This summer, the Chicago Bulls were one of several teams to miss out on the LeBron James sweepstakes when James decided to take his talents to South Beach and join fellow free-agent Chris Bosh on the Miami Heat with incumbent star Dwyane Wade. Chicago didn't go into the season empty-handed though, signing power forward Carlos Boozer to give the team their first true post-presence since Elton Brand, as well as fellow former-Jazz players Kyle Korver and Ronnie Brewer to bolster the Bulls' talented young core of Luol Deng, Joakim Noah and star-in-training Derrick Rose.
The season was marred early by a shaky start as well as a hand injury to Boozer, but following his return, the Bulls began a rapid rise up the Eastern Conference rankings where, if the playoffs were to start today, the team has the third seed. What's most surprising about the team's play has been the fact they have been getting it done without center Joakim Noah, the injured fan favorite whose defensive skills and energetic style of play have many calling him the team's second most important player. A little over a month since Noah underwent surgery to repair a torn ulna collateral ligament in his right thumb, the team hasn't missed a beat, though their style of play has often left much to be desired.
Now, after defeating the Dallas Mavericks and sweeping the season series with that team for the first time since the Jordan years, the team is 29-14 and stands at a cross-roads. Do they stand pat as a team that sometimes struggles to score and await the return of Noah, or do they go all-in and attempt to swing a trade for another star such as disgruntled Denver Nuggets small forward Carmelo Anthony?
Going off what's been reported, it's likely that the team will do the former. In order to bring in Anthony, the team would likely have to part ways with Noah, something they balked at doing in October when both teams had preliminary discussions about a potential trade. Furthermore, as the season has progressed, and Derrick Rose has elevated his level of play, the team's need for another star has decreased. Rose has shown such improvement this year that he is being touted as both a potential MVP and Most Improved Player candidate. Were the team to bring in a player like Anthony (i.e., one who needs the ball in his hands to be effective), they would be limiting Rose's ability to facilitate the team's offense and take over games when necessary.
Seeing as how the Bulls have gone most of the season with either Boozer or Noah missing action, the team stands to show even more improvement following Noah's return after the All-Star Break, especially considering their defense, already one of the league's best, will likely be even stronger.
The Bulls didn't accomplish everything they wanted to during the off-season, but by losing out on LeBron James and Dwyane Wade, the team was forced to build a stronger, more well-rounded team, and ultimately ended up in the same place: near the top of the Eastern Conference, poised to make waves come playoff time.