The State of the Bulls is sound


May 1

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The Bulls 2013-14 season ended Tuesday with that 75-69 defeat to lose 4-1 in the playoff series to the Washington Wizards.

Wednesday began Melo Watch 2014, Day 1: He’s having dinner.

“We have a big summer in front of us,” Bulls general manager Gar Forman told reporters at the Berto Center Wednesday after exit meetings with players. “We may have the opportunity to have some flexibility and to address some needs. We’ll look into that. I think we’ll be able to add to our team this summer. You don’t know what direction it could go. When I say we could have flexibility, that’s dependent on some different ways that we could go. At this point, it’s not definite that we would have a large amount of flexibility. But that’s one of the roads we can take. There’s so many moving parts that can happen. It will obviously be an active summer for us.”

“We have a big summer in front of us,” Bulls general manager Gar Forman told reporters at the Berto Center Wednesday after exit meetings with players.

“We have a big summer in front of us,” Bulls general manager Gar Forman told reporters at the Berto Center Wednesday after exit meetings with players.

For the fans and media as well regarding speculation, rumor, innuendo and fantasy.

The biggest name that has been and will be mentioned is that of the Knicks’ Carmelo Anthony, the top free agent this summer assuming, as expected, LeBron James, Chris Bosh and Dwyane Wade all ignore opt-outs and remain in Miami. The Bulls and Houston Rockets have been speculated upon as the possible destinations if Anthony decides to bolt New York after one poor season. And even with Phil Jackson coming in as team president?

The New York Post, now apparently trailing Anthony and Jackson, reported the two dined for two hours Tuesday night on Caesar salad and filet mignon. No word on the dressing and reporters could not identify the dessert. The Post contacted a diner at the restaurant, who on a picture purportedly of the two wrote, “Rumor overheard Carmelo going to Bulls!”

Get me rewrite!

Melo Watch Day 2: Reports indicate he had Sinatra’s My Kind of Town in his iPod.

It is likely to be an active summer for the Bulls, and it’s obviously no secret to management or anyone else this isn’t exactly the perfect team.

Wanted: Shooting, scoring, backup center, shooting guard, depth, very good health.

The truth is the biggest offseason acquisition for the Bulls has to be the return of Derrick Rose.

“He’s really in a good place right now,” Forman said of Rose. “He continues to train. You probably saw he’s starting to play now one-on-one, two-on-two. He was in here this morning working out. So he’ll continue to ramp it up. And if everything goes according to plan, which up to this point it has, we’re optimistic that he’ll play with Team USA this summer and have another good summer of work and be ready to go in October.

“Derrick is doing great and his health will obviously be a big plus for us moving forward,” said Forman. “So it’s a big offseason for us. We’re proud of the guys and what they’ve accomplished up to this point, and we’re looking forward to really a bright future.”

It’s been nice to watch these Bulls teams the last two seasons fool pretty much everyone and develop respect for who they are and how hard they play.

But you don’t excel losing the league MVP and you don’t replace him, even in free agency.

Rose’s return is the Bulls’ No. 1 priority and their principal hope in returning to serious contention. Is there any question whether they’d still be playing if they had Rose?

There’s no reason to believe Rose won’t return as a high level player given everything he’s done and how he’s progressed.

Perhaps the best parallel is Bernard King, a high level scorer who missed two years with multiple knee injuries. He returned to become an All-Star and average more than 28 per game. And King was first hurt when he was 29. Zydrunas Ilgauskas missed almost three years with foot injuries and then returned to play 10 straight healthy seasons. Even the much reviled Sam Bowie missed almost three years and returned to average close to a double-double in the next four seasons averaging about 70 games played.

Though all general managers are vague about the future as it’s not exactly a good idea to inform your opponents of your plans, it’s impossible for the Bulls to be certain at this point.

When Forman talks about salary cap flexibility, that assumes an amnesty with Carlos Boozer or a trade of Boozer or others into cap space of another team. The Bulls have a variety of ways to go as they also have the No. 16 and 19 picks in the first round as well as Kirk Hinrich and D.J. Augustin as free agents. The Bulls also had been limited in bench stretch because of the luxury tax. But the Luol Deng trade eased that situation and the team expects to be deeper next season as well.

“I think we want to have a full roster, a complete roster,” said Forman. “That’s something under the new CBA we struggled with a little bit because of the salary structures. I think it’s something we’ll be able to address now into the offseason. If we can get our team deeper and have more depth across the board I think it’s going to help us, and of course health is going to help us.

“There are so many different ways this summer can go depending on some of the decisions we make,” Forman said when asked about Augustin and Hinrich. “It could be that we have just a little bit of flexibility. There are different scenarios where we could have a lot of flexibility. I wouldn’t want to completely rule that out (both returning) by any means. We value Kirk and Kirk’s been a big part of what we’ve done over the last nine or 10 years. So it would be our goal that we have Kirk back, also.

