A Strategy for Making the Bulls a Contender Next Year and Beyond
The loss of Derrick Rose for most of next season and the reality of the constrictive luxury tax has altered the course of the Bulls future. However instead of a dire situation the Bulls have a chance to create an even better team that can contend for years. Here is how…
The Chicago Bulls began the 2011/2012 season with a lot of optimism and the very real potential to go all the way to the NBA Finals … and for good reason. The Bulls were arguably the one of the best teams coming out of the east going toe-to-toe with the league’s elite, even without Derrick Rose – Chicago’s unquestionable franchise player. But as most Bulls fans have come to know all too well, injuries plagued the team like no other since the recent Portland Trail Blazers. As the season wore on, it seems as though the team slowly started to unravel as injuries mounted with the hope for a playoff push was still possible as they managed to claw their way to the best record in the league and the number one over all seed in the NBA playoffs. Then, in the first game of the playoffs, when Derrick Rose injured his knee and was out for the remainder of the season…it was clear to many that it was only a matter of time before the inevitable happened. The Bulls could not make it to the NBA Finals.
Soon after, the blame game started with criticism of Chicago Bulls coach Tom Thibodeau playing his team too much…Carlos Boozer “choking” in big games…Richard Hamilton not living up his expectations…and the point guards of the Bulls simply not being good enough to replace Derrick Rose. While some of these criticisms may or may not be true to some extent, obviously the loss of Rose is the primary reason the Bulls could not advance in the playoffs. But even moreso, the Bulls conservative approach to change and risk may be the very thing that prevents them from being contenders next year and beyond. With a more stringent luxury tax threshold because of the new collective bargaining agreement and the hard decisions that need to be made regarding existing players, the Chicago Bulls need to be smart and open to change in order to position themselves so that they can continue to field a team that is competitive as early as next season and going into the future. Here are some ideas:
- Trade Carlos Boozer, Ronnie Brewer and Kyle Korver to the Brooklyn Nets. The Nets organization should be intrigued by this opportunity since Brooklyn seeks to keep Deron Williams and one promising way to persuade him to stay may be to reunite him with his former Utah teammates who he has had success with in the past. The combination of Boozer and Williams made it to the 06/07 Western Conference Finals. This is likely a much better situation for Williams rather than going to a Dallas or Lakers team that already has a “leader” and is relatively much older than the proposed Brooklyn team if this trade is made. The Bulls should then orchestrate a sign and trade for Kris Humphries and Gerald Green to more favorable contract terms. The Bulls would lose a bit of offense at power forward, but would get better defense from that position. Likewise, the Bulls get more offense and lose some defense at the shooting guards and small forward at least in the short term. However this gives the Bulls solid two-way players in Green and Humphries.
- Trade Richard Hamilton for a draft pick. Getting at least a second round pick for Hamilton is better than nothing. If they trade him and they get a pick, they are ahead. They should also sign unrestricted combo guard Shannon Brown as a temporary starting and eventual back-up point guard. The reason for this move is that Brown’s style of play is similar to Derrick Rose and therefore the offensive sets would not be dramatically different whether Rose is in the game or not. While not as quick, Brown is bigger and arguably stronger than Rose and has the potential to be an effective playmaker which provides insurance against any future loss of Derrick Rose due to injury. It does not hurt that he is also from Chicago. The Bulls should definitely NOT resign John Lucas III or Brian Scalabrine. They are great people but cannot help the Chicago Bulls. The combined salary of Hamilton, Scalabrine and John Lucas III should be enough to get Shannon Brown who as indicated earlier plays similarly to Derrick Rose. He is a gamble because he has been primarily used as a shooting guard in his career, so it is unknown if he would be effective. There is nothing to suggest he could not be.
- The final trade that the Bulls should try is one that is difficult, perhaps requiring losing a first round pick. The Bulls should try to trade Luol Deng and CJ Watson for Rudy Gay. Because the salaries match almost perfectly, Memphis would get Luol Deng and CJ Watson and (as a bit of compensation for losing Deng perhaps for some time) a Bulls future first round pick. In this scenario the salary obligations for Memphis would be reduced in the long term and Memphis would only have to manage without Deng for two months.
