COMMENTARY | Are the Chicago Bulls forever doomed to keep waiting until next year to contend for a title?
The NBA's trade deadline came and went on Thursday without a peep coming from the Berto Center. The Bulls have elected to stand pat with their roster as is, leaving many fans left to wonder whether the front office has ostensibly written off the entire 2013-2014 season.
Despite being ranked No. 4 in a very lackluster Eastern Conference, the 28-25 Bulls are not seen as a team capable of threatening to do anything more than perhaps winning a first-round playoff series (a la last season). With the Miami Heat and Indiana Pacers each making moves at the deadline, did the Bulls fall even farther behind the two Eastern Conference powers by not trying to improve their roster via the trade?
Was Chicago right to sit this trade deadline out, or did the Bulls miss a valuable opportunity to contend this season?
Moves to be Made?
One possible reason for the lack of activity from the Chicago front office was that teams were simply unwilling to part with the players the Bulls coveted.
The trade deadline as a whole was largely underwhelming, as the biggest names finding new homes were the Pacers' Danny Granger and the Philadelphia 76ers' Evan Turner, who each swapped jerseys in a three-player trade between their respective clubs.
While not quite blockbuster-level moves, Turner's 17.4 ppg and expiring $6.6 million contract seemed like the exact type of situation the Bulls themselves should have been looking to find at the deadline.
Essentially, the Sixers gave Turner away for Granger's expiring contract and a second-round pick. The Bulls nabbed three future picks earlier this season when they shipped Luol Deng to Cleveland, and also have Kirk Hinrich's expiring $4 million salary they could have packaged. Turner alone would not elevate the Bulls to the Heat or Pacers' level, but his deal did highlight the fact that there were wing scorers available had the Bulls been willing to pull the trigger.
If Not Improve, Why Not Salary Dump?
The Bulls gave away Deng earlier this season for no reason other than monetary considerations. Shedding his salary gives Chicago more financial flexibility heading into an important free agent signing period this summer. But, if the Bulls were willing to ship out one of its best players, why was there no more corresponding moves to ease the payroll burden even further?
The reason no other players were jettisoned for cap relief is because the Bulls made no moves that required them to quickly shed payroll. Had an Anthony trade happened, then the Bulls would have undoubtedly also moved Mike Dunleavy's $3.1 million or Hinrich's $4 million contract. However, making no moves at the trade deadline means Chicago can wait until the offseason to make any other trades strictly for financial reasons.
The one potential move that could have precipitated a Dunleavy deal would have been if Chicago were to be the third team in on a Houston Rockets / Boston Celtics trade for Rajon Rondo and Chandler Parsons.
The two clubs were rumored to be in talks to team Rondo with Dwight Howard and James Harden in Texas, but the Rockets were unwilling to part with Parsons. Had the talks escalated, Dunleavy would have been a perfect fit to take over Parsons' role in Houston. The Rockets had previously been rumored to have Dunleavy on their radar earlier this season.
Season Outlook for the Bulls
By not picking up a capable wing scorer at the deadline, Chicago will try to play the role of foil rather than contender this postseason.
The team still ranks No. 2 in the entire league in defense, but the offensive side of the ball is where Chicago has struggled. The Bulls are only giving up 92.3 point per night, but that is also exactly how much their offense is averaging as well.
The Bulls are 16-7 since the start of the new year, and much of that is due to the emergence of Taj Gibson as a true big-bodied post-scoring option. Gibson has come on strong in February, averaging 16.3 points and 7.3 rebounds per game. And the mid-season acquisition of D.J. Augustin has many fans fondly remembering the kind of contribution Nate Robinson gave the Bulls at the end of the 2012-2013 season.
Ultimately -- while adding another scorer capable of getting his own shot would have helped Chicago contend - the Bulls still have a solid group that could give teams all they can handle in a seven-game series.
Although fans will likely still have to wait until the return of Derrick Rose to see a team with the potential to win it all, there is sure to be excitement flowing through the corridors of the United Center well into the spring, and isn't that really much better than the front office choosing to completely strip the roster for parts?
Dalton Russell is Chicago native and longtime follower of the Bulls. His championship expectations were irrevocably ruined by the Michael Jordan-led teams of the '90s and now impatiently awaits the next great chapter of Bulls basketball.
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