COMMENTARY | If Chicago Bulls VP of Operations John Paxson is to be believed, fans should not expect the Bulls to be buyers or sellers come the Feb. 20 trade deadline.
"We've got the trade deadline a week from now," Paxson told ESPN's Nick Friedell. "You have to put yourself in the other team's position -- people don't just give up great players. So we obviously talk and keep our eyes and ears open, but to anticipate something's going to happen, I don't think that's likely to be honest with you."
Of course, Paxson could just be trying to not tip his hand -- with the Bulls' name having been one of the handful of teams repeatedly brought up in NBA trade rumors -- but Chicago finds itself in a very strange predicament whereby being just consistent enough in a terrible Eastern Conference has them continually straddling the line between irrelevant and one player away from truly competing.
If you are one who believes not moving forward is the same thing as moving backwards, then the Bulls may be putting themselves behind the eight ball by standing pat and choosing not to make any moves before the summer.
Let's assume for a second that Paxson is being less than truthful when he says the Bulls won't be a player at the trade deadline.
Who are the pieces Chicago would most likely have to dangle in the trade water?
Carlos Boozer: The Bulls' much-maligned power forward has really hurt his trade potential by being injured. Boozer has missed the last three games due to a nagging calf injury, and teams will undoubtedly be a little concerned about his ability to see regular action for the remainder of the season.
Taj Gibson has started to make Boozer's roster spot expandable, thanks to the 17.3 ppg and 8.2 rpg the 28-year-old is averaging for the month of February. Boozer will be amnestied this offseason, if he is still with the Bulls, but Paxson would be wise to look to move him now in an attempt to get whatever they can in return before his value is completely zero.
Kirk Hinrich: With the emergence of D.J. Augustin, Captain Kirk has been relegated to No. 2. Although Hinrich still routinely gets the starting nod, Augustine is the player maker at point. Hinrich has an expiring one-year, $4.05 million contract that could be appealing to contenders looking to add backcourt depth.
Mike Dunleavy: The Bulls' 6-9 hybrid could be the most easily movable chess piece at the deadline. His $3.1 million salary is not overvalued for a player who averages 11.0 ppg and can stroke the three as well as anyone in the league. Dunleavy has one more year left on his contract at $3.3 million, which also would not be a deterrent for contenders who want to add shooting.
Taj Gibson: Based on the way Gibson has come on of late, trading him now would be met with a healthy resistance from fans -- assuming he isn't part of some blockbuster trade that brings Carmelo Anthony to the Windy City.
In order to trade for him, teams would have to love Gibson as a long-term option, given the three years and $25.45 million still left on his contract after this season. Still, Gibson has started to give the Bulls a true low-post scoring threat that they have been lacking, so don't expect them to be too eager to move Gibson.
Even with a healthy Derrick Rose on the roster, as it is currently assembled, fans have to feel as though the team is still a player or two away from truly given the Miami Heat and Indiana Pacers a run for their money.
Taking into account the two first-round draft picks the Bulls would likely end up with at the end of this season, ESPN's salary cap expert Larry Coon foresees Chicago being around $11 million under the cap when the free agent signing period begins.
Carmelo Anthony: The problem with the Anthony-to-Chicago discussion is that fans are rarely realistic. Yes, the Bull would love to add Melo to this team, but to do so would likely mean clearing Gibson and Dunleavy from the payroll to clear enough cap space to give Anthony the $20 million per season he will demand.
Lance Stephenson: If Melo is too rich for Chicago's blood, perhaps swiping a player from the first-place Pacers would help shift the tides in the Eastern Conference. Stephenson is an emerging wing player in the league, as he is averaging a career-best 14.1 ppg, and a surprising 7.3 rbg, out of the shooting guard position this season. Teaming the 23-year-old with Rose could give the Bulls the best backcourt in basketball, and for a lot less money than it would take to sign Melo.
D.J. Augustin: The problem with head coach Tom Thibodeau being able to get the most out of his players is that they quickly become overvalued and unable to fit into Chicago's salary structure. Look no further than Nate Robinson and Marco Belinelli for confirmation. Augustin's $650,000 cap hit for this season will creep way north if the Bulls expect to re-sign him next season.
Nikola Mirotic: Fans have been hearing all about this secret international star the Bulls have squirreled away overseas, but will he finally be able to join Chicago this summer? If the Bulls sign Anthony then the answer would most likely be a salary cap-induced "No!"
How good would fans feel about the Bulls if re-signing Augustin and bringing over Mirotic was all the team was able to do this offseason? Those moves would be a far cry away from expectations, but could be the most likely scenario.
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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- Taj Gibson
- Carlos Boozer
- Mike Dunleavy