2014 was an odd year for the Chicago Bulls, that’s for sure. They came into the season with championship expectations, but that took a hit when Derrick Rose suffered a torn meniscus in his right knee. They then seemed to be conceeding the season when they shipped Luol Deng to the Cavaliers in exchange for Andrew Bynum, three future draft picks and cap space.
Interestingly enough, the Bulls actually played better after trading their star small forward and rose up to grab the Eastern Conference’s fourth seed. It was looking good too because they were facing a postseason-inexperienced Wizards squad. Then came a 4-1 series beating that leaves the Bulls with a first-round playoff exit and plenty of questions to answer.
Many of these questions start with Derrick Rose. After a 2011 season where the point guard won the MVP award, he’s since had three injury-plagued seasons in a row. There’s good news lately in that he’s recovered enough to play two-on-two games in practice. However, the Bulls must decide how much stock they can put into the 25-year-old’s knees moving forward.
Head coach Tom Thibodeau also presents another puzzling scenario for the Bulls. He’s definitely a good coach, but even the best have a difficult time dealing with the lofty year-in, year-out expectations put on Chicago. And there have been plenty of rumors that he’s unhappy with the front office and wants out, or the Bulls’ management wants him gone because of the friction. But then again, this team would have a difficult time replacing such a respected coach.
One guy who may not present any questions at all is Carlos Boozer. Although he equally split minutes with Taj Gibson during the regular season, Boozer was often benched in favor of Gibson in the playoff series against Washington. And for good reason too since Gibson averaged 18.2 PPG on 56.1% shooting while Boozer averaged 9.6 PPG on 42.6% shooting. Even worse is how poorly Boozer performed outside of the numbers, continually conceding offensive rebounds and easy buckets during the 4-1 series drubbing. Set to make $16.8 million in 2015, it seems like the Bulls may amnesty him to take $16 million off their salary cap.
Doing so would put Chicago in line to land Carmelo Anthony, one of the prized recruits of this summer’s free agent crop. In fact, many rumors have Anthony seriously considering the Bulls since they have the framework in place to be a championship contender. This team has strong inside players like Joakim Noah and Gibson as well as perimeter shooters like Jimmy Butler and Kirk Heinrich. They just need a go-to star like Anthony to make them a serious contender again.
Of course, the possibility of Rose once again emerging to be this player isn’t totally crazy. But Chicago can’t simply rely on this vision to come true, especially with three straight seasons marred by injury. Signing Anthony takes chance out of the equation and pairs him with an exceptional center in Noah.
The one roadblock that’s been discussed is money because, even after amnestying Boozer, Chicago would only be able to offer a $16 million starting deal. On the other hand, he opted out of his final year in New York, which would’ve paid $23.3 million, so he could test the market. But based on what he’s been saying lately, money isn’t the issue.
‘I’m going to make money. I have money,” Anthony said. “I’m good if I want to retire right now….As far as the money, it don’t really matter to me. If I go somewhere else, I get paid. If I stay in New York, I get paid. As far as the money goes, it’s not my concern. My concern is to be able to compete on a high level, a championship level, coming in this last stretch of my career. I want to compete at that level.”
It’s pretty clear that Chicago will do what they can to remain as attractive as possible to Anthony. And if they can land him, they’ll no longer just be a middling East team with a very good center and solid role players.