COMMENTARY | The Chicago Bulls pushed their pile of chips to the center of the table and went all-in on the 2013-2014 season, only to have their pocket aces get beat when star Derrick Rose suffered yet another season-ending knee injury.
The Bulls now find themselves over the salary cap with no superstar and no reason to believe the team will be able to become a serious title contender as it is currently constructed. The Bulls have two options laid out before them: They can hold strong and wait to try to make a run next season, or they could begin to think about blowing the whole thing up and trying to rebuild quickly by flipping the handful of valuable assets they still control.
The Future of Luol Deng
The Bulls now face the age-old dilemma of what to do with an All-Star player in the final year of his contract who is unlikely to re-sign in the offseason. Although Chicago would love to retain its small forward, this is a team already paying a luxury tax and has very little financial wiggle room.
With a healthy Rose, the Bulls were just going to ride it out and hope Deng could help them earn a title before he hit free agency, but, now, should the Bulls look to get what they can before they lose him for nothing?
Andrew Wiggins Sweepstakes
Can we all admit this season is over? Even with a healthy Derrick Rose, the Bulls were still going to have an uphill battle to make it out of the Eastern Conference. No one is talking about tanking the rest of the season, but it might be in the Bulls' best interest to start hording draft picks in advance of what some analysts are calling the best draft class since the LeBron James-Chris Bosh-Carmelo Anthony-Dwyane Wade class of 2003.
The NCAA currently has three super-freshmen who all appear likely to cut bait after only one year on campus to make the jump to the NBA. Kansas' Andrew Wiggins, Duke's Jabari Parker and Kentucky's Julius Randle could all be franchise players for any team bad enough to garner a lottery selection in the upcoming draft.
Considering the Bulls have recently drafted former Duke products, Elton Brand, Jay Williams, Chris Duhon and Luol Deng, while also signing Carlos Boozer and Mike Dunleavy in free agency, I'd have to venture a guess and say the front office would be leaning toward Parker if given the choice.
Charlotte Bobcats' Continued Success
Michael Jordan is coming to the rescue for the Bulls yet again. In 2010, the Bulls traded underachieving forward Tyrus Thomas to the Bobcats for a couple players that never amounted to anything, but the real prize of the move was the first-round pick Chicago just flat out stole from Jordan.
The pick is top 10 protected next season, meaning that if the Bobcats were their usual terrible selves, the Bulls would have to wait to cash in their draft voucher. However, Charlotte is a surprising 7-8 to start the season and are on pace to win enough games to give Chicago an extra first-rounder in 2014.
Better Future Team?
Assuming the Bulls could move Deng, Boozer, Gibson, Butler, Noah, or any combination of the five for high draft picks, what team would fans rather see next season?
The Bulls could keep Noah, Boozer and Butler and just hope Rose is able to come back and be his pre-knee injury self, or they could take a chance at getting the next LeBron James to pair with Rose and not necessarily need their point guard to be the 20-shots-a-night scorer he once was.
After two knee injuries in back-to-back seasons, some are worried Rose may never fully get back into his MVP form. If that were the case, and Rose is destined to become the next Grant Hill, the Bulls could have a club built around high salaries without a true superstar, but be just good enough to continually produces top five finishes with early playoff exits, ensuring they are never able to build through the draft and end up locked in a perpetual loop of mediocre seasons.
In addition to the young superstars the Bulls could find in the draft, Chicago still has Nikola Mirotic sitting overseas waiting to get his NBA start. In 2011, the Bulls did a draft-and-stash move by acquiring the 6-foot-10-inch power forward and allowing him to marinate in Europe until the time was right. The combination of Noah, Boozer and Rose may not be as good as a potential rebuild around Noah, Rose, Mirotic and one of the super-freshmen.
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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