- Sign Tom Thibodeau to a multi-year contract; lock up players such as Taj Gibson and Omer Asik for the long term; fill in the rest of the team with solid players on both sides of the ball that have good potential specifically at shooting guard with a player like restricted free agent Courtney Lee by offering him the full mid-level exception; add players who are unrestricted free agents such as Mickell Gladness at center and veteran Mike James at point guard as third string back up players; and finally draft a solid shooting guard like John Jenkins out of Vanderbuilt.
For comparison, the current Bulls team and their projected salaries are…
Derrick Rose - $15,506,632
Carlos Boozer - $15,000,000
Luol Deng - $13,365,000
Joakim Noah - $11,300,000
Richard Hamilton - $5,000,000
Kyle Korver - $5,000,000
Ronnie Brewer - $4,370,000
C.J. Watson - $3,200,000
Omer Asik - $2,321,875
Taj Gibson - $2,155,811
Jimmy Butler - $1,066,920
John Lucas III - $915,852
Brian Scalabrine - $854,389
The resulting proposed Bulls team and estimated salary would be…
Rudy Gay -$16,500,000
Derrick Rose -$15,506,632
Joakim Noah -$11,300,000
Kris Humphries -$7,500,000
Gerald Green -$5,000,000
Taj Gibson -$2,153,420
Courtney Lee -$5,000,000
Shannon Brown -$3,000,000
Omer Asik -$5,000,000
Jimmy Butler -$1,020,960
John Jenkins (Draft) -$925,100
Mike James -$885,120
Mickell Gladness -$762,195
The new Bulls team would be composed of almost all two way players who have solid ability at their position. The temporary loss of Derrick Rose would be mitigated by Shannon Brown - an athletic combo guard who has sparingly played point guard in the past and has an opportunity to lead a team and prove he can be an impact player. It would be a gamble putting Shannon Brown at point guard, but if successful may make losing Derrick Rose temporarily a minimal issue. The trades would also give the Bulls a second scorer/star (Rudy Gay) and solid starting players who can score in their own right at every position. If the Bulls were able to pull together this team it would also help the Bulls play more consistently.
WHY TAKE A RISK WITH SHANNON BROWN AT POINT?
The Bulls should sign Shannon Brown because he is a player that has an explosive offense and finishes strong at the rim and is bigger and stronger than most other point guards, unlike CJ Watson. But like Watson he is also a three point threat and is affordable. Shannon Brown came into the league as a shooting guard. He has only played point guard as a former backup for the Los Angeles Lakers in their non-traditional “triangle” which does not utilize the point guard position to run the offense. Therefore, Brown was never really been used as a traditional point guard. But with the Lakers, Brown contributed to two world championships, therefore has experience in that theater. Last season while playing for the Phoenix Suns, he played identical minutes to CJ Watson. Brown did slightly better in terms of production except for assists…BUT…keep in mind that Brown was not asked to play the point but rather played shooting guard and some small forward.
Brown has been criticized for his ball handling, the uncertainty of which creates a decent amount of risk for the Bulls. But Brown has proven to be very coachable and has already taken it upon himself to work on his ball handling. Unfortunately it is impossible to determine how much better he may or may not have become since he has not been used at the point in Phoenix. Plus there is ample reason to believe that issues regarding Browns ball handling skills are overstated. Shannon Brown averaged 1.1 turnovers in 23.7 minutes of play while with the Suns. Looking at shooting guards who played a comparable amount of minutes per game as Brown, there is no indication that Brown turns the ball over any more so than other top shooting guards that include:
- Manu Ginobili with 3 turnovers in 27.2 minutes per game
- O.J. Mayo with 1.9 turnovers in 26.8 minutes per game
- Jamal Crawford with 1.9 turnovers in 26.9 minutes per game
- Evan Turner with 1.6 turnovers in 26.4 minutes per game
- Avery Bradley with 1.2 turnovers in 21.4 minutes per game
However, as far as every other aspect of his game…everything suggests that Brown could be a very good point guard in the mold of a Russell Westbrook and if the Bulls could develop his game, it would not only solve the temporary issue of Derrick Rose being absent, but create other opportunities as well including a potential backup shooting guard and an offensive attack that maintains the kind of pressure on a defense that Rose produces - for when Rose is not in games. That would allow for Rose to not have to play an intense amount of minutes over the course of a season. It is a high risk and high reward gamble. However, the alternative is all risk and probably no reward. The top free agent point guard prospects – Goran Dragic, Andre Miller, Steve Nash, Jason Kidd, Jerrod Bayless and Ramone Sessions (and possibly Kyle Lowry who has suggested he should be traded) fall in at least one if not more of the following categories:
1) Will probably demand more money than the Bulls can afford;
2) Would be reticent to play backup to an eventually returning MVP point guard; and
3) Generally plays a traditional point guard style that does not pressure a defense with dribble penetration to open up scoring opportunities for the team.
