Offseason In Review: Chicago Bulls

Hoops Rumors is in the process of looking back at each team’s offseason, from the end of the playoffs in June right up until opening night. Trades, free agent signings, draft picks, contract extensions, option decisions, camp invitees, and more will be covered, as we examine the moves each franchise made over the last several months.

Signings

Extensions

  • None

Trades

  • Acquired 2014 pick No. 11 and Anthony Randolph from the Nuggets in exchange for 2014 pick No. 16, 2014 pick No. 19, and the less favorable of Chicago’s and Portland’s 2015 second-round picks.
  • Acquired the rights to Milovan Rakovic from the Magic in exchange for Anthony Randolph, the more favorable of Chicago’s and Portland’s 2015 second-round picks, the more favorable of Chicago’s and Portland’s 2016 second-round picks, and cash.
  • Acquired the rights to Tadija Dragicevic from the Mavericks in exchange for Greg Smith.

Waiver Claims

  • None

Draft Picks

Camp Invitees

Departing Players

Rookie Contract Option Decisions

The Bulls didn’t end up with Carmelo Anthony or Kevin Love this year, but they nonetheless made their most significant upgrades since Derrick Rose‘s MVP season in 2010/11. The past calendar year has featured upheaval in Chicago, starting with the January trade of Luol Deng, and the Bulls gave every indication that more changes were on the way heading into the summer. Their pursuit of Anthony was always fraught with pitfalls, thanks mostly to the salary cap chicanery that GM Gar Forman and executive VP of basketball operations John Paxson would have had to pull off to give him a contract anywhere near the max. It was Plan A, to be sure, but Forman and Paxson weren’t without intriguing alternatives that extended beyond what for the most part appeared to be a long shot bid to trade for Love.

NBA: Chicago Bulls at New York KnicksTo affect any of the major changes they sought, the Bulls had to unload Carlos Boozer‘s unwieldy $16.8MM salary. They held the amnesty provision in their quiver, but waiving him meant still having to pay him, even if he would vanish from the team’s cap figure. So, the Bulls sought to trade the power forward who’d never quite lived up to having been the team’s marquee signing from 2010, the last time Chicago made such sweeping changes.

Forman and Paxson kept the notion of a Boozer trade alive even as they neared a deal with Pau Gasol for more than they would have been able to pay if they had kept Boozer and remained over the salary cap. The Bulls had talks with the Lakers about turning the Gasol acquisition into a sign-and-trade that would have allowed Chicago to cobble together matching salaries to send out. Chicago also wound up giving Nikola Mirotic a deal with a starting salary at precisely the amount of the mid-level exception, the most the team could have paid him while remaining over the cap. Ultimately, no palatable trade for Boozer came about, forcing the Bulls to amnesty him. Chicago moved on from the idea of a sign-and-trade for Gasol and simply inked him outright into the cap space that the amnesty had created, using the rest of the cap room on Mirotic and a long-term deal for second-round pick Cameron Bairstow. Still, the Bulls caught a break when the Lakers claimed Boozer off waivers, defraying a $3.251MM portion of the cost of Boozer’s salary.

Gasol gives the Bulls a gifted passer and a player whose game is more multidimensional than Boozer’s, and coach Tom Thibodeau has already taken advantage of the opportunity to pair Gasol with center Joakim Noah in a twin-towers starting lineup. The Spanish center is an odd fit to a degree because of Taj Gibson, whose game continued to grow last season. Still, Gibson is seeing even more minutes per game this year than he did last year, though the maladies that have kept Noah and Gasol out of a few games have no doubt contributed to that. Mirotic plays power forward, too, so the Bulls wouldn’t have been in a bind without either Boozer or Gasol. Still, given the team’s title aspirations, a proven and still capable veteran with two championship rings trumps the intrigue of a rookie, even if that rookie was perhaps the best player who wasn’t in the NBA last season.

Mirotic has nonetheless seen 12.1 minutes per game so far this year, about the same amount of playing time that Thibodeau has given to small forward Doug McDermott, the 11th overall pick in this year’s draft. The Bulls saw fit to consolidate their pair of later first-round picks to move up for McDermott, even if it meant absorbing the guaranteed salary of Anthony Randolph to do so. Randolph complicated Chicago’s pursuit of cap flexibility until the Bulls attached him to a pair of second-round draft picks and cash in a trade that sent him to Orlando. That move, combined with the acquisition of McDermott, meant the Bulls had turned two first-rounders and two second-rounders into a single first-rounder, but the first-rounder the Bulls wound up with was the only lottery pick in the bunch. There are plenty of doubts about McDermott’s ability to translate his high-scoring college game to the NBA, particularly given Thibodeau’s defense-first approach, but contenders like Chicago rarely have a chance to add a player of his talent through the draft. It’s a risk worth taking, and it demonstrates that Forman and Paxson are thinking of the long-term future even as they try to win the title this year.

Still, the Bulls held the line with Jimmy Butler, reportedly offering him somewhat more than $11MM a year in extension proposals that the swingman turned down. The former 30th overall pick is off to a roaring start this season, averaging 21.3 points per game and answering the questions that surrounded his offensive capabilities, which had seemed to lag behind his defense. The Bulls may end up having to shell out much more than $11MM a year if Butler can keep it up, but the Happy Walters client has pledged to remain with the Bulls, and Forman and Paxson would no doubt be willing to pay a premium for a budding two-way star.

Key to preserving success in the near term and the long term is loyalty, and Kirk Hinrich showed his affection for the Bulls organization when he reportedly turned down better offers to accept the room exception from Chicago. The 33-year-old had spent nine of his 11 years in the NBA as a Bull, averaging as many as 16.6 PPG during the 2006/07 season. That scoring average was nearly cut in half two years later, and he’s spent most of his time since as an afterthought on offense. The former Kansas standout is never going to be an elite scoring force, but he might have had a much more significant role than the one he’s played in Chicago if he had signed with either the Hornets or the Jazz, the pair of teams that apparently challenged the Bulls for his services. Neither of those clubs would have given him his best chance at his first championship, however. Given the eternal questions surrounding Rose’s health, Hinrich’s ability to both fill in for the former MVP when necessary and play alongside him when not makes Hinrich more valuable to Chicago than his salary or his statistics reflect.

Yet the Bulls aren’t going to win the title if Hinrich, or fellow offseason signee Aaron Brooks, ends up starting at point guard. The Bulls rise and fall with Rose, and short of the acquisition of a star like ‘Melo or Love, that’s not going to change. Forman and Paxson did their best this summer to keep the Bulls in the title hunt this season and for years to come, but they remain beholden to the knees of the team’s former No. 1 overall pick.

Photo courtesy of USA Today Sports Images. The Basketball Insiders salary pages were used in the creation of this post.

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