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Bulls Fri May 22 2015

What We Know About the Bulls Offseason

BullsIt was a disappointing end to a frustrating season for the Bulls. They were a team built to win this year and they got an All-NBA performance out of Jimmy Butler. They faced a horribly depleted Cleveland team in the Eastern Conference semi-finals. Instead of a trip to the finals and a chance for a ring, they spiraled out of the playoffs with a lackluster performance that was an embarrassing for a team that embraced its blue collar home.

While the final four teams decide who will hoist the Larry O'Brien trophy, the Bulls begin an offseason full of questions in a place no team wants to be: basketball hell. No cap space and no high draft picks on a team loaded with guys on the wrong side of the aging curve. And that's before even getting to whatever is going to happen with Tom Thibodeau.

With so much being unknown for the Bulls going into the summer months, let's go over everything we know for sure.

The Bulls want to be rid of Tom Thibodeau, and he wants to be rid of them.

Gar Forman and John Paxson don't get along with their coach. We've read it, we've heard it, we've seen it. Management doesn't like how hard Thibodeau pushes his team during practices and games like everything is Game 7 in June. They also don't like getting beat by LeBron James in the playoffs nearly every season, and it isn't only because he's the best player on the planet. Rotation questions and reluctance to try new lineups have become frustrating talking points for fans and basketball aficionados.

Thibodeau doesn't like the front office being meddlesome in any way. They've fired his assistants out of nowhere, imposed minutes limits that the coach runs up against early so he can call them out after the game, and generally don't back up a really successful coach.

And while both parties want to move on, neither is willing to eat money in the deal. The Bulls aren't going to outright fire Thibodeau unless he has another head coaching gig lined up where the money would fulfill the offset language in his contract. Thibodeau isn't going to quit without something else in hand because $9 million is a lot of money for a coach. He also wouldn't know what to do with himself if he didn't have a head coaching job.

The front office has also indicated that if they somehow find a deal out there to trade Thibodeau for picks (there isn't one) that they want his successor in place before such a deal would take place. That's difficult to negotiate since it's an unwritten rule among coaches (unless you're Jason Kidd) that you don't talk to a team that has someone employed at the position already.

Should the Bulls be moving on from their incredibly successful coach? That's a question for another day. Both sides want to see what color the grass is on the other side of the fence, but neither is willing to pay for the gate.

Jimmy Butler will be playing for the Bulls next year.

You don't need to worry about the Bulls' best player leaving. That line by itself might be worth a section of its own, but trying to argue that Derrick Rose or any other player on the Bulls as being better than Butler is foolish. He's a first team All-NBA defender, scores 20 points a night while getting to the line over seven times a game, and shot the triple at nearly 38 percent.

Why isn't he going anywhere? Because the Bulls hold the keys to the kingdom, and the front office isn't stupid. Sure, you might question their ability to lure elite free agents to Chicago, but when it comes to building a strong team, they do just about as good as anyone. They draft extremely well, and consistently score well on value buys in free agency.

Butler is a restricted free agent, so in the worst case scenario of a team offering Butler a Chandler Parson's-esque two-year deal with a player option, the Bulls could simply match it and be done. To prevent that from happening, Forman could just offer Butler a max contract and he'd be precluded from signing an offer sheet like that.

If the Bulls offer the max, it should be the five-year, $97-plus million variety. Get the best player locked up for as long as possible, and do so at a dollar figure that won't even seem restrictive when the cap is set to jump more than $20 million in the summer of 2016. Then again, Butler may want to bet on himself one more time. He did so last year, and it's set to pay off by more than $50 million if he signs a five-year max. If he does it again by not signing anything and accepting the qualifying offer of just over $3 million, he'd be setting himself up for a potential $130 million payday the following summer. The stars of the league will no longer be underpaid.

The Bulls would really like to move a big man.

In a perfect world, the Bulls would try and deal Joakim Noah. The problem is, not many teams are in the market for a big guy making almost $14 million in the final year of his contract. He's also turning 31 next year, and has battled chronic leg issues the past few seasons. His knees, ankles and feet have all caused problems recently, and it showed in the playoffs when he had difficulty elevating to grab rebounds he once inhaled. His offensive game has turned completely sour too, which is probably why teams won't come calling with a package the Bulls could stomach.

Instead, the most marketable of the bigs that the Bulls would be willing to deal is soon-to-be 30-year-old Taj Gibson. He's set to make about $17.5 million over the next two seasons, and is a starting-caliber player. In return, the Bulls would be looking for another bonafide wing they could use in matchups against LeBron-led teams that have tended to go small over the years.

Forman and Paxson see the remaining teams, and there isn't much in the way of true post players. Shooting is the name of the modern NBA game, especially from three. Guess where the final four finished in three-point shooting. One, two, three and four is the answer. Trading a lane clogger makes perfect sense in today's league.

The Bulls are capped out and will likely be taxed out.

That means very little in terms of adding new blood in free agency. In the lowest money scenario in which Butler goes the qualifying offer route and the Bulls cut E'Twaun Moore and Cameron Bairstow, they can't get under the salary cap. They wouldn't want to anyway since they'd lose access to the mid-level and bi-annual exceptions, but it's always good to remember.

If the Bulls give Butler the five-year max, they'll be in the tax after figuring in cap holds for their first-round pick and holds to get them to 12 salaried slots on their cap sheet. They're basically going to be restricted to the confines of the taxpayer mid-level exception of $3.376 million in starting salary for a three-year max deal.

Mike Dunleavy has expressed interest in staying, and despite the fear that guys of that age and athleticism can quickly turn into Kirk Hinrich-esque players, the Bulls need to the floor spacing and shooting. Dunleavy doesn't get enough credit for his heady defense either, and he should. The Bulls also have the advantage of being able to give him what he wants without much cap constraint since they have his Early Bird rights.

Derrick Rose will never be the same.

We might have seen the old Rose here and there throughout the 2014-'15 season, but the MVP Rose is gone forever. That version got to the rack without the need of a screen more than a few times per game, and got to the charity stripe nearly seven times a game while shooting 45 percent from the field. His knees and his brain will not allow him to be that guy ever again.

There are games where he gets hot from three-point range, and his mechanics on those nights compared to the nights where he barely draws iron are wildly different. If he could ever figure out how to eliminate the hitch and unnecessary movement, he could become a different type of All-NBA caliber player. Until that happens, or until he can figure out how to play angles on defense correctly, he might have a tough time making All Star games in a league loaded with talented point guards.

 
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