(Nikola Mirotic and Pau Gasol are introduced to the Chicago Bulls)
The Chicago Bulls are known for not making a big splash in the offseason. Whether it be missing out on a big time star, or being very frugal with their money, fans have come to expect the worst when it comes to free agency pickups in Chicago. In 2010 we saw the Bulls miss out on the Big 3 and jump to sign Carlos Boozer to ensure they wouldn’t be completely left in the dark. Overpaying for Boozer, and putting them in salary cap hell for the next 4 years was probably their worst mistake. A mistake that seemed to be a panic move. Along with the multiple injuries to Derrick Rose, the Bulls luck hasn’t helped their salary cap woes to go along with lack of depth.
Carmelo Anthony was “Plan A” for Chicago this offseason, and as we all know, the Bulls once again were left hanging after yet another decision. This time around would be different however. Chicago was ready for the rejection. The Bulls would have a solid backup plan in line just in case Melo stayed in NY or went elsewhere. They spoke with Pau Gasol, lined up Nikola Mirotic, traded up in the draft to get their guy, and re-signed Kirk Hinrich. Making the depth to this roster better and perhaps, more talented than it was in 2010-11 season when the Bulls fell to Miami in the ECF.
Let’s take a look at how Chicago has done so far this offseason.
The Bulls made it clear that Pau was option #1 of Plan B. Flying out to LA a few days after meeting with Carmelo Anthony to make their pitch. The veteran will bring his offensive arsenal, uncanny passing ability for a big, along with size, and his veteran leadership to this Eastern Conference front-runner. His addition to the Bulls makes their front court among the top front courts in the league, if not the best. Opposing players will find it hard to find space in the painted area with two big bodies protect the rim.
After turning down roughly $11.3 million to leave LA and join a contender in Chicago. Pau Gasol is all about the winning. At 34 years of age Pau looks to contribute his career avg of 18ppg and 9rpg to the Bulls Title hopes. Pau agreed to a 3 year $22 million deal with the Bulls with the first year of his contract coming to $7.1 million. For the price of his contract, Gasol could be looked at as a steal for Chicago come June 2015, if it already doesn’t look that way. Pau said his decision was based of instincts and he was ready to start a new chapter in his life.
After being drafted in 2011 in the first round many Bulls fans have become impatient with Niko. Not realizing how the Euroleague works or what pieces need to fall in place to make a buyout successful. The amount of money Mirotic would have had to pay to his former team, along with the money Chicago was allowed under CBA rule to contribute made it a wise decision for Niko to stay put in Madrid up until this season. Waiting until now when, Chicago had the funds to help pay for the buyout, along with the cap space to make it worth his while, was a much wiser decision financially for Niko and the Bulls.
At 23yrs old the Spanish-Montenegrin comes to Chicago as a Euro Superstar. A 2-time MVP, stretch 4, Niko is what the Bulls have been wanting on their roster for years. A Dirk type player who has size, and can take the bigger man out of the lane to allow Rose, and other guards to attack the rim. Teams will have a tough time guarding Niko on the perimeter with a driving Derrick Rose looking to kick it out if they dare try to collapse.
Niko’s foot problems could become an issue as we all know that plantar fasciitis is an injury that never fully heals. Look for Jo to give him pointers of strengthening and training during the offseason to limit and hopefully prevent any future injuries. As a rookie it is well-known that a player must earn Thibs trust in order to see any significant time, but with Niko’s NBA ready skill set look for him to contribute 15-20 minutes per game this upcoming season.
It was clear Chicago wanted Doug McDermott on draft day, and they were going to do whatever it would take to get their man. After trying all week to move into the top 10 to ensure this Creighton sensation would be in a Bulls uniform, Chicago was able to trade their two first round picks and a second round pick for the draft rights to Doug McDermott along with Anthony Randolph, who was later traded by Chicago for cap space.
Chicago has let it be known two things needed to happen this offseason in order to improve. 1) Get more ball handlers/creators. 2) Improve drastically in the shooting department. Well in comes Doug McDermott to help with both. Although shooting his obviously more his strength, Doug can also handle the rock. He won’t blow by you with quickness, but is a very crafty and skilled basketball player on the offensive side of the ball. Crafty and skilled enough to create space and get his own shot. Very reminiscent of a younger Dirk Nowitzki when you watch him go to work. He even mimicked his flat-footed step-back jumper after Dirk.
Doug will have a legitimate shot at getting anywhere from 20-30 minutes a game if he plays anywhere near the level he played in the LSVL. Although, he does need to improve defensively, and get to know the system, Doug is a pro on all levels. He takes pride in his game, and seems to be picking up things on the fly. Don’t be surprised if he is starts to get key minutes for this team halfway through the season.