The likelihood of landing any of these top options is small. Brown offers the Bulls a chance to have a significant contributor to the team who does not fall in any of those categories and comes with significant upside. It is also important to note that the same criticism of ball handling leveled against Brown is similar to that made against Jeremy Lin and Lin was asked to be a traditional point guard and there would be no need for Brown to perform at the level that Lin did in New York prior to his injury.
WHY THE BROOKLYN NETS WANT THIS TO HAPPEN!
Given the situation that the Nets find themselves in, this may be their best hope for retaining Deron Williams. After being unable to pick high in the draft and losing their rights to their first round pick altogether, the Nets are in a difficult position to improve in the thin free agent market. They are banking on Dwight Howard’s reported desire to go to Brooklyn and anchor a future contender. But there are no guarantees and Williams must make a decision prior to Howard being able to exercise a decision - in other words Orlando holds the cards since they don’t have to trade Howard right away. However, in the proposed scenario above, the Nets could offer Deron Williams and their other key unrestricted free agent Gerald Wallace (assuming he does not exercise his player option) exactly what they have requested without signing Howard in the short term; a team ready to compete right away with players Williams has familiarity (read chemistry) with - Boozer, Brewer and Korver. That group has already proven it would likely be successful with Williams and the addition of Gerald Wallace, Marshon Brooks and Brook Lopez virtually guarantees the team will be a playoff contender in a relatively weak Eastern Conference whether Howard eventually joins the Nets or not. Unfortunately for the Bulls it would also create a formidable new rival that will challenge them for the Eastern Conference title. In fact, the Nets starters would offensively be superior to this past Bulls team with Derrick Rose.
Proposed Nets Starting Line Up (Without Howard) 2012/21013
Deron Williams (Point Guard) – 21 PPG
Marshon Brooks (Shooting Guard) – 12.6 PPG
Carlos Boozer (Power Forward) – 15 PPG
Gerald Wallace (Small Forward) 13.8 PPG
Brook Lopez (Center) – 20.4 PPG
The starting Brooklyn Nets team would theoretically average 82.8 PPG which is more than last year’s Chicago Bulls…one of the league’s top teams record wise.
Previous Bulls Starting Line Up 2011/2012
Derrick Rose (Point Guard) -22 PPG
Richard Hamilton (Shooting Guard) -11.6 PPG
Carlos Boozer – (Power Forward) -15 PPG
Luol Deng – (Small Forward) -15.3 PPG
Joakhim Noah (Center)-10.2 PPG
Average 74.1 PPG
That does not even take into account that without the need to play a backup power forward large minutes - Boozer would more than likely play more minutes per game which means he would probably average MORE than 15 points per game. In addition, the Nets would be upgrading their three point sharp shooter Anthony Morrow to Kyle Korver. In Both FG% and 3PT% Korver is better than Morrow. The Nets would almost certainly be among the top four teams in the Eastern Conference. This would strengthen the hand of Howard and the Brooklyn Nets if Williams signed with the Nets…Howard could then demand the trade to Brooklyn or wait until his contract expires and simply leave at the end of the season and create arguably the most talented team in the NBA. Even in the unlikely event that the Nets failed to make the post season, the very next year, the salaries of Korver and Brewer would fall of the Net’s books freeing up space to pursue other talent. Again, given the history of Williams with Boozer, Korver, and Brewer, not making the playoffs would be HIGHLY unlikely.
If the Bulls trade Boozer, Korver and Brewer to the Nets as suggested, unrestricted free agent Kris Humphries and Gerald Green can then do a sign and trade with the Nets and become part of a trade package to the Chicago Bulls. Humphries could start at power forward and play alongside Taj Gibson and could also provide a less restrictive contract than Boozer currently has. Both Humphries and Gerald Green should be attracted to having longer termed contracts, with a contender, and in a large market. This situation will allow the Bulls in the long term to keep Taj Gibson.
WHY THE MEMPHIS GRIZZLIES WANT THIS TO HAPPEN!
