COMMENTARY | After a quick fool's gold dalliance of looking like a bona fide title contender, the Chicago Bulls are suddenly sitting in NBA purgatory where their franchise player, Derrick Rose, may actually be standing in the way of his team being able to build a championship caliber club in the future.
The NBA has been inexorably changed. Ever since LeBron James forced an hour-long special to make the five-second announcement he would "take his talents to South Beach" and join Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh on the Miami Heat, he has forever altered the way in which NBA teams are built.
Forget drafting well and developing a young group of players who can grow together and one day become champions, in today's NBA; teams are bought, not built.
Never mind the fact that clubs, such as the New York Knicks and Brooklyn Nets, have failed in similar roster-crafting efforts, make no mistake about it, every team in the league is now on a frantic search to find their own "Big Three" of superstars to compete with Miami, and free agency has currently become the single greatest indicator for whether a team is going to be able to contend the following season.
Derrick Rose should have been the neon sign of superstars, attracting every possible free agent to the shores of Lake Michigan. After his MVP season in 2011, it was Rose being touted as the greatest player in the game. Fast forward to 2013 and knee injuries to each leg have prevented Rose from playing in all but 49 games over the past two seasons.
With Rose's career starting to resemble Grant Hill, not Michael Jordan, we have to wonder whether free agents will soon be scared off and no longer see Chicago as a viable destination for any player who wants to win.
The Bulls' salary situation is a mess. Chicago paid $13 in luxury tax this season to load up and go for the title now, but Rose's injuries have made the 2013-2014 a very expensive lottery season.
Next year, the Bulls will have a lot of tough decisions to make. Rose is still under contract for three more years at just over $60 million, but accounting for 30% of the salary cap makes building a team around Rose very difficult -- particularly if Rose's continued availability remains in question.
Carlos Boozer is scheduled to earn $16.8 million in 2014, but rumors suggest Chicago could choose to use their one-time amnesty clause and drop their starting power forward.
Loul Deng will be a free agent at year's end and will demand a max contract of his own. Given his own battle with injuries, signing Deng to a long-term contract would put Chicago's entire future into the hands of two players who have been unable to stay on the court.
Without Deng and Boozer, the Bulls will have roughly $47 million of the $58.679 million salary cap already tied up with player contracts, with the luxury tax limit at just over $71 million. This doesn't leave a lot of room for the Bulls to maneuver in the future.
2014 Free Agent Class
The NBA landscape is going to look much different in 2014, thanks to a lot of potential movement of big name players in free agents.
LeBron James, Dwyane Wade, Chris Bosh, Carmelo Anthony, Amar'e Stoudemire, Danny Granger, Rudy Gay, Kyle Lowry, Pau Gasol, Paul Pierce and Dirk Nowitzski are just some of the star players who could be wearing a different uniform next season.
The biggest question for the Bulls has to be whether or not Rose will allow his game to change and become the Scottie Pippen to another player's Michael Jordan. A player like Anthony may not want to come to Chicago if he feels like his game will have to take a backseat to Rose. But, if Rose is willing to give up some scoring and become a true point guard who facilitates for the go-to option, he may be able to avoid the pounding that has forced him off the court and once again open up the city to big-name free agent talent.
2014 NBA Draft
The Bulls do have another arrow left in their quiver that could still make them an attractive place for free agents to land. Through the first 25 games of the season, the Bulls have been bad enough that they would miss out on the playoffs entirely and begin waiting for their name to be called in the NBA Draft Lottery.
Not only would the Bulls demand a top pick, the Charlotte Bobcats have been surprisingly good enough that the Bulls may be able to cash in the draft chip they hold for the Bobcats' first-round pick after trading Tyrus Thomas in 2010. Charlotte's pick is top 10 protected in 2014, but, if the Bobcats continue to play as unexpectedly average as they have this season, the Bulls would suddenly be sitting with two first-round picks for an NBA draft that is expected to be one of the deepest in history.
Rose's injuries and enormous contract will be a deterrent for free agents looking for a new home, but, if the Bulls can lure one superstar to the Windy City and get lucky in the draft, they can make themselves a contender that is no longer held hostage by the knees of Derrick Rose.
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.
- Sports & Recreation
- Derrick Rose
- Chicago Bulls
- Michael Jordan