COMMENTARY | Derrick Rose may not like it, but Tuesday's Luol Deng-for-Andrew Bynum trade makes it clear the Chicago Bulls have leaned back and begun their trust fall into the arms of the NBA rebuilding process.
Thanks to the Bynum trade, the Bulls will avoid paying a little over $8 million to Deng for the remainder of this lost season, while also immediately waiving Bynum to clear his $12.3 million off the Chicago ledger. If the financial savings wasn't already enough to a coup, the Bulls brought back a bevy of draft picks to add to their increasing stack of selections.
With this one move, Chicago has gone from a team with no options to a team that should be one of the top movers and shakers this offseason.
Chicago's Blueprint to Rebuild
Step One: Carlos Boozer Is Out the Door
Pretty much the second since the ink dried on Boozer's five-year, $75 million deal in 2010, speculation began ramping up about the Bulls possibly using their one-time amnesty clause to cut ties with the All-Star power forward.
In the latest NBA Collective Bargaining Agreement, teams have the right to release one player signed before the newest CBA took effect and not have that player's salary count toward the club's salary cap or luxury tax threshold.
Next season, Boozer is set to earn $16.8 million. With the Bulls' projected salary cap number already sitting at $64.5 million for only nine players, it is nearly a foregone conclusion Chicago will choose to dump Boozer and give itself a little more breathing room this offseason.
Step Two: Draft Picks Galore
The Bynum trade included getting the Sacramento Kings' first-round pick, which is top-12 protected in 2014 and top-10 protected in 2015 through 2017. The Bulls also received two second-round picks the Cavs held from the Portland Trail Blazers for 2015 and 2016. In addition, the Bulls have the right to swap first-round picks with Cleveland in 2015, so long as Cleveland is not picking in the top 14.
Before the Bynum deal even took place, Chicago was already likely sitting with two first-rounders in 2014. Aside from their own pick -- which could be a lottery selection if Deng's exit causes a loss avalanche -- the Bulls also hold the rights to the Charlotte Bobcats' first pick this season, assuming Michael Jordan can get his team to keep playing just average enough to avoid a top 10 pick this season.
Given the fact 2014 is expected to be one of the top draft classes in recent memory, the Bulls will have multiple picks to either use or dangle as trade bait on draft day.
Step Three: Free Agency
When Chicago "waives" goodbye to Boozer this offseason, its salary cap number will shrink to $47.7 million for the 2014-2015. With next season's cap excepted to settle in at around $65 million, the Bulls can free up enough cap space to sign another max-contract player to pair with Rose and Noah as the team's building blocks.
Carmelo Anthony is who the Bulls need to target this offseason. The Knicks have not shown any signs of being able to contend with the team they have assembled, and their own financial limitations means it will be a challenge for them to reload with the type of team that could seriously take down the Miami Heat. Anthony would give Chicago the type of go-to wing scorer it has not had since "His Airness" left the building.
Head coach Tom Thibodeau's defensive toughness is great, but, if the Bulls do not have that player who can be counted on to give them 25 points every night, they will continue to run into the same problem they do every postseason when scoreless stretches cost them series because they do not have the prototypical go-to scorer when it counts.
Step Four: International Flavor
Toni Kukoc 2.0 could be coming to a United Center near you very soon.
In the 2011 NBA draft, Chicago quietly used its No. 24 first-round pick to do a draft-and-stash on a small forward from Real Madrid. At 6 feet 10 inches, Nikola Mirotic has been described by some as the next incarnation of Dirk Nowitzki. Through his first 11 games of the Euroleague season, Mirotic is 59.4 percent from downtown while averaging 14.5 points per game.
The reason Mirotic is not already in a Bulls uniform is that fact that he is making roughly $4.7 million playing in Europe right now, which is considerably more than Chicago could have offered him. But, with Deng now gone, and the Bulls finally free from their luxury tax burden, they can give Mirotic plenty of incentive to skip across the pond this summer. It may soon be apparent why the Bulls were so willing to let Deng walk.
Step Five: A Healthy Derrick Rose
The biggest caveat of this blueprint presupposes a healthy Derrick Rose in 2014. Rose will have missed nearly two full seasons after injuries to both knees sidelined him. The fact that each injury happened on a non-contact play has to call into question his knee's structural stability and longevity moving forward.
Step three could be the biggest aspect of Chicago's rebuilding process. If the Bulls can lure another superstar to Chicago, they can begin moving away from the idea of needing Rose to be their franchise player. If Rose can accept being Scottie Pippen to Carmelo's Michael Jordan, the presence of Joakim Noah and Taj Gibson down low would make Chicago a force in the East that is no longer held hostage by the health of its point guard.
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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