It was the season that should have brought the NBA title back to Chicago for the first time since Michael Jordan. All season long, the playoff stories were being written for a good versus evil matchup between the Bulls and Miami Heat in the Eastern Conference Finals, but Bulls fans could do nothing but watch in horror as both Derrick Rose and Joakim Noah got hurt. The Bulls were eliminated from the playoffs far too soon and the Miami Heat won the NBA title. That feeling of helplessness has reared its ugly head again during free agency for the Bulls.
While other teams like the Lakers and the Heat are gaining big name players like Steve Nash and Ray Allen, respectively, the Bulls went out and brought Kirk Hinrich back to the team with a two-year deal worth $6 million. While Rose rehabs from knee surgery, Hinrich will take the reigns at point guard and will be a valuable compliment to Richard Hamilton in the three-point game. Unfortunately, that’s where the good news ends for the Bulls this off-season.
One of the reasons that the Bulls saw success last season even without Rose in the lineup was the play of the Bench Mob. Now, it would seem that the Bench Mob is breaking up.
The first big blow came when the Houston Rockets offered center Omer Asik $25.1 million over three years, including $14.9 million in the last year of that contract. The Bulls have the option of matching that offer, but it seems that Asik is on his way out of Chicago. If the Bulls did decide to match that deal, that would put the Bulls over the luxury tax for the first time in franchise history and would mean that the Bulls would have to pay the league for every dollar over the $70.3 million limit. While Asik was a great compliment to Taj Gibson defensively, he’s simply not worth keeping for that salary.
The best option for the Bulls would be to try and work out a sign-and-trade deal with the Rockets to make sure that the Bulls don’t see Asik walk without gaining anything in return. One option would be to pursue shooting guard Courtney Lee, who may be one of the better shooting guard options for the Bulls. Bleacher Report mentions a larger deal involving shipping Carlos Boozer, C.J. Watson and some draft picks in order to get Lee, shooting guard Kevin Martin and power forward Luis Scola. While this would clear up some cap space for the future, Boozer is too potent offensively to lose along with Asik’s defense.
Asik isn’t the only member of the Bench Mob that appears to be on his way out. With the signing of Hinrich, the Bulls will have $67.3 million committed to nine players on the roster, not including the trio of C.J. Watson, Ronnie Brewer and Kyle Korver. Picking up even just Watson’s contract, worth $3.2 million, would be enough to put the Bulls over the limit. The signing of Hinrich has also encouraged John Lucas III to start talking to other teams, including the Miami Heat. Most likely, all four of these players will be wearing different uniforms next year.
While there are a lot of personnel changes to the Bulls, this team is still a contender in the East. Despite the looming dispersal of the best bench in basketball, the Bulls still have a strong starting five in Noah, Boozer, Luol Deng, Hamilton and Hinrich that can keep the Bulls in the playoff race until Rose rehabs from his knee injury.
The Bulls were poised to win a championship last year and even if they had won it, they would still be in the same situation with the roster as they are now. The only difference is that the bitterness of these changes is heightened without the complimenting sweetness of championship glory. Now, it’s all about trying to find the new pieces that will help Rose and the Bulls get back on track to a championship.
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