Mike DiNovo-US PRESSWIRE
As SBNation's hoops blogs all look to see what their teams can do this trade deadline, the Bulls present a confusing case.
It's another 'theme' day across the network, specifically NBA Trade Season Day. Throughout SBNBA, blogs are posting what the teams they cover may or may not hope to accomplish as the NBA's trade season heats up.
Are the Bulls a buyer, seller or both?
Does anybody really know? This was a question in the offseason, too, and it wasn't fully answered given the moves they made. In the suggested 'water treading' edict in response to Rose's injury, the Bulls didn't try to improve the team, yet also didn't try to maximize their assets and flexibility for the future. They basically looked to stay competitive yet not spend too much (both this year and on their 2014 books) to do so.
And competitive they are, with (surprisingly, to me) now a top-4 seed in the conference and a seemingly solid path to winning the division. But does that mean the Bulls are now going to try and improve their chances this season? I'm not sure if doing so means hurting other goals: 1)reducing/eliminating their luxury tax bill 2)keeping salary low for 2014 when Deng's a free agent and Boozer is likely amnestied 3)making sure Kirk Hinrich can still comfortably commute to his house in the area
If buyer, what are the needs?
If the Bulls were in the win-now mode of 2010-12, they still need a second shot-creator to pair with Derrick Rose in the backcourt. Even with Rose and everyone else at the peak of their powers, the Bulls still run into trouble late in playoff games (though fairly exclusively against Miami) when Rose is trapped and there's no real plan B.
To have a more practical and lower-reaching goal for this season, some depth in the frontcourt is still needed. The Bulls let Omer Asik walk in the offseason and Nazr Mohammed hasn't proven he's still NBA-caliber, and so they've relied on 3 bigs all season with Joakim Noah playing the most minutes as a Center in the past 15 years.
A major issue for the Bulls 'buying' is that they are hard-capped this entire season, and at their current payroll they can't take back more than around $800k in salary than they give out.
If seller, what are the objectives in potential moves? what players are available?
In a coincidentally timely report, KC Johnson laid out what Bulls fans have feared: getting under the tax this season is a goal of this team. And the possibility that they'd waive Nate Robinson's partially-guaranteed contract or give away Rip Hamilton (or worse: use an asset to pay a team to take him) would indicate that it could potentially be a purely financial move. As the crafty Mark Deeks suggests, there are also ways the Bulls can pay in cash for other teams to take some players (and thus cap hits) for them that would benefit both franchises.
The Bulls will probably look for such moves, though hopefully in a way that they can actually get something in return. Unfortunately, Rip Hamilton is currently hurt so that limits many of their options.
The team will be in the same luxury-tax situation next year, so it'd make sense to find a team to take Kirk Hinrich's $4m for that year, but it doesn't seem likely that another team would bite and also presupposes the Bulls would actually trade away the Org.'s favorite son just months after his triumphant (?) return.
There's also the dream of dealing Carlos Boozer, but his $16.8m salary in 2014-15 makes him pretty much untradeable unless the Bulls are taking back an even longer contract. To the Bulls, Boozer's deal isn't quite as terrible because he can be amnestied, which any team receiving him wouldn't have the ability to do.
What are top trade ideas?
It's a tough to come up with concrete ideas (though I look forward to reading suggestions) since we don't really know what the Bulls goals are. Are they still looking for a big move to help them? That could mean using some of their good assets (recent draftees and future picks) to get an upgrade at SG.
Is it 'water-treading' instead? How important is it to not pay the luxury tax this season? Will they wait until they're not hard-capped so they have more 'flexibility' (which they ironically completely boned this past offseason)?
Is the 2014 plan (clearing salary and not really being in a position to get free agents and failing to land any regardless) real? If so, keeping Boozer for amnesty may be paramount, and they couldn't take back any long-term money elsewhere in a trade either.
Though even trying to think purely financially doesn't completely work, since (as stated above) that would suggest it makes sense to deal Kirk Hinrich which they very likely won't do.
So it'll probably something very subtle and uninspiring. Sort of like the 2009 trade deadline, where the Bulls swapped around some players/contracts that neither helped nor hurt much for that season, yet positioned themselves slightly better for 2010 free agency. They did get a team to give them a draft pick (in the Tyrus Thomas deal), and eventually had enough cap space...to sign Carlos Boozer.