Since Sunday's loss to the Cavs put a real downer on any ideas of a playoff chase (especially with New Jersey, Detroit, and the Clippers coming up), a couple local columnists took their aim at the summer.
But it appears the uneventful trade deadline, a weak free agent class, and a draft with franchise-changing talent lacking at the top, has the expectations lowered.
Mike McGraw of the Daily Herald goes through the likely suspects and explains why they won't make a deal with the Bulls.
The benefit of salary-cap flexibility was demonstrated by the Detroit Pistons two years ago when they picked up Rasheed Wallace for next to nothing in return and won a championship four months later.
But making a trade this summer won't be as easy as it sounds for the Bulls. That's because most every front-line NBA player these days fits into one of two categories: Those who have outlandish salaries, attitude problems or little history of team success; and those who won't be traded.
There is always a chance that an all-star will be auctioned off, the way Shaquille O'Neal and Tracy McGrady were in 2004. But here's a sample dilemma: If O'Neal or McGrady were available now, should the Bulls even make an offer?
Keep in mind that Miami gave O'Neal a four-year contract extension worth $20 million per, and he celebrates his 34th birthday today. McGrady carries that history of back problems and has won as many playoff series in his nine NBA seasons as Kornel David.
Ouch, cheap shot! And yes I'd take McGrady, easy.
My Man Sam(tm) invokes the name of the good ship S.S. Piston as well:
Despite all my scenarios for the Bulls to trade for a star, like Kevin Garnett, Ray Allen or Paul Pierce, it's most likely they won't have enough to satisfy other teams without feeling like they are giving away too much. The belief around the team is that the Bulls will move along carefully, using the draft and limited free agency and hoping to fall into a big-time player, like the Pistons did with Wallace.
This all started for the Pistons during the coaching regime of Rick Carlisle, who helped transform the team without Grant Hill into a defensive unit in 2001-02 and 2002-03. Skiles has done much the same for the Bulls. As personnel chief, Dumars is an unselfish former player who understands chemistry, not unlike Bulls GM John Paxson.
And then the Pistons were careful in acquisitions. They were both fortunate and smart in persuading Hill to seek a sign-and-trade so they could get Ben Wallace, though they didn't know how good he would become. They wanted to get younger and more unselfish, exchanging Jerry Stackhouse for Richard Hamilton. They took a chance in free agency with a modest contract on Chauncey Billups because Dumars believes you cannot build by giving maximum contracts.
I too, think Paxson will be careful in the offseason.
But while Dumars believes you can't build with a max contract, the Bulls have already built, the max player would be the leap. But until that player is right, you wait. If the alternative is trading for a player with maximum money who doesn't deserve it (or, ew, giving one of these free agents), I think Pax is smart enough to stay the course.
With the cap structured the way it is, it would be hard to dig out of such a mistake, and the last thing anyone wants is another Jalen Rose scenario: a team desperate for a 'star' that ends up paying for one who's anything but.
I'm of the belief that the draft picks the Bulls have will only be more valuable as the draft day approaches. GMs love to make that big move and start over, it buys them a built in excuse and some job security while their new project develops. Couple that with the hype machine that is the NBA draft, and a weak class in March can become a few can't-misses in June. Maybe around draft night the calls will come in, the stars offered, but it has to be the right player. I'm really even sure Ray Allen would be worth it. KG and Pierce definitely. Perhaps a different big time talent will fall out of favor with his franchise this summer.
But I assume Paxson is careful enough to know the difference between that type of player and a Steve Francis.
So until then, keep building. The Pistons were able to build a damned good team before Rasheed Wallace made them a champion. This Bulls' model projects to be a bit different...not quite the same foundation, but the ability to acquire an even better player to make that leap. Even if our grand offseason plans don't quite work out, I'm confident that Pax won't make that home run move unless it truly makes his team a contender.