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Bulls Mon Jul 14 2014
Getting Carmelo Anthony to Chicago was always a long shot. Despite offering him the best chance at winning a championship during the remaining prime years of his career, the difference in money New York could bring to the table was just too great. The other 29 teams were at a roughly $35 million disadvantage to start with, and the figure was even greater with the Bulls because of their lack of max cap space.
Gar Forman and John Paxson moved on from the news of Anthony's return to New York almost immediately -- agreeing to terms with Pau Gasol on a deal reportedly worth $22 million over three years. The terms weren't reported in the media until a full day later because the Bulls' cap situation is an incredibly fluid one, being one of the few remaining teams in the NBA with the ability to amnesty one of their own players: Carlos Boozer.
GarPax have been trying for weeks to find a trade partner for Boozer, even seeing if the Lakers would take him off their hands in a sign-and-trade deal for the aforementioned Gasol, but the latest reports don't show that happening. The benefit to dealing Boozer as opposed to amnestying him is that the team wouldn't owe him any more money ($16.8 million this year) and could potentially add a massive trade exception they could wield at the February deadline to add an impact player for a playoff run.
It's unlikely the Bulls will be able to find a team interested in making a trade if they haven't done so already, and that puts Jerry Reinsdorf on the hook for the entire salary (unless a team under the cap bids on him, in which the bid amount would be offset). If you're one of the stragglers who thinks Reinsdorf is cheap and wouldn't do something like that, remember that he's agreed to pay over $60 million to waived players since 2004, according to cap guru Mark Deeks.
With Boozer gone and Gasol in, the team is instantly upgraded. Despite being 34 years, Gasol is a better player right now than Boozer was in his prime. The big Spaniard is a more skilled scorer, is a superior passer (though Boozer was very good at it, Gasol is probably only bested by his brother Marc and new teammate Joakim Noah in terms of big man passers), and is a better team rebounder than the guy he's replacing. He's not nearly the elite defender he once was, but is taller, longer, and smarter about positioning than Boozer. He has the flexibility to play and defend power forwards and centers, and will more than likely be an immediate starter for Tom Thibodeau. All this while assuming he's able to stay healthy after missing 55 games combined the last two seasons.
Along with signing Gasol using cap space, the Bulls reportedly agreed to a three year, $17 million deal with former Spanish League MVP Nikola Mirotic, utilizing the rest of their cap space. The 2011 first-round pick allegedly got into a disagreement with his coach in the final weeks of their season over playing time, and it reached a point where Mirotic agreed to buy himself out his contract (which cost roughly $3.5 million to do) without a deal in hand from the Bulls (though the team would've done pretty much anything to make him whole).
Mirotic is a stretch power forward who can shoot the lights out from three point range, and is a skilled passer as well. He can play the pick-and-pop game well with Derrick Rose, but he has limitations when it comes to defense and rebounding. He tries incredibly hard in both those departments, but lacks the elite athleticism it takes to be great. Giving him $17 million is a major risk, but he has heaps of promise that NBA teams like to gamble on. Coming to Chicago now couldn't be better timing for Mirotic either. With Noah, Taj Gibson and now Gasol on the roster ahead of him, he won't be relied upon to do very much early in the season. He can focus on getting better, and only have to absorb 15-20 minutes a night at the very most if everyone is healthy.
With all their cap space used up, the Bulls only had the room exception (two years for $5.6 million total) remaining, and brought back Kirk Hinrich as the backup for Derrick Rose. Hinrich was getting richer offers elsewhere on the market, but chose to stay in Chicago because of his long history here, and his chance to win a championship. He can still bring the ball up the court, and could be far more effective going against second units if Rose can manage to stay healthy.
And with that, the Bulls are out of cap space, and only have minimum deals they can offer to fill out their roster (barring post-signing trades). To finish off their deals with Gasol, Mirotic and Hinrich, the Bulls must now complete the amnesty of Boozer, along with renouncing all their free agents, cutting the non-guaranteed contracts of Ronnie Brewer, Mike James and Lou Amundson, and trading away Greg Smith (dealt to Dallas unofficially) and probably Anthony Randolph.
The Bulls missed out on a player who would've fit their team perfectly. A pure scorer and elite rebounder that would've taken some of the offensive pressure off a point guard with a pair of bad knees. Management responded by going big and returning the team to its 2011 roots by being ultra-deep. It all comes down to the health of Rose though, and that's a question that can't be addressed by GarPax when he's the team's highest paid player. There is no Plan B if he goes down again.