DEERFIELD, Ill. -- As excited as Gar Forman was about trading up in the NBA draft for Doug McDermott, the Bulls general manager understands that the crucial part of the roster building for 2014-15 begins next week when free agency opens.
And for as much as McDermott, a three-time All-American and fifth all-time leading scorer in NCAA history, will help a Bulls team that shot a league-worst 43.2 percent and averaged 93 points per game a year ago, the biggest takeaway from Thursday night was that Chicago's free agency plan is still intact.
The Bulls traded their two first-round picks (Nos. 16 and 19) and a 2015 second-round pick to acquire McDermott, the country's leading scorer. But with the draft in the rearview mirror, the front office will now turn their sights toward acquiring one of the best scorers in the NBA, Carmelo Anthony.
"It’s going to be a very fluid situation," Forman said in a joint press conference with Tom Thibodeau. "Obviously we’re going to evaluate all the different avenues that we have to try to make the team better. And I think we’re all very optimistic, no matter which way it goes, that when we come out of this July period that our team is going to be stronger than it was going in."
And though the Bulls traded away two draft picks to acquire McDermott and his single contract, forward Anthony Randolph was also part of the deal that the Bulls used with their trade exception from the Luol Deng deal in January. The Nuggets, looking for flexibility in their roster spots, made sure Randolph was part of the deal, terms the Bulls accepted. Randolph is signed through 2015 at $1.825 million, meaning the Bulls actually will spend more money on both he and McDermott than they would have if they kept the 16th and 19th picks.
But that decision to take on Randolph's salary, at least for now, to obtain a player they desperately wanted in McDermott showed that Forman and the Bulls aren't pushing their chips all-in on a potential blockbuster free agent coming to Chicago. Understanding they can only control so much of the situation, acquiring McDermott ensures that Plans B, C and D are kept on track if Plan A, as in Anthony, doesn't come to fruition.
"It really is just going to be a fluid situation, and we’ve mapped out a number of different ways this could go," he said. "Some of it we can control, some of it we don’t, just like in any situation. But we’ll certainly try to be aggressive as we can be to continue to improve the team."
Within Forman's answers it was apparent the Bulls will take the initiative in free agency. Though his tone was more cautious and realistic - seeing as free agency is still four days away - he did note in multiple responses to questions that the Bulls feel comfortable and optimistic on where they stand heading into free agency on July 1. He deflected a question on overseas forward Nikola Mirotic, saying he's "still not sure" if the talented European will join the Bulls this year, considering signing Anthony or LeBron James would mean the Bulls won't have enough money leftover to buy out his contract in Spain.
As far as national reports and rumors go, the Bulls are considered one of the front runners for Anthony's services, and Anthony has put Chicago on the initial shortlist of teams he plans to meet with once the clock strikes midnight on Tuesday.
They'll be hoping for better results than what occurred four years ago, when LeBron James, Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh teamed up in Miami, Amare Stoudemire signed with the Knicks and Joe Johnson took a max contract in Atlanta, leaving the Bulls with Carlos Boozer, who is expected to be amnestied in the coming weeks to free up room to go after Anthony.
Forman rightfully admitted that this year's offseason in Chicago is different than 2010, when the Bulls had enough cap space without moving any parts to offer a maximum contract. But he also said that the organization took important lessons from that failed offseason, noting that "our presentations went well" and that they plan to take the same approach this offseason.
With a healthy Derrick Rose, Joakim Noah now an All-NBA center and reigning Defensive Player of the Year and McDermott in tow, the Bulls know they have plenty to offer incoming free agents.
"What we’re always going to sell is obviously the great city of Chicago," he said, "our fan base, the culture that’s been created here, the success that we’ve had up to this point and the feeling we have we can continue to improve and continue to have great success moving forward. So we feel we’ve got a lot to sell.
"We feel confident in what we have as far as our organization, the culture that’s been created and the players that we have here now and I think players will be able to see that we’ve got an opportunity to build on that and build this into a championship-caliber team."
Added Tom Thibodeau, when asked how Derrick Rose's health will play into those selling points: "I think it’s not only Derrick – and Derrick’s doing great – but I think the thing that’ll make it attractive is the players that are along with Derrick. I think we have a good team, a great city, a great organization and we have a team that has depth."
Still, there's always the chance Forman, John Paxson and Thibodeau hit on all their selling points and still come up short. The reality is the Bulls will have to number-crunch, move significant players and contracts and still build a contending roster if they hope to lure in a top-tier free agent. It's certainly possible, and in Anthony's case more likely than any other team's current situation if national reports are to be believed.
"Our entire staff has also spent a lot of time this season (and) our scouting staff looked ahead to the summer, and then recently we spent a lot of time as far as planning for all the different scenarios, all the different things that could happen in July," Forman said. "And looking at all our options, to accomplish some things we’re going to have to be creative."
That creativity began Thursday night when they moved up in the draft to acquire McDermott, the first piece to a puzzle they hope will will be completed the way they desire it to be by the time the league's top free agents have made their decisions on where to sign.