Bulls poised for big splash in free agent pool

Dwyane Wade, any interest in playing for your hometown team? How

does Chicago sound, Chris Bosh?

The Bulls are in position to make a big splash in a star-studded

free agent market this summer after a flurry of activity before

Thursday’s trade deadline.

Not only did they rid themselves of John Salmons’ $5.8 million

player option for next season, they unloaded their biggest headache

in Tyrus Thomas. Now, they’re in position to land a big-ticket free

agent to play alongside All-Star Derrick Rose, and they didn’t have

to dismantle the rest of their core.

“You want to be seen – and I think we are – as a team that’s

trending up,” general manager Gar Forman said. “I think we saw

some of that last year in the Celtics (playoff) series. You could

see Joakim Noah growing right before your eyes. You can see Derrick

Rose now growing, it seems like, almost game by game. Luol Deng is

making strides.”

And now, the Bulls are in position to take a giant step.

“In order to create the cap space to attract a max free agent

this summer, we knew we had to make some moves,” Forman said. “A

lot of teams were positioning themselves to be able to attract a

maximum free agent this summer, so we created that

flexibility.”

The Bulls did it by sending Salmons along with their

second-round picks in 2011 and 2012 to Milwaukee for the expiring

contracts of forwards Hakim Warrick and Joe Alexander. The Bucks

also have the option to switch first-round picks in this year’s

draft as long as Chicago’s isn’t in the top 10.

That trade left the Bulls with about $18 million to $20 million

in cap space this summer and enough room to offer a maximum

contract to one of the big-ticket free agents such as Wade, Bosh,

Joe Johnson, Carlos Boozer or even LeBron James if he becomes a

free agent.

Then, they dealt Thomas to Charlotte, parting ways with an

athletic but underachieving forward who had several run-ins with

the organization during his 3 1/2 seasons. In return, they acquired

the expiring contracts of guards Flip Murray and Acie Law along

with a protected first-round pick.

Chicago also released forward Chris Richard, who was on a second

10-day contract.

Thomas, who’s averaging 8.8 points and 6.3 rebounds, is due to

become a restricted free agent and there was little chance the

Bulls would make the $6.3 million qualifying offer let alone match

anything he got from another team.

He missed seven weeks early this season with a broken left

forearm and was in and out of the rotation, leading to a reported

tirade at coach Vinny Del Negro that resulted in a one-game

suspension for detrimental conduct. He was also fined $10,000 in

February 2006 for saying he was participating in the slam dunk

contest for the money and got suspended for two games in March 2008

for skipping practice.

The Bulls knew they were getting an unfinished product when they

acquired his rights from Portland for the rights to LaMarcus

Aldridge on draft night 2006. While Aldridge quickly emerged as one

of the Trail Blazers’ top players, Thomas never realized his

potential.

Now, he’s gone. And the Bulls can start looking ahead.

In the short term, they get an athletic forward in Warrick to

fill the void up front left by Thomas along with an explosive

shooting guard in Murray, and at 27-26, they figure to remain in

playoff contention. But these moves were really about that

star-studded summer.

Besides offering a big contract, they can sell the stars on the

idea of playing alongside one of the best young point guards in

Rose.

“We’ve got an All-Star – a young All-Star – who we feel is

going to be one of the top players moving forward in the NBA, and I

think his game translates into the type of game that guys want to

play with him. Though he’s got a lot of special abilities, he’s

very unselfish. He gets others involved.”