As mentioned by Sham when it was first announced that the Bulls were indeed getting a first round pick for James Johnson, this deal really is reminiscent of when the Bulls traded Thabo to the Thunder a couple deadlines ago. Drafted high, maybe not given the most chances but underperforming in those chances anyway, trade value seemingly plummeted, and the Bulls still manage to finagle a first-round pick in return.
Yes, it's a pick slotted for the Miami Heat, and therefore near the very end of the first round. But when it was first floating out in twitter-land that JJ was off to Toronto for picks, I wasn't even expecting their own 2nd rounder, as the Raptors already owed their 2011 2nd to Detroit anyway. Was more expecting the type of super-conditional pick that possibly wouldn't even vest.
Instead, while a late first rounder may not even be that much more valuable than a high second rounder (though the recent change to only guarantee 2 years in rookie deals mitigates some of that perception), I do believe it's of some importance that it sounds a lot more valuable. Between this pick, their own selections, and the conditional (2012 at the earliest) pick from the Bobcats, one can say "the Bulls own 4 first-round picks in the next two drafts" and not be incorrect. While I don't think teams are that blinded, perception does matter when selling being a seller, and it could sound better in a future Bulls trade package to include a 'future first', no matter how low it may be.
As for Jimmy Johns, oh well. As mentioned above, he's more Thabo than Tyrus, as the latter actually produced when given time, any plea for Johnson to get more minutes was seemingly on faith alone. When he couldn't even break the rotation to spot-rest Luol Deng it became clear that he didn't have the trust of Thibodeau and wasn't going to gain it. His value in a trade package to employ before Thursday afternoon was muddied by his option already being picked up for next season (and, of course: not being much of a prospect), and I think having that first-rounder and the cap space he occupied freed up will be more useful.
And yes, the Bulls have been under the cap all season and moreso now, as moving JJ's salary puts them ~$3m under, an amount they can use to absorb more salary than they send out. (For instance, Keith Bogans for OJ Mayo works straight-up now...) That and the added picks is big, because I don't think the Bulls want to give up many actual players, and maybe they shouldn't.
it's a real shame the deadline is so soon, considering the Bulls will just be getting their full frontcourt back the night before. Between getting back into 'basketball shape' (as the cliche goes) and re-acclimating with Carlos Boozer, it's not like Noah will be 100% immediately upon that return either. And there's the obvious impact on minutes and responsibilities and depth: Kurt Thomas will see fewer minutes, but will he be put behind Asik in the rotation? Will Luol Deng see some rest with reduced minutes at PF, or is that a lineup Thibs will go to regardless, especially when he's sick of seeing Boozer wave at the roll man on defense?
On the one hand, that is all frontcourt shuffling and the Bulls needs are clearly in the backcourt. The need for a bonafide starting SG, a second playmaker to go alongside Rose, a better backup PG option (I give CJ Watson a lot of leeway, but I'm not at the point of trusting him in the playoffs, either), ideally someone who could do a bit of all three. Maybe that is why I'm swooning a bit over Mayo to the point of willfully ignoring some red flags in both on and off-court fit: he can not only negate the Bogans experience but possibly shove CJ out of the rotation too, being the lead guard when Rose sits.
So the thoughts of improvement start and end in the backcourt, but Noah's return still matters in terms of the Bulls better figuring out what depth they possibly can give up, and now there clearly isn't enough time for the type of thorough on-court evaluation that would be preferred.
(it similarly would've been nice to see Korver or Brewer start and play more minutes at times to at least see how that looked)
Maybe it's for the best, though. This current frontcourt depth is a real asset, and shouldn't be viewed as a luxury as much as a necessity in the Eastern Conference playoffs. Even Kurt Thomas, if properly re-embalmed for preservation purposes, will likely make an impact on a playoff game. And there's no guarantee the Bulls could pull a (BigZ-esque) move where they assume that Thomas would re-sign with the team after being a trade salary throw-in.
So if the aforementioned big men depth is needed, their big-contract guys are ones they don't to move, and role-players on multi-year deals like Korver, Brewer, or Watson aren't usually desirable for a trade deadline seller, and the expiring deals are league minimum...there's not much to hope for besides targeting guys on their rookie contracts using the cap space and picks. Speculating on names like Mayo, Courtney Lee, and Wilson Chandler (and there's been actual rumors about the first two, meanwhile Marcus Thornton is off the imaginary list) is an exciting way to imagine our future starting 5, but while adding both cap room and picks for James Johnson was a great flip of a deteriorating asset, I'm not sure that it will be enough. Then the decision gets far tougher.