The Memphis Grizzlies currently have two stars on the team in Rudy Gay and Zach Randolph (oddly their PERS are roughly identical). Zach Randoph however is the more proven of the two after he led the team to an upset playoff win over the best team in the Western Conference last year (record wise) the San Antonio Spurs without Rudy Gay. After the end of this past season, following a playoff exit, Zach Randolph reflected on the needs of the team in the following quote from the Memphis Daily:
"We definitely need somebody to open things so me and Marc can play, so teams can’t double," Randolph said. "We need a shooter. I hope they can keep O.J., but it’s a business. Somebody like Kyle Korver, shoot that 3-ball."
In considering the proposed trade…Luol Deng happens to be an excellent three point shooter shooting .367 last season compared to Gay’s .312. He is also the type of “scrappy” player that compliments the Memphis Grizzlies other “in the trench” players Marc Gasol and Zach Randolph.
The article went on to say….“There seems to be widespread consensus that the Grizzlies need a true 3-point shooter and a legitimate back-up point guard. Of course, that was the consensus at this time a year ago.”
In addition to Deng adding CJ Watson who happens to be a solid back-up point guard should more than fill the needs of Memphis. With rumors circulating that Rudy Gay may be on the block, a trade of Deng and CJ Watson for Gay is eerily ideal since the “money works beautifully.” A commitment of Deng ($13,365,000) and Watson ($3,200,000) would result in $16,565,000 owed to both players next season versus Rudy Gay ($16,460,538) a difference of only $104,462. If Gay is traded as proposed and Memphis can net CJ Watson and Luol Deng, the resulting Memphis team would have roughly the same scoring average, they would get a better perimeter defender in Deng than they have with Rudy Gay, a needed back-up point guard and a close if not equal replacement for Gay and both players provide excellent three point shooting as Zach Randolph has indicated the team needs and they would reduce their salary commitments by several million dollars over the next few years.
Rudy Gay is signed for four more years…Deng for two more years and if the Bulls pick up his option Watson one more year. Understandably Memphis may be hesitant given that Luol Deng may be gone the first two months of the season; however they may be further swayed if there is a “sweetener” in the mix such as a Bulls future first round pick. Memphis would fill most of its needs, reduce its long term obligations, and secure a future pick while spending only an additional $104,462 allowing them more flexibility to keep some of their other free agent options. Under these scenarios, it would seem very logical and perhaps probable that these trades could very well happen.
With the potential that the “luxury tax” threshold could increase after this upcoming season, it may become easier to maintain this team long term or at least pay the minimum of taxes. A combination of long term deals and back loaded contracts could help insure that the Bulls are able to attract all of these targeted players and to remain competitive in the long run. In addition, the success that the Bulls have enjoyed should also be attractive to these targeted players to want to come and play in Chicago. As demonstrated above, the projected cost is not out of line with the current exposure of the Bulls going into the next season. Pairing Rose and Gay would create a scoring threat not unlike Durant and Westbrook which has proven to be a successful tandem.
WHY THIS STRATEGY VERSUS OTHERS!
There have been and will be a lot of ideas regarding the different ways that the Bulls should approach next season, however this proposed scenario is unique in that it both solves existing issues and also retains the elements that made the Bulls a surprise top contender last year. The resulting proposed Bulls players maintain a team made up of individuals with high character and addresses all of the Bulls issues by giving them:
1) A second scoring option as well as very capable scorers at every position…
2) Fills weaknesses at shooting guard and power forward;
3) Reduces next year’ salary exposure to the luxury tax;
4) Eliminates defensive holes; and
5) Give them an affordable, potential backup point guard that is a legitimate scoring threat and Rose-like player.
In addition, it maintains their depth and also provides players that are more than able to fill in at multiple back court and wing positions which further guards against injury (Courtney Lee – Shooting Guard/Point Guard), (Gerald Green - Shooting Guard/Small Forward) and (Shannon Brown – Point Guard/Shooting Guard).
Other proposed scenarios in which Orlando somehow willingly trades Dwight Howard to a conference rival and he miraculously changes his mind and decides to come to the Bulls would require the team to compromise their depth; and still other scenarios in which Pau Gasol is traded for Carlos Boozer does nothing to make the Bulls able to add any significant scoring to a team struggling to do so. As proposed above the Chicago Bulls would have plenty of scoring weapons and coupled with head coach Tom Thibodeau’s defensive tutelage, would immediately contend for a championship.