Previous ArticlesThibodeau believes in his team
Bulls looking back and forward to 2014-15
by Sam Smith
Posted on Apr 30
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So what’s next for the Bulls after yet another disappointing close to the season, a second first round exit losing to a lower seed.
In 2012, it was Derrick Rose’s devastating injury in the first game of the playoffs and then the six-game loss. Last season, it was the thrilling first round series and seventh game victory in Brooklyn before losing to Miami in five games. And Tuesday it was the 75-69 conclusion to a 4-1 series win going to the Washington Wizards, the Wizards’ second playoff series win since 1982 and both over the Bulls.
“How they wouldn’t quit,” Bulls coach Tom Thibodeau said about what will be his memory of this team. “We took a couple big hits that past couple years. Actually the last three years; the lockout year, Derrick missed half of that season. They fought like crazy that year. He missed all of last season and this season with the trade of Luol… we were 12-19. You’re sitting there saying ‘OK, what are we going to do?’ These guys fought like crazy to make sure we had a good season. When a team commits to playing as a team, playing together and playing for each other, and give you everything they have there is nothing more you can ask for. A lot of people would have just laid down, but our team didn’t do that.
“I saw the fight and determination in them last year,” added Thibodeau. “We thought initially Derrick would come back after the All-Star break (last season). That didn’t happen. They wouldn’t let the season go by the wayside. We got to the playoffs and we lost Luol and Kirk and they found a way to win that series. Joakim was dealing with plantar (fasciitis) and missed the end of the season. I knew the fight the core guys had. When Derrick went down this year, I knew the disappointment the guys had because of the closeness of the guys to Derrick and the disappointment I knew they felt for him. But I knew once they got past that the fight would come back because that’s what they’ve shown.”
Thibodeau perhaps gave an inadvertent hint of the future in talking about going forward.
“The thing I was very pleased with I thought there was tremendous growth by Joakim and Taj,” said Thibodeau. “The addition of D.J. (Augustin) was big. I thought he was terrific. I though Mike Dunleavy did his job and did a lot more than we thought he would. He was brought in to add shooting and play a role off the bench. He ended up starting and doing a terrific job for us. It’s very unusual to have the type of scoring we had from D.J. and Taj coming off the bench. I thought Nazr did a terrific job for us. All the guys did. Even the guys who weren’t playing. They were real professional and worked hard and made the spirit of the team strong. That goes a long way. Sometimes you guys don’t see that. But it’s critical for our team.
“Obviously we were shorthanded this year, but I think we are positioned well,” said Thibodeau. “Obviously, we have to address the shooting; how we surround Derrick will be critical. Not only Derrick, but Taj and Joakim. You never can have enough shooting; we‘ll see how things unfold.”
There likely is no fixed plan in place for the Bulls as they’ll be open to acquiring any top player, especially on offense. You never know when a team will trade someone, like the Thunder did with James Harden. Carmelo Anthony has been perhaps the biggest name mentioned, though the odds remain he’ll resign with the Knicks. He’s made clear he’ll have an active free agency and visit many teams, certainly including the Bulls. So there’ll be plenty of speculation regarding Anthony and the Bulls.
The Bulls, though, would have to make several salary moves, including renouncing both Kirk Hinrich and D.J. Augustin, perhaps trading both draft picks (Nos. 16 and 19) and giving away Mike Dunleavy along with an amnesty of Carlos Boozer and passing on Nikola Mirotic this summer as Thibodeau seemed to indicate Gibson is part of the Bulls core going forward.
Kevin Love is a trade possibility because he could be a free agent after next season. Though he’d have to agree to sign an extension. Free agents who could be in the Bulls price range would include—depending on various personal moves as well though not as many as it would take for Anthony—Luol Deng, Pau Gasol, Vince Carter, Evan Turner, Rodney Stuckey, Lance Stephenson, Boris Diaw and Trevor Ariza.
Here’s a look at the roster:
Derrick Rose: With three years remaining on his contract averaging about $20 million, he is the key to the Bulls return to serious contention. Rose has recovered on pace from his November knee injury and is expected to try out for the USA Basketball World Cup team this summer. But free agents will not know his playing status until after the free agent signing period.
Carlos Boozer: One year remaining at $16.8 million. Likely candidate for amnesty, which is in July. Trade possibility as well. Boozer had a rough finish with 10 points and nine rebounds in Game 5. He declined to address reporters after the game after the home crowd inappropriately booed when he replaced Taj Gibson in the fourth quarter. He is not expected to return.
Joakim Noah: Two years remaining at a total of about $25 million. The core player for the team going forward as he had his career season winning Defensive Player of the Year but left with a knee injury.
Taj Gibson: Three years remaining at a total of about $25 million. Seemingly another core player and expected to be the starting power forward. Would the Bulls dump his salary for a chance to sign Anthony? Unlikely, especially with Nikola Mirotic not coming this summer if Anthony would.
Kirk Hinrich: Unrestricted free agent. He’d like to return to the Bulls and they’d like to have him, but it obviously depends on other moves. He’d likely like to sign one more contract after a good season and one of the better players in Game 5 and this series.
Mike Dunleavy: One year remaining at about $3.3 million. His name is always mentioned as a possible loss to clear space for Anthony. But the Bulls need shooting and how much sense would it make to drop one of the few shooters you have?
Tony Snell: Played spot minutes in the series averaging about 10 and less than a point. He’s on a two year rookie contract with two option years. He’ll have to become much more aggressive to crack the regular lineup.
Jimmy Butler: One season left at about $2 million. He’ll be eligible for an extension before next season and if he doesn’t sign will be a restricted free agent after next season with the Bulls able to match an offer. He’s probably better suited to move to small forward if the Bulls can bring in a shooting guard.
Nazr Mohammed: Unrestricted free agent. After 15 seasons in the NBA a good chance he’ll choose to retire.
D.J. Augustin: Unrestricted free agent. Had a strong season to make the Bulls playoff season possible, but had trouble against the taller Wizards and shot 29 percent in the series. He’s said he’d like to return to the Bulls, but given his tough last two years with three teams will look for a good guaranteed deal the Bulls may not be able to match.
Greg Smith: The Houston center/forward was signed late in the season and in need of knee rehabilitation. But he is expected to be back for next season and at a modest salary a good possibility as a backup center.
Jimmer Fredette: Late season pickup on his buyout from the Kings who never got into the playoffs. Will likely go elsewhere to look where he can play.
Mikes James, Ronnie Brewer and Lou Amundson: Contracts acquired to give the team more options in free agency with additional salaries to trade. None are expected to return for next season.