“We don’t know,” Forman said about Nikola Mirotic. “He’s still under contact with Real Madrid. We feel confident that he’s going to come at some point. Whether it’s this summer or the following summer or somewhere into the future, we still don’t know. We haven’t gotten to a point where there is any type of negotiation yet.”

It’s also why there are so many moving parts for the Bulls this season. If Mirotic wants to come to the NBA would they wait for Anthony’s decision? Or even the decisions of free agents like Luol Deng and Lance Stephenson or Evan Turner or Marcin Gortat? Whether the Timberwolves are ready to get something for Kevin Love like the Thunder did with James Harden and shocked the Rockets by making an offer. The Bulls have similar “assets” to make such a deal if the Timberwolves were so inclined. Of course, that deal was a disaster for Oklahoma City.

Call them the L-train: Lu, Lance and Love.

Coming your way?

One of the biggest issues has been the return/amnesty/trade of Carlos Boozer, going into his last season of his 2010 free agent contract.

“We know there’s been a lot written about that,” said Forman. “We have valued Carlos. And I think Carlos has had a big part of our success the last four years. Obviously, we still have amnesty as an option that we haven’t used that a lot of teams have. That’s something as we go into July we’ll have to evaluate. If it’s something that makes sense as far as getting our team stronger, we may go that way. But we also may not go that way.”

It would seem the core of the team is Rose, Joakim Noah, Taj Gibson and Jimmy Butler. Would the Bulls trade Gibson to clear space to land Anthony or include him in a sign and trade? He’s obviously the most valuable player in trade beyond Noah, who would seem untouchable as the Bulls didn’t want to trade him for Anthony when Anthony forced his trade to New York. And Noah wasn’t as good then.

Rose is untradeable because of the uncertainty regarding his health; plus the Bulls are not interested in trading him, anyway.

Mike Dunleavy has some value, but with a relatively inexpensive contract by NBA standards he is a valuable player to have. Especially for a team that needs shooting.

The Bulls have a history of rebuilding their bench after each season with success. And the desire to add depth and a large pool of players who could be value additions could be a way to go as well. Though Mirotic has a large buyout, his European salary always has been exaggerated and he’d still make more money in the NBA even after the buyout. And he’d start the clock to the second contract, the bigger one.

He’d obviously cost far less than someone like Anthony or Deng or Stephenson, enabling the addition of depth. These are some of the players who’ll be free agents who might not be too costly: Shelvin Mack, Aaron Brooks, Kris Humphries, Jerryd Bayless, Avery Bradley, Shaun Livingston, Jodie Meeks, Wesley Johnson, C.J. Miles, Luke Ridnour, Danny Granger, Thabo Sefolosha, Ben Gordon, Drew Gooden, Elton Brand, Chris Kaman, Antawn Jamison, Caron Butler, Beno Udrih, Steve Blake, Mike Miller, Cole Aldrich, Richard Jefferson, Ramon Sessions, Brian Roberts, Devin Harris, Patrick Patterson, Greivis Vasquez.

The Bulls currently are committed without Boozer’s salary to about $50 million in payroll with draft picks and cap holds for roster space. The cap is estimated at about $63 million, which would give the Bulls about $13 million for free agents without any other moves. There is an exception for teams under the cap of about $2.7 million, which cannot be added to the cap space. Plus, there are certain sign and trade transactions where the Bulls could expand their space by using the end of roster players like Mike James. Thus there are dozens of potential possibilities that even the Bulls couldn’t project or predict at this time.

You create as many possibilities as you can, which the Bulls appear to have done, and then hope someone panics or miscalculates, like the Thunder appeared to, and drops a star on you. You work for the health of Rose and you advertise your “culture” and success and possibilities and hope it appeals to someone to maybe take a little less to lead to something more fulfilling.

At worse you’re an entertaining team that with as limited a roster as you’ve ever had you still can get to third in the Eastern Conference, a conference that looks even more wide open next season with Indiana and Miami declining and Washington and Toronto coming on. The wild, wild East?

“Obviously, we’re disappointed with going out in the first round of the playoffs,” said Forman. “But what we told our team was that we’re really, really proud of everything they put into the season, and what was a trying season in a lot of ways. The second thing is these guys have created a culture here, and it’s a culture of winning, it’s a culture of professionalism, and it’s a culture where these guys all play together. We have unselfish guys who do a great job as teammates and playing for each other.

“We believe, and you’ve heard you talk about it before, that the core of this team has a chance to really do something special moving forward,” said Forman. “It’s up to each and every one of us, from the players to the front office to the coaching staff, and everybody involved in our organization now to try and improve and make the next step. We’ve been to the playoffs six-straight years, which is unusual. I think there are only two or three teams that have done that. We’ve been nine out of the last 10 years. We’ve got a culture and a team that have had some success under trying circumstances and has been good. Now how do we get to the next level? And that’s where all of us need to continue to get better.”

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