After a summer spent arguing about what the Bulls should do to make their team relevant, I've come to the following conclusions/solutions. The plan involves scrapping the 2010 plan (to some degree), offering an unpopular player a contract extention, and trading a couple of older guys on nice contracts. I'm not married to any of these ideas, but I thought they were a good starting point for debate. Without further adieu....Step One: Resign Tyrus Thomas to a contract extension this summer.
I am not a big Tyrus fan, as some of you may know, but I appreciate what the guy brings to a team. At his best he is a game changer on defense who can get to the line, hit an open jumper, and run the floor like a gazelle. At his worst he is a jumpshooting maniac on offense, who doesn't go all out on D.
The Bulls plan seems to be wait out the year with Tyrus, see what type of value he has on the open market, and either trade him or do one of Chicago patented Death Grip negotiations. That is a mistake. If Tyrus actually has a breakout season this year, they are screwed. Why? Because there will be pressure to retain Tyrus, but in doing so, they won't have the cap flexibility to pursue anyone else. If Tyrus averages 14pts, 9reb, 2.5 blk, 1st than you are looking at having to pay him $10 million a year. Many, many players up their production in contract years. If Tyrus plays well, the Bulls could become a victim of his success.
The Bulls, if they are proactive, could probably sign Tyrus to a contract extension right now. I would advocate something like 4 years, $28 million. I'd be willing to go as high as $32 million, $8 mil a year for Tyrus. I think Tyrus will have value on the open market. There has been a surge in mobile 4's over the last couple years, and a guy like Tyrus has the potential to guard those players. Playing with a big 3 like Lebron or Carmelo, guys who rebound well for their position, could open up the floor for Tyrus to do other things. As so happens, the Bulls have 2 young, big 3's on the roster - JJ and Deng.
At $7-8 million a year Tyrus is still tradeable. I also think its easier to trade young players who are under contract, versus guys who will be looking for extentions with new teams. By offering Tyrus a contract now, it also gives the Bulls an idea of what Tyrus will want in the future, even if he is not signed this summer. Plus, the Bulls don't want to be in a position where they are bargaining with 2 guys who play similar positions at the same time - Noah/Tyrus. That didn't work out so well for them last time. Right now, the Bulls are taking the wrong approach to Tyrus. Offer the man some money, while you can still set the market and get a bargain.
I've been advocating moving Hinrich for a while, mostly in pursuit of the 2010 plan. But with the salary cap likely to drop next season, it may be too difficult for the Bulls to clear enough cap space. Therefore, perhaps there biggest trade chip is Salmons to a team looking to win now. The Suns have liked Salmons for awhile. He is better than Hill, Richardson and all their other perimeter players not named Nash. He fits in with Steve Nash, because he is a veteran player who will help the Suns win now.
As far as the other pieces - Tim Thomas had his most success in a Suns uniform. He fits in well there, as a stretch 4, and would prevent VDN from playing him here. James contract may be paid by insurance. The only person who may like that more than JR is Sarver. This trade allows the Suns some financial relief next season, gives them a quality player and 2 expiring contracts which helps grease the wheels so the Suns can acquire Tyson Chandler in a trade as has been rumored (the Suns are reluctant to make a deal for Chandler if they may have to pay Amar'e $17 mil next season).
I'm not completely convinced Amar'e will opt out next season. He is coming off an injury plagued season, doesn't have the best reputation in the NBA, and may be a victim of a dropping salary cap. I think teams with stars are going to be in great position to retain their players. Amar'e may have worn out his welcome Phoenix, but the guy is still a dominant inside scorer. Perhaps the best scoring PF in the NBA. His price to obtain via trade is likely far cheaper than any other player of that level. Toronto doesn't seem likely to trade Bosh, Cleveland isn't trading Lebron, and Miami is as likely to bring in a top free agent in 2010 as any team.
Step Three: Find a Big Center on the market
Usually I think this would be a tough proposition to fill. It just so happens, however, that 2 players - Pryzbilla and Marc Gasol (from Memphis) could be on the receiving end on some pretty sharp declines in playing time. If Utah doesn't match the Milsap contract, Portland will have Aldridge/Oden/Pryz/Milsap all vying for minutes at the 4 and 5. You don't bring in a guy like Milsap, at that salary to play 15 minutes a game. He will play, probably at least 30 a night. That forces Aldridge to play some center, because despite what people on Blazers Edge may believe, Aldridge cannot play the 3. If Oden can stay healthy for a good portion of the season, that means Pryzbilla could be looking at 10-15 minutes a night. I believe he could be had for Brad Miller's expiring contract (the Blazers still have to pay Roy and Aldridge) if all those highly likely scenarios take place.
Marc Gasol is in a slightly different situation. Gasol should be getting 35 minutes a night and ample shot attempts in Memphis. However, the Grizz just drafted Thabeet (or as he will soon be known, Thabust) and they have to get him minutes. I don't believe Gasol or Thabeet can play the 4 in today's NBA. They also have noted ball hog Zach Randolph who will be planting himself down low. Add in gunners Mayo and Gay, with the possibility of signing Iverson, and we might see the first time in NBA history a teammate steals the ball from another teammate.
I would prefer Pryzbilla, because the Bulls need the defense and rebounding, and believe that a trade of Miller for Pryzbilla / Webster could work for both teams. The Bulls get that mythical big shooting guard and a needed 3 pt shooter. With Amar'e, Miller's greatest strengths come a bit superfluous. He is a good outside shooter, but so is Amar'e. He has the slowest dribble drive in the NBA, Amare's slightly faster. The Blazers get some salary relief for next season, some insurance for if/when Oden gets injured, and free up more money for Roy and Aldridge.
A starting five of Noah-Amare-Deng-Hinrich and Rose is pretty formidable. You have 2 very strong offensive players (Amar'e/Rose), a legit 3rd option (Deng) and quality defenders (Noah-Deng-Hinrich) around weak defenders. Off the bench the Bulls would have Pryzbilla, Tyrus, Barbosa, James Johnson and Webster. Pryz is a strong defensive center, Johnson and Tyrus are 2 versatile forwards, Barbosa can score in bunches off the bench, and Webster has a chance to be a knockdown shooter, who could benefit from a host of open looks. Now, there is no way VDN could possibly manage a 10 man rotation. So he'd likely be fired, which would make everyone happy.
The Bulls roster would be -
Noah ($2.5 million) / Pryzbilla ($6.8 million) /Taj ($1 million)
Amar'e ($16.3 million) /Tyrus ($4.7million) /Johnson/Taj
Deng ($10.3 million) / Johnson ($1.6 million) / Webster
Hinrich ($9.5 million) / Barbosa ($6.6 million) / Webster ($4.3 million)
Rose ($5.1 million) / Hinrich
Big Sexy: Gray
Emergency Gunner: Pargo
This lineup is above the salary cap, but below the tax. The Bulls would have to resign Amar'e but having him on the team gives them the obvious inside track. With the salary cap dropping, I don't know how many big time free agents will be moving anyway. These moves also offers the Bulls some flexibility. The Bulls would have Hinrich, Barbosa, Tyrus, Pryzbilla as chips that they could use in a trade. I think the team above could win 50 games, and be poised to be contenders in the East for the next 3 to 4 years. As Rose, Noah and Tyrus improve, the Bulls would also improve. If the Bulls than hire a competent coach capable of managing players with egos (how about stealing Larry Brown from the Bobcats?)and you potentially have a dynamic lineup.