I'll tell you what, for a team that went 50-16 --and had very legitimate reasons for being knocked out in the first round of the playoffs-- there are a lot of questions surrounding the future of the Chicago Bulls. Honestly, I hadn't really thought about those questions until I read Sam Smith's latest article concerning that very thing. He offers two directions the Bulls can go as they wait for their prized superstar --Derrick Rose-- to return from injury. As of now, the Bulls are hoping for a mid-to-late season return.
The idea that Smith is hinting at is whether or not this group of players --however good-- has gone as far as they can together. If they have, is it time to break them up? I do not think Smith is putting forth a total reconstruction plan, but rather the Bulls' willingness to part with someone like Luol Deng or Joakim Noah in order to obtain a higher level draft pick. Personally, I would hate to see either go, but I really wouldn't want to see Noah pack his bags.
While the whole idea may seem ludicrous given the Bulls' 50-16, top-seeded finish, it really isn't. As Smith points out, the current Eastern Conference playoffs are showing us just how wide open the East is going to be next season. Aside from the Philadelphia 76ers, who have won four playoff games while shooting below 40 percent, "The Celtics are on the verge of being broken up with Kevin Garnett, now a perimeter shooting center, and Ray Allen free agents. The Pacers have emerged, but, quick, someone name an All-Star? Someone who deserves to be, anyway. Nice team. But just nice. OK, Chris Bosh will be back, but the way this playoffs has been going for Miami, we don't know on which team. How about being stuck with Shane Battier, Mike Miller and Udonis Haslem for $30 million combined over the next two years?" Basically, every team in the East --minus the Charlotte Bobcats-- seemingly has some degree of a chance next season.
With a season like that on the horizon, should the Bulls risk "sitting out" by letting Rose heal, and trading away Deng or Noah? Of course, the idea of that strategy is to come back better than ever in the 2013-14 season (and after). The only question is whether you want to "throw out" next season --one where the Bulls could find themselves in contention (even without Rose for the majority of the season)-- to achieve that?
Deng's contract is up after the 2013-14 season. If the Bulls traded Deng (once his wrist is shown to be healthy again), got a better draft pick for him, gave Rose next season to heal (and less pressure the following season to push anything), the Bulls would find themselves with a lot of room under the salary cap. With that room, they could be potentially be looking at any of these players in the summer of 2014: LeBron James, Dwyane Wade, Chris Bosh, Paul Pierce, Kobe Bryant, Dirk Nowitzki, Ty Lawson, Monta Ellis, Danny Granger, and Andre Iguodala. While I wouldn't necessarily want all of the above players, that functions as a pretty deep pack of free agents. Oh yeah, and Rose would only be 26.
Do the Bulls go for it all now, or protect Rose, trade away some talent, and try in a couple of years? It's a tough question to be sure, but one that will greatly affect the players we see on the court for the Chicago Bulls next season, and in the future.
Brian is a lifelong Chicago Bulls fan, having lived in Illinois his entire life and having followed the NBA throughout.