Championship teams have a way of making every single player on the roster seem valuable in hindsight, but if the Chicago Bulls' title chances this season are really dependent on the whether or not Marcus Camby chooses to come here, they're already in trouble. Point being: offseason movement for the Bulls is essentially over, the team you're looking at today is the team that will try to win a championship next season.
Derrick Rose is back and he thinks he's the best player in the NBA. Joakim Noah is firmly entrenched in his prime. Luol Deng is playing for what could be a huge contract in free agency. Jimmy Butler enters Year Three after substantial growth as a sophomore. Carlos Boozer is still around, maybe for his last go in Chicago. Taj is back, too.
You know this team well even if they haven't been fully functional in the postseason since way back in 2011. This upcoming season feels like a band reuniting, but it's a band you know won't be together long. A year from now, the Bulls could look drastically different.
The Bulls' long rumored 2014 plan will be heavily dependent on the success of this year's team. I am very optimistic about the squad, as I tend to be, but even the most homerific of observers has to concede the NBA's field of contenders is looking strong as hell this year. This has to be the toughest the Eastern Conference has been in a loooong time.
The Heat are trying to win their third straight title. After initially thinking they weren't a viable threat, the Nets sort of terrify me now. The Pacers will be very good, too. Winning a championship means you have to go through the West, as well, and the West is loaded. The Rockets, Warriors, Thunder, Clippers and Spurs each have a shot at the conference title, in my humble offseason estimation.
So even if the Bulls are really good, winning the championship this season is still going to be quite the task (granted, it always is). And if the Bulls don't win the championship, or at least get there? That's when things could very well be blown up.
The Bulls have $64,607,661 committed to nine players after this season, per The Great ShamSports (proper name), not counting Deng's max cap hold. If we assume the salary cap will be at $59 million next season, the Bulls could get down to $47,807,661 (plus another $1.5 million for a first round pick) in salary if Boozer is amnestied, as many expect. That would give them around $9 or $10 million to spend in free agency.
Who will be out there in free agency? Well, LeBron could be, but I don't think he's coming to Chicago. We're not going through all that again. If you're looking for a max-level guy, look at Carmelo Anthony. That would take finding a suitor for Taj Gibson, and it's highly debatable if a 30-year-old Melo is worth Deng, Boozer and Gibson.
It's far from guaranteed franchise icons like Kobe and Dirk will leave Los Angeles and Dallas respectively, but doesn't it sort of make sense? The Lakers and Mavs aren't winning anything in the next few seasons. Both dudes will be 36 years old. If they want a title, they'll have to latch onto another contender. This happens to franchise icons in sports all the time, and it's not very hard to find examples.
The Bulls are going to be a contender and they'll have a suitable amount of cap space to throw at Kobe or Dirk. So: do you guys want Kobe or Dirk???
It would be awesome, I think. For one, Kobe or Dirk would only require a one or two-year contract, meaning you're not locking up the cap space for four or five years like you would be with Deng. It gives the Bulls' future flexibility, which is always important even if the mere mention of such a thing makes all of us want to throw up. Assuming the Bulls could then use the mid-level exception to bring over Nikola Mirotic, the team could retool while still adding an intriguing young player.
Dirk would be perfect, I think. It's not like age is going to make him any less huge, or completely deteriorate his outside shooting. His skill set should age as well as any player's. He could also tutor Mirotic on the finer points of being a stretch four. He'd give the Bulls ample floor spacing and shooting, allowing D. Rose to run wild with the ball in his hands. Even if Dirk is only giving the team 25 minutes or so a game during the regular season, Gibson and Mirotic could handle the rest of the minutes without a huge drop-off.
Kobe is probably less appealing, but come on: it's Kobe. Old Kobe is hilarious and still pretty awesome. Everyone always says the Bulls need a secondary scorer who can create offense off the dribble for himself. Who better than Kobe Bean?
Granted, Kobe is an abomination on defense at this point in his career, but if Tom Thibodeau can hide Boozer, he can hide anyone. Hopefully Tony Snell develops this year and gives the Bulls another option at the two (Butler slides into the three with Deng gone) so Kobe can be on a limited minutes plan.
In theory, it all sounds pretty good to me. Maybe not ideal, but the thought of giving Kobe or Dirk a two-year contract instead of giving Deng or four or five-year contract is at least something to consider.
Ahhh, the 2014 plan. Always fun to spitball. Throw your most insane suggestions in the comments, please.