In the NBA, more often than not, franchises are prepared for nearly every possible scenario with contingency upon contingency plan.
The Chicago Bulls, in particular, have had nearly every negative scenario fly in their direction for the last two years. Superstar Derrick Rose has missed all but 10 games in nearly two years, a bloated salary cap forced the team’s hand to trade Luol Deng and has limited any moves to bolster a thin bench ranking 27th in the league in scoring, and they even faced rumors that head coach Tom Thibodeau wanted a change of venue.
Yet the Bulls remain highly competitive with a 27-25 record, good enough for fourth in the Eastern Conference this season, and enjoy one of the more unique even enviable positions of any team in the league.
Options abound for the Bulls, and much of them start with Rose. Should the 25-year-old former MVP return to the lineup in the second half of the season, then Chicago could go back to its original plan of building around the explosive 2008 No. 1 overall pick that once stood as the biggest hurdle between two-time defending champion Miami and the Finals.
How well Rose has recovered from the torn meniscus he suffered just 10 games into his return from a torn ACL will not only change Chicago’s chances come playoff time, but possibly the perception of future free agents or several players available in trades who are eager to win titles now.
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With the trade of Deng earlier this season, the Bulls have already cleared enough cap space to team Rose up with LeBron James or Carmelo Anthony should either opt-out of their current deals this summer. However any such signing would hinge on Rose’s health and his ability to return to the player that nearly led Chicago to the Finals back in 2011.
If Rose doesn’t come back, and at this point it’s too soon to tell considering he is traveling with the team and participating in private shooting drills before games, then Chicago could look to shore up more cap space by using the amnesty clause on forward Carlos Boozer.
Boozer’s contract off the books means Chicago can sign a LeBron or Anthony, and have enough space to bring in more top talent as insurance for Rose.
As of now, according to the Chicago Sun-Times, the Bulls are standing pat as Thursday’s trade deadline approaches. However that doesn’t completely take Chicago out of the trade landscape.
Since the Deng trade, the three assets that have been most tied to moves are veterans Kirk Hinrich and Mike Dunleavy, as well as emerging starter Taj Gibson.
Hinrich is the player that’s generated the most interest on the trade market, with the Golden State Warriors as the top buyer, according to SI.com. His expiring $4 million contract and proven ability to lead a first or second unit make Hinrich one of the most attractive pieces available, however SI’s report says Chicago is afraid of further angering Thibodeau by again moving one of his best players.
While he didn’t come right out and say it, Thibodeau was allegedly unhappy with the Deng trade even though it got the Bulls under the salary cap this season and next.
The versatile Dunleavy has reportedly been a target of the Houston Rockets, but according to USA Today the Bulls aren’t interested in parting ways. Dunleavy is currently averaging 11.1 points and 3.9 rebounds per game while shooting 38 percent from three this season.
Then there’s Gibson, who was reportedly a target of the struggling Los Angeles Lakers earlier this year. Perhaps no other player has benefitted more from the Deng trade than Gibson. The 28-year-old has averaged more than 30 minutes per game the last two months, and has played especially well starting ahead of Boozer. In the last seven games Gibson is averaging 17.1 points and 7.9 rebounds and is shooting 46 percent from the floor.
However Gibson is currently locked in to a rather cheap contract for the Bulls, netting about $25 million over the next three years. A package of draft picks and a solid big man with a reasonable contract is the only likely deal good enough to pry Gibson from the Bulls.