What could go most unnoticed by some, is Cameron Bairstow’s ability to hit an elbow jumper. His form may not be the greatest, but he is quite accurate from about 10-15ft out. Coming out of college not a lot of people outside of Lobo nation knew much about this Aussie. He is a hard-nosed, gritty, passionate player, that leaves everything on the court. A “Chicago guy”. Picked in the second round as the 49th pick overall, Chicago seems to have stolen this guy from the draft. Gar Forman let it be known after the draft that Chicago was willing to move up in the draft in order to get their man. After a few phone calls, they realized Cameron would be there when it came time to make their selection.
Bairstow was quiet in his first few seasons for New Mexico, but it was his senior year that he really made a name for himself. Avg 20ppg and 7rpg, Cameron was one of the focal points for the Lobo offense. His NBA game may not translate so quickly on the offensive end, however, the Bulls coaching staff feels Bairstow could be another Omer Asik for them. They are extremely high on him so don’t expect another Erik Murphy type player from this second rounder.
Captain Kirk. The man, the myth, the legend, is back in a Bulls season for yet another tour. The love fest between the Bulls front office, and Kirk Hinrich continues. Even after a sub par year, many believed Kirk would be finding a new home this upcoming season. Unless of course, he came back for the veteran minimum, in which he would make $1.5 million per year. We forget how much Thibs loves this guy obviously because, neither one happened, as Kirk is back playing for the Bulls on a 2yr $6 million contract making $2.7 million this season. Hinrich did turn down a greater offer from Charlotte to return to the Bulls. Most likely because he has a house in the area.
He was initially brought in here to become Derrick Rose’s backup. His placement in the starting lineup gave him a bit of an unfair hate from some fans, to go along with his $4 million salary. If in fact Kirk could have remained in that back up role, and been the floor general for the second unit, perhaps fans wouldn’t be so up in arms over his re-signing with Chicago. D.J. Augustin’s contract for $400k more than Kirk’s didn’t make the situation any better for Bulls fans.
If you take a step back and look at how Kirk and D.J. preformed on the court last season together, you can see what the front office may have been thinking. Have Kirk guard the 2 while Derrick guards the 1. Let Kirk bring the ball up and allow Derrick to roam freely in the offense without the ball. Exactly how the duo of Kirk and D.J. excelled while on the court together last year. Look for that set up to take place more times than not this upcoming season, while Kirk and Derrick are in late game situations together trying to close out games. Don’t hate, it’s Kirk we are talking about here, he sets up the offense wonderfully.
A journeyman who has the ability to drop some major points. With Tom Thibodeau being coined as the Point Guard Whisperer, look for Brooks to contribute often in a Bulls uniform. A combo guard who plays a very similar style to that of D.J. Augustin, this signing by the front office is a smart decision. Brooks has yet to sign with the Bulls, but has agreed tentatively to come to Chicago for the vet minimum. Look for the savvy vet to ink a deal before week’s end.
With the injury history to both Rose and Kirk, bringing in a very serviceable Brooks, is a good and safe choice. Not only can play backup minutes to Derrick or Kirk, but may also lead the second unit attack at times next to Hinrich, a la Augustin. This signing improves the Bulls depth in the backcourt and saves them a lot of money, given a player of Brooks potential and caliber could be looking for $2-3 million a year.
Carlos Boozer (Amnesty)-
Finally. The Bulls are rid of the poisonous contract of Carlos Boozer. Not the poisonous player of Boozer, but from a money standpoint it was just a bad contract. He preformed the way most would have expected for the first 3 years in Chicago. It was this past season that even the Boozer apologist found it hard to stick up for the former Duke Blue Devil. From his over the top laziness on the defensive end, to the comments towards the media, it was clear Boozer’s days were numbered.
With the amnesty of Carlos Boozer, the Bulls were able to sign Pau Gasol, Nikola Mirotic, and Kirk Hinrich, from the cap space they created by getting rid of his contract. After many failed attempts to trade him away, and many rumors that he would be involved in a sign-and-trade for Carmelo Anthony, the Chicago Bulls had no choice but to amnesty Boozer on the final day of the amnesty window. Boozer will now spend the next season in LA playing for Gasol’s former team, before hitting free agency next offseason.
Sure the Bulls missed out on the “Big Fish” once again this offseason. But, by the way things are shaping up, and the depth this front office is forming for the upcoming season, it’s hard to think of it as a failed offseason. They out preformed many expectations by fans, and even changed the thought process of the “Melo or Die” crowd. Bottom line, this team of front office personnel did their job and perhaps saved their jobs in the process. Chicago is now a front-runner by many to come out of the East and fight for a Title. With just a few small moves left to round out the roster I would make a strong argument that this team came out the biggest winners in the offseason.