With all the talk about the Heat and Thunder and the NBA Finals, it’s easy to forget about the Bulls.
But it’s the Bulls who finished with the league’s best regular season record (50-16) for the second year in a row. It’s the Bulls who are considered a deep, fairly young team that’s still on the way up. And it’s the Bulls who have a lot of folks wondering how and if they’ll be able to take the next step.
It won’t be easy, of course, as we all know the news about star point guard Derrick Rose and his rebuilt knee. Publicly, the Bulls are saying all the right things – that Rose will return to the player he’s always been, an ultra-fast floor leader who can score on anyone, anywhere, anytime.
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But privately, there’s some concern. Will Rose return with the same explosiveness? Will he even return next season at all? Will the rest of the team be able to stay the course and continue to develop even if he does?
Granted, their recent success is the result of more than just Rose. With names like Luol Deng, Joakim Noah, Carlos Boozer and Taj Gibson, the Bulls are a stacked and athletic team that understands how to play. With a coach like Tom Thibodeau, they understand how to play together. They move the ball on offense and bend their knees and shuffle their feet on defense.
Still, that hasn’t quite been enough – something the Bulls learned after getting bounced by the 76ers in the first round of the playoffs.
That’s one big reason general manager Gar Forman is keeping his options open heading into the draft and free agency.
And the options are there.
In fact, the Bulls own an option on the contract of backup point guard C.J. Watson. Also, the deals belonging to shooting guards Kyle Korver and Ronnie Brewer (believed to be $5 million apiece) expire at the end of next year. That makes them valuable trade commodities.
On top of that, the Bulls own the No. 29 pick in the draft. Their goal, some will tell you, is to move up, perhaps even into the lottery.
In order for that to happen the Bulls will have to offer a player (or players), and probably include their first-rounder. They’re said to have their eyes on guards such as Connecticut’s Jeremy Lamb, Syracuse’s Dion Waiters or Duke’s Austin Rivers.
But it would take a trade to bring any of those names to Chicago.
They could also go the free-agent route, looking to fill the void left by Rose with veterans along the lines of Steve Nash (Suns), Andre Miller (Nuggets), Jason Kidd or former Bulls guard Kirk Hinrich.
Other free agents may also prove to be willing helpers – from Ray Allen (Celtics) to Shannon Brown (Suns) to Jamal Crawford (Trail Blazers) to Nick Young (Clippers).
Regardless of how the Bulls change things, the bottom line is that it seems pretty likely there will be change.
With Rose out, it only makes sense. And while the right moves may result in a small step back during the regular season, they could provide the lift the Bulls need for when it means the most.
At least, that would be the plan.
— Jamal Crawford has opted out of his contract with the Trail Blazers and entered free agency. Teams said to be on his radar include the Heat, Clippers, Kings, Knicks and Cavaliers. Crawford, 32, averaged 14.0 points per game last season. He was originally drafted by the Cavs with the No. 8 pick in 2000, then quickly shipped to the Bulls for Chris Mihm.
— Washington shooting guard Terrence Ross thinks he’d fit in well with the 76ers, who select 15th in the draft later this month. “I think I can provide some shooting ability (by making) some threes, mid-range (jumpers), pull-ups and score down low,” Ross told phillburbs.com. “I think that’s something they need help with. I think I’d be a perfect fit.” Ross is expected to go in the 15-20 range in the draft.
— Small forward Sonny Weems, who played in Lithuania last season, has reportedly drawn interest from several teams, including the Cavs. Weems’ rights are owned by the Raptors, who have the right to match any free-agent offer he receives. Weems is a 6-foot-6 swingman who turns 26 next month. The Celtics and Pistons are also said to be interested.
— North Carolina small forward Harrison Barnes and Florida shooting guard Bradley Beal will work out for the Cavs on Saturday, according to a report in the News-Herald. A team official confirmed the workouts. The Cavs, who own the No. 4 pick in the draft, are high on both players.
— The Blazers are open to trading the Nos. 6 and 11 picks, according to sources familiar with the team’s plans. New general manager Neil Olshey also hinted as much in an interview with The Oregonian. “What we know today is that we have picks 6 and 11,” Olshey said. “What we don’t know is what 6 and 11 will become. Do they become young players? Do they become trade assets? Right now, they are just tools.”
— Jerry Sloan, who pulled out of the running for the Bobcats coaching job, could become a candidate with the Blazers, sources said. Sloan, 70, coached the Jazz from 1988-2011.