The 2011-12 Bulls: The case for standing pat (for now)

There are few stories more justifying-ly gush-worthy than Derrick Rose signing his 5-year maximum-contract extension. The MVP was as humble as always, the media followed suit in their fawning over it...a great time was had by all. One key newsworthy item was let out by Gar Forman during the press conference:

"Most players of Derrick's stature who are signing contracts, there are usually player options or early termination options within those, Derrick absolutely didn't want that. He wanted a full commitment from the Bulls. To us, that's really special. He stepped up to sign the maximum length."

That's excellent news, because as Forman notes: most max-level signings of recent years had early opt-outs, from James/Wade/Bosh causing the summer of 2010, to Chris Paul and Dwight Howard's impending 2012-13 opt-outs leading to much of the craziness of this offseason. From my recollection, only contender-to-the-imaginary-oxymoron-that-is-the-humility-throne Kevin Durant has done similar to what Rose has with his extension.

(and Gar, I'm not sure that's a commitment 'from' the Bulls as it is 'to' the Bulls, and don't get me started on your quote that you value Derrick's 'loyalty' the most. The most?)

Rose is now locked in for 5 seasons after this one, after which he'll be 29 years old. That's awesome, and the biggest news any franchise can have when they have a rare talent like the Bulls do. Because not having that makes championship contention almost a non-starter, and it's important to remember what it was like when that was the case.

But there is also something to be said for what John Hollinger remarked on after the Rip Hamilton signing last week:

this was an especially important signing for Chicago because it is built to win now. Yes, there is a lot of young talent, but other teams are going to start chipping away at it once all these guys become free agents; if the Bulls are a tax team, it's going to be hard to justify keeping Taj Gibson or Omer Asik in the face of an inflated offer sheet from another team.

Chicago will have four players making over $12 million dollars in 2013-14, the first year the league's draconian tax penalties kick in, and that's going to have an effect further down the roster. That's why the right approach is to try to get all the W's they can over the next two seasons and deal with the fallout later.

Two years to win? When the Bulls have just bought Rose's age 23-29 seasons? It's not that crazy (and PBP said this too) in the context of what this team is going to be in that time.

The Bulls role players are due for massive turnover after this season. At that time, Brewer, Watson and Korver (for $500k) will be on non-guaranteed deals. Rip Hamilton will be an expiring contract. Hollinger mentions the impending free agency of Taj and Asik, and figures it'll be a tough decisions even if they become a tax-paying team, and there's no real evidence to suggest that'll be the case.

With the Rip Hamilton move filling their hole at SG and also using their largest cap exception, this is the team's squad for now. And it may be all season, says the plugged-in KC Johnson:

especially with the addition of Hamilton in this year's free agent market, I see this Bulls team remaining as is for the duration of the season. I suppose injuries could change that. And I also think they will add a reserve big man at some point. But I don't see any major trades anymore this season using the expiring deals of C.J. Watson and Brewer and picks because they upgraded at shooting guard via free agency. Perhaps at next year's draft they look to do something, although they do have team options on Watson and Brewer for a third season. But Gar Forman has talked about chemistry and continuity and letting this group grow a bunch.

The choice has been made in this offseason, and it's that they're giving this particular group another shot at Miami, with Rip Hamilton as the only added ammunition. There's still an argument to be made whether he was the best possible one on that level that speculatively includes signing or Richardson, Crawford or making a modest trade for OJ Mayo or Rudy Fernandez. But the Bulls clearly weren't planning to parlay their assets into a high-priced overpaid SG like Andre Iguodala or Monta Ellis this offseason. And with their expected-to-be great regular season that includes so much chemistry they'll need an eye-washing station, like KC I highly doubt they're planning a trade-deadline move either.

This is bad news if you believe it will take a lot more than Rip to beat the Heat (who, ya know, may improve themselves), or that you always should take a major risk when someone like Dwight Howard is available (even if claims he won't re-sign). I may be somewhat in the camp of the former, and definitely in with the latter, but I also understand the Bulls more measured approach. Not only will a compressed 66-game season perhaps be the best chance for a depth-laden high-intensity team like this to gun for a title, but the fact is this roster may only have one real season left anyway, and so might as well give them this shot.

And if they don't get over that hump again, Rose's youth and new contract does give them a chance to re-load. But it won't be very easy. I wouldn't expect Noah and Deng to improve much from here (though I think they'll age adequately if healthy, Deng in particular already plays like he's 40), and Boozer may be already in decline. There is that magic-bullet that is the Amnesty Clause for Booz if he's looking like he's lost it, but that means the Bulls would be looking again for a low-post player as good as the idealized Boozer. I think it's a major risk to assume Taj Gibson can fill that role, or to project that Nikola Mirotic will be as good on an NBA court as he is in our dreams.

Istead, by the point of 2012 draft, the Bulls may have to make a drastic move to remain elite. They've done very well in ensuring that they'll have significant assets to potentially do so. Hopefully they get some luck in terms of who's available then. Because while I'm very excited for this season and giving this group another chance, some urgency may be required: Derrick Rose is young, but he's also a unique player in the minutes and usage load he's accumulating for a player of his size. It's very likely his prime years are over earlier than other historic NBA guards. A quick look at comparable players (and this likely-flawed idea deserves a longer and better post by itself, I admit) show peaks ending around 26 as opposed to 29. Rose is only 23, and is amazing enough to have a great peak in the first place, thus this is still a great 'problem' to have. But in contrast to the unbridled future presented with offering that contract, the Bulls don't actually have forever.

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