Derrick Rose injury: roster rebuild potentially accelerated

Jonathan Daniel

Derrick Rose's season-ending injury really hasn't sunk in yet. As much as looking at trades and other roster movement can be fun, it's not when it's because of something like this. The 2013-14 season was meant to be a last shot for this roster to win a title, and it was ruined a mere dozen games in. It sucks.

Here's hoping that the decision to sit Rose out was medically-informed and not just another overuse of 'patience', with the bright side of such a "season is over" announcement is at least we know now. It means that Bulls management knows as well, and can get a head start on some roster turnover that they were likely doing as part of the 2014 plan anyway. Remember that? A time when the Bulls maybe could acquire another star? That was never really truthful (nor did many believe it...we're all getting better at this) and now that's really changed: it may be more about getting that one star, or just keeping the roster cheaper and younger for the next few seasons.

Gar Forman spoke to Sam Smith of Bulls.com (what a get! how did they arrange that?) and besides prefacing a lot of his statements with "look,...", he didn't say much. If anything, Forman erred towards the mindset of staying the course and keeping the team as Rose-centric in the years to come. Definitely didn't commit  to any particular player being moved nor even a general direction for the team.

So we'll try and do it for him!

Derrick Rose

Since someone always askz: Rose literally cannot be amnestied. His contract kicked in after the new CBA (and thus why there's a 'Derrick Rose rule' as a part of it). He's not going to retire and give the Bulls their money back. The Bulls received some MVP-level production on the cheap so it's hard to feel too sorry about it, but going forward the contract may be a bit of an albatross. That said, they wouldn't trade him, let alone now, so don't worry about it.

I don't think the Bulls can rely on him as the #1 guy going forward. I suppose that's a larger point to be made sometime else, because it's not like they won't be looking to add talent regardless of that context.

Luol Deng

I love Luol Deng and hope one day his number is retired here. I don't begrudge him in the least for wanting his fair market value (i.e., whatever one crazy team -that's all it takes- will pay him) when he enters free agency this summer, nor sneering at the Bulls attempts to lock him in early with a hometown discount.  There's still hope of an extension, and a report just out today has sources indicating both sides may agree long-term. But the general sense has been that combining those salary/years demands and the existence of a cheaper in-house replacement in Jimmy Butler, Deng was likely not going to be re-signed after this year regardless. For a championship drive it was suitable to let that potentially play out with the Bulls losing him for nothing.

Now it's not OK: if he's going to walk, he should be dealt this year. There's the possibility of a sign/trade netting something in the offseason but that usually gets less return.

Deng doesn't have the highest trade value due to his FA desires and the Bulls reticence to acquire a long-term deal. I would doubt a lottery pick could be had for him, but perhaps (along with expiring filler) a late first rounder or someone on a rookie contract is possible.

It's possible even that is too much to ask. The Jazz just last year kept both Paul Milsap and Al Jefferson all year because they couldn't get expirings+picks for them. The Bulls shouldn't completely close themselves off of 2014 money if it's reasonable, and if they do...Deng may just play out the string as a Bull.  The tough choice then is do you trade him even what you receive doesn't help long-term, just makes your short-term team worse? That's dangerous and a bit too tank-y for my tastes, hopefully he has more value than that.

(there will be a lot of 'how to trade Deng' scenarios to go over this year, and there are already plenty in the FanPosts)

Tom Thibodeau

Thibs is under contract for 2 more seasons after this, but this Rose injury could explode the powder keg between him and the front office, especially if they trade Deng.

I think Thibs is a great coach, and only slightly insane, and thus would be fine with his team's aspirations being set back a bit with an increased focus on developing players. I don't think he'll want to be told not to win (ludicrous), or  to force-feed minutes to guys who cannot play, nor will he really like seeing his favorites depart. I think this is especially true given his frosty relationship with the guy making those decisions, so the Org. should tread lightly. Gar Forman may think he's the next Gregg Popovich, but...oh man, let's just hope he doesn't actually think that and leave it there.

If things go haywire between Gar and Thibs, this offseason could get interesting. Doc Rivers left the Celtics for the Clippers to avoid a rebuilding situation and Boston received a first-round pick as compensation. I don't think it'll come to that, but precedent has been set.

Who else could get traded

Kirk Hinrich (expiring) and Mike Dunleavy (2 years) are on short-term, relatively inexpensive contracts that could be of interest to contending teams. I'd hope the front office realizes they could always just re-sign Kirk next year if they're worried about missing him too much. The Bulls can't expect much in terms of assets for them, though I'd take slightly-worse players if they're younger and more entertaining. Taj Gibson is younger than those two but has 3 seasons remaining after this at a salary usually befitting of a starter. I'm sure he's tradeable, but figure the Bulls would have to choose salary relief or assets, not get both.

