It’s crazy how so much can change in a matter of days. Last week, the Chicago Bulls were on a six game winning streak, looking like a top case for the 2nd seed. This week, they are losers of three straight, continually searching for answers to their struggles. Not to mention that Derrick Rose is having knee soreness, Jimmy Butler has nagging lower body issues, and Pau Gasol is having his own ailments.
Many, myself included, have been clamoring for the Bulls front office to pursue some sort of in-season trade. Chicago is a team with a cluttered front court featuring two aging, future free agents, along with substantial voids at the small forward and back-up point guard positions. While it’s easy to sit here to say the Bulls NEED to make a roster move, playing with ESPN’s trade machine to match salaries, there’s two issues at hand:
- The Bulls never make in-season trades unless it’s a money saver
- The "assets" the Bulls do have, aren’t very good
To the first point, it should be noted that in a recent interview with Joakim Noah, Chicago Tribune's KC Johnson reported that "the Bulls have made preliminary calls gauging the market on several players, including Noah." But whether that's true or not, given the Bulls assets today, it appears highly unlikely that they would be able to grab substantial player in return that could help alter the direction of this season and future ones.
In looking at the Bulls roster, everyone except Jimmy Butler should "theoretically" be available. However, that's not the case by any means. In their first and second years, respectively, Bobby Portis and Nikola Mirotic have a tremendous amount of potential between the two, and the Bulls are invested in having both as a core of this team moving forward. The same can also be said for second year wing, Doug McDermott. He's shown progress in his sophomore season, and given everything that the Bulls surrendered to draft him, and the front offices' and Fred Hoiberg's affection for him, he won't be going anywhere.
Mike Dunleavy would be included as an asset usually, but while still out with an injured back it erases any possibility of him being involved in a potential trade unless the Bulls were paying a team (in picks or otherwise) to take him and the remaining $6m he's owed after this season.
And then there's Derrick Rose, of course. Yes, I've seen the numerous think-pieces stating the Bulls should explore trades involving Rose, but it's not that easy. Rose is owed over $20m in each of the next two years, and given his inability to have a streak of good games without being hurt again any trade return at this point would be mere cap relief. With the organization to this point having stood by this son of Chicago's side through everything that he's been through, to cut bait at this point could also be a PR disaster. With Rose in a contract year next season, a trade in the summer or next year is more possible.
These are the players who, if there happened to be a trade, would be just for outgoing salary aggregation. The fillers on the Bulls consist of Kirk Hinrich, Aaron Brooks, Cameron Bairstow and Cristiano Felicio. All are in the final years of their contracts but aren't exactly attractive for other teams to acquire. Technically Brooks can veto any deal as he'd be forfeiting his Bird Rights if moved to another team.
[I should jump in and simply don't see the Bulls trading Kirk Hinrich. I think management still sobs over doing it the first time. -yfbb]
The Bulls are clogged in the frontcourt with five rotational big men, it's an issue that's been at the forefront for the front office and Hoiberg. It would be ideal if they could move one, as means of freeing up more time for Portis, but to also move Mirotic back to his natural position at the four. And in hopes of receiving an established wing player in return. But that's easier said than done.
Two names you probably missed in the fillers section, were Tony Snell and E'Twaun Moore. Both are the type of player that could be the final piece to push a deal forward. Sparingly, Snell and Moore have shown flashes of their potential and what they could become. There's room to grow for each of Snell (24 years old) and Moore (26), and that type of intrigue may be just enough if paired with one of the following big men in addition to a first rounder. Even then, if those are the two that could help swing an eventual deal, that's not exactly promising.
Of the three big men remaining, the one with the most "value" would be Taj Gibson. Inserted into the starting lineup in early December, Gibson has arguably been the Bulls second best player. His defensive presence, combined with his ability to not be a total mishap offensively, has been much needed. More importantly, he's still a reasonable 30 years old, and has a favorable contract (a shade under $9m for next year), while still being a very effective presence on the floor. Though with the other Bulls big men struggling on opposite ends of the floor, can the Bulls risk losing one who's viable on both?
Which leaves us with Pau Gasol and Joakim Noah. One being the player a lot of fans and bloggers alike would like to see move, the other, being floated around by executives. The problem with both of these two is that neither would, in a realistic situation, return anyone of greater value.
Gasol and Noah will both be free agents this summer, and both of whom carry various problems. For Gasol, at 35 years old, is struggling with a sore shoulder and achilles as recently reported. Moreover, Gasol is having the worst shooting season of his lengthy career, shooting 45.5 % from the floor, extremely poor for someone who shot nearly 50% last season as a 2nd Team All NBA member. And while he does offer his fair share of rim protection by virtue of being tall, he's an absolute sieve defensively. His lack of lateral quickness, and awareness defensively, with his inability to box out on a consistent basis, has been a detriment to the Bulls this season and doesn't prospect well for others.
As for Noah, soon to be 31 himself, has looked a shell of his former self since returning from his knee surgery two summers ago. For the most part, his movement on the floor has been much improved since last season, but his overall impact on the floor just isn't what it used to be. He's still very active on the defensive end of the floor, though it's not to the level that made him the Defensive Player of the Year. On the opposite end, it's been sad to an extent to watch him perform offensively, having completely lost the ability to finish around the rim or convert at the charity stripe.
Where Gasol's predicament arises defensively, Noah is the same on the opposite end. For two guys past their primes, set to be free agents, even though it would be ideal to get something in return in case neither re-signs, who would be willing to give up a quality asset for a three month rental?
Chicago's best asset, over any of the previously mentioned players, is there own first round pick in the upcoming draft, and the top-10 protected pick the Sacramento Kings owe. Unless the Bulls are sure to be receiving someone who's going to push them to the next level, which doesn't appear to be so, the front office isn't letting go of those.
The reality for the Bulls is that they are probably going to end up finishing the season with the roster as it's currently constructed. With the trade deadline rapidly approaching on February 18th, and the Bulls floundering in inconsistency, they lack the necessary assets to make substantial in-season move that'd actually improve their 2016 playoff chances.
The likely scenario that unfolds is that the Bulls will play out the season, hoping MDJ returns from injury, nagging ailments to players subside, and the team is able to turn things around in the right direction. Then once the offseason hits, reassess.
It may sound pessimistic to some, but it's realistic at best.