With the Eastern Conference Finals starting up this week between defending champions Miami Heat and Central Division champions Indiana Pacers, there’s a team that a few seasons ago was looked at as a true contender for the Eastern Conference crowd that is currently sitting at home like everyone else: the Chicago Bulls. Some believe that due to the ACL injury to Derrick Rose, the 2012-2013 season was a throw away. The scrappy Bulls led by defensive-minded head coach, Tom Thibodeau, proved many folks wrong by not only pushing for the Central Division title, but also by sending the supposedly more talented Brooklyn Nets home in a first-round playoff series. Unfortunately for the Bulls, their season came to an end at the hands of the Heat.
With the end result being much the same as the last few postseasons, the team and organization enters into the off-season with several question marks about the current roster that at the beginning of the season no one thought possible. Basically, the Bulls played above and beyond the stature of a .500 ball club that many projected, as players such as little big man Nate Robinson, Marco Belinelli and returning point guard captain Kirk Hinrich, adapted to the rigorous demands of coach Thibodeau.
GM Gar Forman and VP of Basketball Operations John Paxson reassembled a bench last offseason that many thought was sub-par in comparison to the Bench Mob of previous seasons. On paper, it didn’t appear that the Bulls were going to be in the playoff hunt, but as we all know, the 2012-2013 Bulls squad had the collective heart of a champion and as a result the team fought hard. Now Forman and Paxson must take some time, wade through the Bulls’ current salary cap issues and piece together a team that can not only challenge with, but possibly knock off, Eastern Conference heavyweights like the Miami Heat.
At this point it’s probably safe to assume that bench players Vladimir Radmanovic, Rip Hamilton, Daquan Cook and Malcolm Thomas won’t be back in Bulls uniforms for the 2013-2014 season, and also based on the way that both Robertson and Belinelli finished the season, the Bulls might be hard pressed to re-sign either players as both most likely work their way into multi-year contracts. The true question that remains, however, is what are the fates of Carlos Boozer and Luol Deng?
With two years and $32.1 million left on his contract and many Bulls fans calling for the club to amnesty the power forward, at this point it’s a 50/50 toss up as to Boozer’s ultimate fate. Nevertheless, based on his regular season and postseason production, not to mention the less than stellar 2012-13 free agent class, the Bulls’ best choice for the power forward is to keep him on the roster.
Now as for the team’s Swiss Army Knife, Deng, the emergence of second-year swing-man Jimmy Butler, the Sudanese All-Star may be on the trading block. That scenario may work for the organization, but the loss of Deng may be too much for the team to overcome, even in a somewhat watered down Eastern Conference. So with that in mind, if D. Rose is the Bulls’ superstar and Jokim Noah is the team’s heart then Deng is the glue. The best bet for Bulls management moving forward may be to package backup point guard Marquis Teague and the 20th pick in the first round for either a veteran big man or outside shooter.
At the end of the day, the Bulls have another couple of months to plot and plan the team’s makeup for the 2013-2014 season. If the last few seasons have been any indication then the Bulls will come up with the right players and formula to compete in the Eastern Conference.