COMMENTARY | When the Chicago Bulls traded Luol Deng earlier this season, speculation suggested Chicago would look to tank the rest of its lost 2013-2014 year and focus on securing the best possible position in the 2014 NBA draft.
But it seems no one told the players.
Led by imposing defender Joakim Noah, the Bulls have clawed their way back into the thick of the Eastern Conference playoff picture -- which some actually consider to be a bad thing.
As a middle-of-the-pack team in a dismal Eastern Conference, the Bulls have given up their draft position without having a legitimate chance to contend with the Miami Heat or Indiana Pacers in the postseason.
Even with the injured Derrick Rose sitting in street clothes at the end of the bench, Chicago has an opportunity to make itself viable title contenders this season, but it will require it to aggressively hit the trade market before the Feb. 20 trade deadline.
Forget trying to cut enough payroll to sign Carmelo Anthony this summer -- who will likely choose to stay with the New York Knicks anyway. The Bulls can put themselves right back into the title fight this season by trading with the Minnesota Timberwolves for their All-Star power forward, Kevin Love.
The Wolves are in a tough spot whereby they only have contractual control over Love for one more season. Conventional wisdom suggests Love would opt out of the final year of his contract and test the free-agent market before the 2015-2016 season.
"They should trade him," one Eastern Conference executive told CBS Sports. "No one thinks he's staying."
Instead of holding on to him and getting nothing in return, Minnesota could move him to the Bulls in a classic win-win scenario.
The Bulls are all but certain to use their amnesty clause and cut ties with Carlos Boozer at the end of this season, but why just get rid of him for nothing when he could still have trade value right now?
With comparable contracts for next season ($15.7 to $16.8 million), a Love-for-Boozer swap would not leave either team in a precarious financial situation, but the additional assets the Wolves would get would allow them to rebuild for the future much quicker than starting from scratch.
Boozer is nowhere near the player Love is, so Chicago will have to make this trade worthwhile for Minnesota. On top of their own first-round draft pick this season, the Bulls will likely control the Charlotte Bobcats' first-rounder this season, as well as a future first-round selection from the Sacramento Kings.
Boozer and two first-round picks would have to make the Wolves at least consider moving Love early.
If the draft picks weren't enough to entice Minnesota to action, the Bulls also have a very valuable international property in Nikola Mirotic that would fit nicely alongside Ricky Rubio.
Rubio has faced Mirotic a lot in international competition. The Minnesota point guard said of Mirotic, "He's a tall guy who can shoot the ball very well. Smart-playing and a scorer."
While the Bulls are very high on their 6-10 sharp shooter, no one knows how his game will translate to the NBA. He could turn out to be Dirk Nowitzki, or he may flounder and become the next Darko Milicic. An opportunity to sign Love may be worth the gamble of losing whatever type of player Mirotic may turn out to be.
Bulls' Outlook With Love
With Love playing next to Joakim Noah, the Bulls would have the undisputed best frontline in all of basketball. Love is averaging 25 points and 13 rebounds per game this season, with a league-leading 38 double-doubles.
As the Miami Heat have shown, they can be very vulnerable to powerful inside play. The Bulls have a solid defensive front court with Noah and Taj Gibson, but they still lack that true go-to post scorer who can hurt the Heat in the paint.
The trade-a-poolza does not have to stop with Love. The Bulls are also rumored to be interested in swapping veteran point guard Kirk Hinrich for the Golden State Warriors' sophomore small forward Harrison Barnes.
Barnes was a highly touted college player coming out of North Carolina, but the addition of Andre Iguodala has slashed Barnes' minutes and made him the likely player moved in an attempt to fill the Warriors' needed backup point-guard position behind Stephen Curry.
Barnes is averaging just over 10 points per game this year, after exploding onto the scene as a rookie when he averaged 16.1 points per game for Golden State in the playoffs last season.
The ceiling is very high on Barnes, and, if Golden State would seriously consider moving him for Hinrich, the Bulls would be crazy not to pull that trigger.
New Chicago Roster
With the additions of Love and Harrison, the Bulls would have one of the most complete rosters in all of the NBA. Their new starting lineup would be Noah at center, Love at power forward, Barnes at small forward, Jimmy Butler at shooting guard and D.J. Augustin at point guard.
Their bench would also get a boost as Gibson and Mike Dunleavy could move into a backup role to give Chicago a spark off of the bench. While the Heat and Pacers would still have to be the favorites in the East, these moves would make Chicago a legitimate threat to play for a title this season.
Even if the Bulls were to lose Love to free agency in 2016, they would have one year to see what the Love-Rose-Noah Big Three could do. If successful, Love may find Chicago an attractive place to play in the future, or, at the very least, choose not to opt out of the final year of his deal and give Chicago a second full season.
But if Love were to walk, the Bulls would peel $15.7 million off of their salary cap and immediately be able to target other free agents, such as LaMarcus Aldridge, Roy Hibbert, Iman Shumpert, Klay Thompson or Paul Millsap, all while having a bevy of draft picks still in their pocket.
Dealing for Love right now is less risky than having Chicago puts all of its eggs into the Carmelo Anthony basket. If the Bulls really do want to try and contend this season, Kevin Love is one way to make it happen.
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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- Joakim Noah
- Chicago Bulls
- Carlos Boozer