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The 2009-10 season: operation "don't be bad"

It takes a lot of logical leaps when trying to figure out what the Bulls are doing. Because it's possible, and even likely, that the Bulls themselves don't even know what they're doing. They claim to be players in 2010 free agency now that they didn't pay money to Ben Gordon, but we can't know that was the actual driving force. I doubt it's the reasoning shared by some fringe followers in that they figured they'll be better without him. It's possible that the basketball people would've kept him but the owner simply didn't like him. 

But let's say that even if they weren't letting Gordon go to better position themselves for 2010, they'll retroactively claim that as a reason and that's the new plan. A further logical step in that plan would've been the proposed 3-way trade with Utah and Portland, basically removing Hinrich's 2010 money (and the cap hold Tyrus Thomas would have as a restricted free agent) for the expiring contract of Carlos Boozer

And I liked that deal because it wasn't just a salary dump, but an upgrade (though I don't think that much considering who they'd give up) on the court, even if just for a rental player. Just trying to dump 2010 salary at dramatic expense of the on-court product won't ultimately work, because to give themselves a chance at a max free agent in 2010, the Bulls not only have to be financially able to outright sign (or acquire in a sign/trade) a max free agent, but they have to keep their current reputation of 'a team on the rise'.

Now, I don't think they're a team on the rise now. They have Rose, obviously, but nearly this entire team will be turned over before the next great Bulls team is built (including this mythical free agent), and they have a coach that won't last much longer. But that label seems to be the consensus around the league, fueled by lots of time on national TV in a thrilling playoff series. Would they truly be that much of a different team if they were swept by the Magic instead of losing in 7 games against the Celtics? No, but I really do believe that it helped the perception of the Bulls to have the end of their season turn out the way it did. 

And I also think that matters to free agents, in a scenario where a lot of teams will have cap room (some just claiming to be in the race for the top talent but likely just saving money) including the teams trying to keep their own stars. So the Bulls need some kind of hook to get talent interested, and what they can offer is being 'a team on the rise', with an unselfish star in Rose, and making that free agent believe he's the missing piece, or at least moving to a better situation. 

If the next season turns disastrous and they miss the playoffs, I don't think anybody's coming, whether they have the cap room or not. And then they're in very deep trouble.

But it may not be so easy as to simply stay the course on the way to another average season (if still 'a team on the rise'), as with the cap possibly decreasing several million dollars in 2010 the Bulls may have to clear more room to both get a max free agent and adequately fill out the roster to where that free agent thinks he's upgrading his situation. Even if they renounce the rights to Tyrus Thomas (more on that situation in the future...) it's still nearly $38m in committed salaries, so the most likely ways to trim from there is hoping Salmons opts out or deal Hinrich. 

So it'll be a balance for the rest of this current offseason (and through the trade deadline) to both position themselves as best they can in 2010 free agency while still remaining relevant as a desireable destination for free agents. It's not easy, but it's something they should be looking to do.

Or the idea of a 2010 free agent bonanza was a lie in the first place?