Culture of Hoops

Why the Chicago Bulls Should Double Down

Image courtesy of Keith Allison

Image courtesy of Keith Allison/Flickr

Submit this to the oceanic outpouring of opinion and analysis following Derrick Rose’s latest knee injury:

The consensus that has coalesced (with stunning speed) following Derrick Rose’s new season-ending injury has been that it’s time for the Chicago Bulls to abandon the immediate present and begin plotting their new future. As the logic goes, the Bulls were explicitly built to contend this season and this season alone, with the dawn of the next era of Bulls basketball expected to unfold in the summer of 2014. Rose’s absence means a title is almost certainly out of the question this season and so the savvy move would be to strip things to the bare core and maximize future capacity.

This consensus now advocates for a trade of forward Luol Deng, for example, in return for a slew of spare parts, expiring contracts, and draft picks. Deng is talented and versatile enough that several borderline contenders will seriously consider it. The consensus also calls for the use of the one-time amnesty provision on Carlos Boozer which, in fairness, was the case well before Rose’s latest setback. Even Taj Gibson is on the market in the scope of this consensus, not as clear a trade option as Deng but perhaps able to field draft considerations. The goal in any move is to cut costs and assemble assets to properly reload around Rose, Joakim Noah, and Jimmy Butler starting in 2014.

Rose’s three-season run from the lockout-shortened 2012 campaign to now will almost certainly be remembered as a particularly painful window in this franchise’s history. The hope and anticipation associated with Rose’s return and the long-awaited reunion of this particular crew was tremendous, and so the injury is devastating on several levels, not least of which is the sadness that everyone feels on Rose’s behalf. There’s almost no way that this turn of events is remembered as anything other than a truly deflating and miserable outcome for fans and players like.

So what if, rather than adopt the more ruthless worldview pertaining to the franchise’s future and launching a dramatic and soul-sucking overhaul, the Bulls instead doubled down? The Eastern Conference is an outright catastrophe this season, and the current core is likely to make the playoffs in its current form. It’s not out of the question for the Bulls to reload on the fly and salvage what they can of the season, and to potentially dissolve some of the misery that will otherwise be forever attached to Rose’s recent misfortune.

There are several veteran point guards on expiring deals who might be able to fill in on the fly. Jameer Nelson’s minutes for the Orlando Magic have evaporated, and the team appears eager to cut costs at any available opportunity. Kyle Lowry is starting for the Toronto Raptors, but this is not Masai Ujiri’s roster, and he’s on the record as being open to trading almost any player. Nate Robinson’s time with the Denver Nuggets has been particularly underwhelming. Would some patchwork of fringe roster pieces and future draft considerations be enough to bring in a temporary Rose replacement?

Neither Nelson nor Lowry are on the level of Derrick Rose, and Robinson’s stewardship yielded a second-round playoff exit last year. The Bulls would almost certainly need an additional ball handler, as any available Rose replacement would need reinforcements. To that end, Ben Gordon’s massive deal with the Charlotte Bobcats is expiring, the Los Angeles Lakers have stumbled into a series of competent guards, and players such as Jeff Green (Boston Celtics), Evan Turner (Philadelphia 76ers), and Goran Dragic (Phoenix Suns) could easily be had for some of the same benefits that the punditry want Chicago to pursue.

It’s clear enough that this agenda will broadly be dismissed as ignorant, and basketball’s intellectual class could quite easily point to a series of measurements deflating whatever promise this outlook may hold. But the immeasurable element here is the historic experience of the Chicago Bulls’ players and fans, and how betting on this team now might prove to be more meaningful in the end than maintaining the widest possible array of roster options going forward.

After all, there’s no way of knowing what Rose may have left, how Butler might develop, or whether European prospect Nikola Mirotic can live up to expectations. Unfulfilled promise of the future is infinitely more enticing than the known outcomes of the present, and so Charlotte’s first-round pick owed to the Bulls appears to be of far greater value than, say, Jeff Green. But from management to the coaches and players right down to the fans, the Chicago Bulls expected to contend this year, and the loss of that dream will forever be more painful than a larger luxury tax bill or accepting a lousy contract.

This is not to suggest that the Bulls mortgage their entire future; of course not. It’s to say that they should at least explore the notion of doubling down, of giving this team a chance to make a run, since it’s what this team was built for anyway. Right now, in this short window of time, the Bulls are in a position to frame the meaning of this injury and this season, to take their own fate by the horns. Let’s hope they do it.

Featured image courtesy of Keith Allison/Flickr

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