Derrick Rose’s season-ending knee surgery wasn’t the direct cause of the Bulls trading Luol Deng to the Cleveland Cavaliers on Tuesday, but it was on that night when the organization admitted it was time to change its view from the present to the future on how to best win with Rose.
And after dealing Deng to Cleveland for Andrew Bynum’s contract and three draft picks – a move which will save the team around $20 million – the Bulls now face the task of using their newly acquired assets and money to build a new foundation around Rose.
“When Derrick got hurt and we knew he was out for the year, we had to look at things more broadly,” vice president of basketball operations John Paxson said. “I think that is a legitimate way of going about it. We didn’t come to that conclusion the day he got hurt, but over time, over these last six weeks or so, things started to make sense.
“What we’ve done in the long run, is we’ve given ourselves an opportunity going forward to create flexibility, and then put together a complete roster with depth and with, again, the idea that guys who play well with Derrick and complement Derrick. And that’s the challenge going forward, but we’re looking forward to it,” he added.
If the Bulls decide to use the amnesty clause on Carlos Boozer next season, saving them nearly $17 million of cap space, it would leave room for them to sign a max free agent or a number of solid role players capable of meshing with Rose, Joakim Noah and Jimmy Butler to get the Bulls back to the top of the Eastern Conference.
[MORE: Bulls moving on after Deng trade]
Of course, that all begins with Rose returning healthy from his second knee surgery in three seasons. On that front, Paxson said he believes that Rose will return to form and be a player the Bulls can build their franchise around while taking it in the post-Deng direction.
“The good news we got out of it is that the surgery was a success,” Paxson said. “The meniscus tear wasn’t extensive and…we know how badly he wants it and is committed to getting better. We don’t have a crystal ball and we don’t know if he’s going to have another injury at some point. We don’t know that. We expect him to get back to form because those last few games he did play, we saw him get his rhythm and all those things.”
Paxson wouldn’t comment on reports that Rose had expressed concern and discontent about having to go through a rebuild in Chicago – “Derrick can speak for himself” – but he did note the importance of staying in contact with all the players, letting them understand why they make the decisions they do, especially the ones built for the long-term well-being of the team that seem like regression in the short-term.
[RELATED: Paxson says Bulls faced reality with Deng]
“Our communication with Derrick has never led us to believe that (he doesn’t want to rebuild). We’ll never put him in the middle of any situation. That’s a bad formula for anything. We never ask a player to choose sides, or anything like that,” Paxson said.
The Bulls will have plenty of cap space to work with next year after trading Deng and waiving Bynum’s $12.5 million salary earlier today. Paxson said the front office’s responsibility is to find players who both complement Rose in a “superstar league” and that will mesh with the rest of the group as the franchise continues to progress around Rose in a team-oriented fashion.
“It’s about building this team, and this deal gives us flexibility to build at a level we feel we need to build,” Paxson said. “We’re a deep team that has ideas of what type of players we want to get in the future. We have ideas of what people we want. That’s our challenge. That’s our goal.”