What makes flexibility so appealing? We've heard the Bulls champion their own ability to remain flexible under the constraints of the salary cap for at least the last two years, using it as a type of shield not dissimilar from the way athletes deflect tough questions at press conferences by having their toddler sit on the table. It's been the bullet in the front office's chamber through all of the franchise's recent turmoil, the thing that is supposed to give the fanbase hope that a good but unlucky team can find a way out of the pangs of mediocrity.
Flexibility is something to strive for, an inherently good quality for any team battling against a salary cap as restrictive as the one in the NBA. With the Bulls, though, it's easy to get the sense that flexibility is as much of a defense mechanism as it is a thoughtful bit of strategy. It's easy to sell.
When good players like Omer Asik and Kyle Korver were let go because the team didn't want to pay them? Flexibility! When Derrick Rose's injuries made it obvious the Bulls didn't have enough offensive firepower to compete with the best teams in the league? That can be fixed with flexibility. It's a self-sustaining bit of rhetoric rooted in selling the promise of the future over the realities of the present. You aspire to have flexibility in the NBA, but flexibility only takes you so far.
In that sense, the Bulls have been building towards the next two weeks for the last three years. The 2014 Plan earned proper noun status way back when because its target date was so far in the future that it seemed mythical. Now that it's finally here, the Bulls can't do anything to stop the sand from falling to the bottom of the hourglass.
The draft is in 15 days. After that, the Bulls don't have the luxury of two first round picks anymore. Kevin Love and Carmelo Anthony are both very much available, whether they're going to be traded before the draft or after it. Players this good just don't fester on the open market. You only get them by being creative and aggressive, by thinking two or three moves in advance and by attacking the opportunity the same way Thibodeau attacks pick-and-rolls. These two weeks are the realization of the Bulls' flexibility. When they're over, the opportunity might be, too.
It's worth noting that none of this is easy. The argument can and has been made that perhaps the best route is the conservative one the Bulls always seem to take. That approach could net you two rookies, Nikola Mirotic and a decent bit of cap space to add another role player. It's fine, but it's also far from a home run unless the assets at hand materialize themselves in the most optimal way possible. You better hope Mirotic is a 20 point per game scorer. You better nail those two draft picks. You better hope that all of it can come together while Joakim Noah is still able to play at such a brilliant level, and while Derrick Rose is as young as he's ever going to be.
The conservative route won't be the wrong one, per se, if the Bulls do choose it. After watching the way this last season ended, though, I personally believe it's time to make a bold move. The Bulls have two tremendous players staring them in the face, and every objective basketball mind thinks they're a great destination for both of them. I don't want to watch that trash offense again. I don't want Rose to have to shoulder such a big percentage of the scoring load after what he's been through. I don't want to keep playing with such a small margin for error.
You can poke holes in the games of Anthony or Love, but at this point it doesn't really matter which one the Bulls get, at least not to me. It's not just because I want the Bulls to be aggressive after years of being cautious. It's because both Anthony and Love would make the Bulls a lot better.
You can, I think, make the argument for one instead of the other pretty easily:
The case for Carmelo over Love
More than anything, the Bulls need perimeter scoring. Love does much his scoring from the perimeter, sure, but he's not the type of player who take the ball from the wing, put it on the floor and get you points. Kevin Love, for as good as he is, still relies on someone to get him the ball. Carmelo Anthony has never needed that.
Do It Yourself isn't the NBA ideal, anyone who has watched the crisp and unselfish ball movement in the NBA Finals should know that. It's just tough to sit here and assume Derrick Rose is going to be healthy for 82 games next season. I would bet my savings account against it. It's just the nature of the Bulls' new reality. The Bulls have had some decent luck in finding substitutes at point guard, but I'm not positive some replacement-level guy is going to be able get Love the ball where he needs it consistently enough to make a difference in the playoffs. This is particularly the case because Jimmy Butler and Mike Dunleavy aren't exactly playmakers, either.
This isn't to say Melo has to iso-up every time down the court. Of course not. But when the possession is busted and the shot clock is ticking down, giving the ball to Anthony is about as good of an exit strategy as you'll find in the NBA. I'm not sure if the same thing can be said for Kevin Love.
The case for Love over Carmelo
Love is, by almost any measure, a superior player to Anthony. He's also five years younger, and because of that he'll come cheaper, at least in terms of what the Bulls could pay either on a max salary.
Joakim Noah is just about the ideal front court partner for Love. Love struggled to find team success in Minnesota because the Wolves couldn't protect the rim. That's on Love, who is not a particularly good defender, but it's also on Nikola Pekovic. Pekovic is a very good offense player, but pairing him and Love in the same front court amounts to a red carpet to the rim. Noah, the reigning Defensive Player of the Year, would fix all of that.
The variable here is you don't know what you're giving up, exactly, for either. That's obvious. But with a core of Noah, Love and Rose, the Bulls would be in a position where the focal points of the team are set. They would have the outline of greatness already put together. All they would have to do is color between the lines.
Maybe it wouldn't happen the first year, depending on how much the roster would have to be depleted to get Love, but they'd be in it for the long haul. Love has more good years in front of him than Anthony, and it's not particularly close. If it takes the Bulls until 2015 or 2016 to really put championship-caliber role players around Love-Noah-Rose, so be it. At least the hard part would be over.
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This is why, from where I'm seated, no amount of assets would be too much to give up. I love Taj Gibson. I love Jimmy Butler. As a sports fan, you spend all of your leisure time hoping to root for players as likable and talented as those two guys. But if the difference between getting Love or Anthony is keeping Taj Gibson, I think he would have to go.
Jimmy shot 39.7 percent from the field and 28.3 percent from downtown last year. He's a great wing defender in a league where you need great wing defenders, but players like that aren't exactly impossible to find. Gibson is warrior and the exact type of player this franchise strives to employ. But if he's the best player in a deal for Anthony or Love? Yeah, that would count as an upgrade for the Bulls.
We know the Bulls typically take a methodical approach with these things, so that's what I'm expecting again. Just know the sand in that hourglass is running. Flexibility is great until you have to make tough decisions on what to do with it. That's the position the Bulls are in right now, and it's fleeting.