Going into the 2014 NBA free-agency period, it seemed to be Carmelo Anthony or bust for the Chicago Bulls. I certainly bought into that, as I’ve been saying for the past six months that he’s exactly what the Bulls are missing from becoming the best team in the Association.
As we all know, Melo opted to re-sign with the New York Knicks, and at the time of his decision, Chicago had yet to make any moves in free agency.
However, that has all changed in the matter of only a couple days. First, the Bulls reached an agreement with big man Pau Gasol. I wasn’t too pleased with settling for the seven-footer after missing out on Anthony, but with the news breaking today that Nikola Mirotic is officially coming over from Spain, it appears the Bulls will have the best frontcourt in the NBA, and by a large margin.
The rotation of Joakim Noah, Taj Gibson, Gasol and Mirotic is one that essentially consists of four starting-caliber players (this assuming the hype surrounding Mirotic is proven this season), two of which being All-Stars. They even have Anthony Randolph sitting as a fifth big reserve. While that bit isn’t overly impressive, you could do much worse.
Of course, my biggest issue was still the wing positions. They may have a truly dominant group of bigs, but you have to be able to guard the best twos and threes in the league to come out on top, and obviously spread the floor with outside shooting to open up those lanes.
Unfortunately, other than Jimmy Butler and Mike Dunleavy, this group is largely unproven. I’m not a huge fan of the trade for rookie Doug McDermott, but perhaps his game can translate to a Kyle Korver-type role. If he can play 15 minutes off the bench and knockdown open threes in his first season, he’ll have ended up being a good acquisition. Then there’s Tony Snell. The second-year man was decent last year, but if he can take the next step and provide outside scoring consistently in a similar capacity to what’s expected of McDermott, the Bulls will have two solid shooters off the bench to play the two or three spots.
Between those four, Butler is the only one who should be starting, but the other three certainly appear to be serviceable players who should be able to provide necessary offense in a rotation.
So at shooting guard, small forward, power forward and center, there’s certainly quite a bit depth with eight more than capable players.
Now this team being championship contenders — you know, actual contenders and not just favorites in a weak Eastern Conference — is all contingent on the health of Derrick Rose. If he’s healthy, this is probably the most dynamic roster in the league. They need him and his superstar status to be there all year. This couldn’t be any more obvious, I understand that. But even though it’s just a broken-record message, it has to be said.
The once-beloved messiah of Chicago basketball is the key to an NBA title next year. Without him, this team will be lucky to make it past the second round of the playoffs just like last season, even though they’re improved in other areas.
But the point-guard position, while healthy, will be excellent this year between Rose and the re-signed (today) Kirk Hinrich.
So while they didn’t land the superstar in Melo, by bringing in McDermott, Gasol and Mirotic, not to mention getting Rose and Hinrich back, the roster has actually filled out quite nicely. They have a solid 10-player rotation to utilize this season with numerous different lineups to play with and a mix of experience levels.
The defense should still be top-five in the NBA due to the presence of coach Tom Thibodeau, Noah, Gibson, Hinrich and Butler, but the offense should gain a major boost with Rose, Gasol, McDermott and Mirotic. They’ll also be able to dominate the boards with their size.
Overall, if the 2014-15 version of the Bulls can stay healthy, they might have the best all-around roster in the Association. If what looks so great on paper holds true on the court next winter, the Bulls will definitely be real title contenders.