Carlos Boozer is an interesting case. The most cap-friendly thing to do is amnesty him this summer. Boozer is still solid, but at his current salary has negative trade value: any Boozer move will either force the Bulls to take in return  long-term money, same-term but worse money (Amare Stoudemire or something...), or they'd be paying a team in assets to take him and the right to pay him nearly $17m next season. (No, that other team can't amnesty Boozer, only the Bulls can.) But amnesty still means paying his salary (outside of whatever a team claims him for, but it won't be much), so it may not be the way the Bulls go. If they're treating Booz's salary as a true payroll expense for next year, then getting that money off those books (even if amnesty gets it removed from the cap) could be something they try now.

What about the luxury tax?

The Bulls are so far over the luxury tax line this year ($7.5m) that it'd take quite the effort for them to get under. It'd involve packaging an asset with Deng (or perhaps Taj) to move him for 'nothing' to a team with cap room (the Sixers, essentially). Or making a few trades that shave off a couple million at a time, which is hard to do with so many teams up near the tax line themselves. They could merely try to reduce their tax bill, saving cash, which I'm sure makes us all excited.

Assuming they can't get under this year, and since they paid it last year, the Bulls are in danger of tax-repeater status for the next time they're over that tax line. This is nearly undoubtedly not next season, since the Bulls are instead aiming for cap room and even after a couple signings would be well under the tax. But the following season ('15/'16) if the Bulls are over then, that's 3 out of 4 years and thus repeater status. With Rose+Noah+Gibson+Butler(up for an extension)+Mirotic or more from this upcoming offseason, it's possible that the Bulls would like the flexibility (gah!) to pay that tax then instead of a lost season like this one.

(Well, they could pay it every year and even the repeater once in a while but we know that won't happen.)

Who's off the table

I perhaps understand some rational reasons to entertain trading Joakim Noah, given his likely-high present trade value and age relative to this team's prospects in the next couple years (...active big men with bad feet age quickly). But, I'd rather not think about it. Getting guys like Noah and on value contracts is why you try and build a team in the first place. Jimmy Butler should also have trade value given he's still on his rookie deal, but I don't see him fetching a 2014 lottery pick which would likely be the price if the Bulls even entertained it. And they won't, and you wouldn't either so stop pretending you're serious about 'blowing it up' with Jimmy Butler surviving the explosion.

How to lose games and alienate Thibs

I haven't talked about 'tanking' in the gleeful tone it weirdly brings out in some, because that's stupid. I don't want to root for them to lose, I don't want the players to give in to losing. This team under Thibs is good enough to make the playoffs (37 wins may be enough to make the playoffs in the East), and I think keeping their winning mindset is important even in a lost season: this Rose injury does not mean a full-on regime change that would replace a potentially poisoned one (that 'tanking' would do to the team and Thibs) here.

As pointed out in the Thibs section above: If the front office tried any shenanigans like 'instruct' Thibs to play certain guys in the face of accountability (as in: tell him give Teague 40 minutes when he plays at a DLeague level), it would likely just blow up in their faces making a bad situation worse. I don't think it's worth alienating one of the best coaches in the league for the very small chance to get in a lottery that would then get you a very small chance to acquire another star.

But all that said, the Org. can do their part to not exactly try and win a whole lot more. Trading Deng seems like a necessity, and if they could get players who can play in the league for Hinrich/Dunleavy (and something actually-good for Taj)  they'd be worse while not sending Thibs over the edge. Maybe I have more faith in Thibs than the crazy-person-I-see-most-nights warrants, but I just don't see him going full Jim Boylan and sitting Teague for night-after-night of 40 minutes of Mike James (Ironically, Boylan relying on the vets actually helped the Bulls lottery chances that year) . He'll play young players if that's all that he has to win with, and it's not like the Bulls really have much young talent to cultivate at the moment. Due to injuries, Snell and Teague are getting minutes already.

And maybe depending on the degree of those trades they do get bad enough to miss the playoffs. The Bulls were built to withstand a Rose injury more last season than this one, and there are now a lot of possessions to be had by players who are incapable or not ready to do much with them. Jimmy Butler could be out for months with turf toe (a more subtle 'tanking' strategy that makes sense: just don't rush Butler back). The team's commitment to the defensive end could suffer as well, with the core realizing that their time is up and maybe not wanting to get screamed at so much anymore. But it won't be the type of 'tanking' that embraces talented but flawed top prospects, or purposely making the team worse for the sake of it. It'll just be a once very good team really missing their star and falling apart without him, and it'll suck.

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