo to stay, but knows with no cap flexibility, the only big move they can pull off is for a great coach. The Bulls on the other hand know without a coach in New York that Anthony surely will walk away, and give Chicago a chance to court him into coming to the Bulls.
OK, finally the guesses I promised. I see the Bulls first using Jimmy Butler to move up the draft board. The organization knows that even if they strike out on Carmelo, losing Butler is not a worry since this draft is loaded with 'Jimmy Butler' types that have a more advance offensive game, and that they can pay a low rookie salary for 4 to 5 seasons. Butler is inching closer to a new contract and though he has improved his skills, he has yet reached the level needed to demand such a new deal. My feeling is the Bulls will target two positions in this summer's draft; Point Guard and Power Forward. Over the passed few seasons the team has yet to find a quality "back-up" to Derrick Rose, and acquiring a rookie that can fill that void would save them millions from not having to sign veterans like the Kirk Hinrich or DJ Augustines of the world. Secondly, if their plan is to loose the Booze than getting a young power forward in the fold is crucial. Long term I see them signing Nikola Mirotic from Spain, but feel he is a year away at the least. So drafting a talent at power forward would put pressure on Gibson to prove himself as a starter. As well as give them a cheap back-up to Mirotic or even Kevin Love if it comes to that.
The Bulls have long wanted not only a quality young player to play behind Rose, but one that can also plan alongside Rose if they move Derrick over to shooting guard or vice-versa for that matter. This draft has Marcus Smart of Oklahoma State and Dante Exum of Australia in the lottery , but after that it is open wide and the next guard may not go for several picks. I see the Bulls targeting Doug McDermotte or either Dante Exum or Zach Lavine as well a few combo guards like Gary Harris from Michigan State with their first selection, and even being willing to use Butler to move up to get one of them if needed. Although, I have always thought Lavine had potential, his weight was a concern to me, and at the combine it was recorded as 181 lbs. Which was higher than I thought, with rumors he barely could hold 170 lbs. at 6'6" a few months back. Look for the Bulls to target Doug McDermotte and a plan B of several combo guards with the first selection.
Now with the rumored departure of Carlos Boozer and holding pattern on Nikola Mirotic, My gut tells me the Bulls go after Michigan State's Adreian Payne, with their 19th selection. At 6'10" Payne can do a little of everything. He is very athletic and has a nice shooting stroke from 3 as well. Financially, the Bulls will utilize these draft selections to carve away some of the fatty wasteful contracts from there payroll. It is always hard to tell what the team is actually going to do, but I am confident they will make huge strides toward a championship this summer by freeing up much needed cap flexibility and selecting the best player available at positions they have been log jammed with contracts over the years.