Beauty in eye of beholder for Bulls' free-agent moves

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Beauty in eye of beholder for Bulls' free-agent moves

As other teams around the league are beginning to slow down their pursuit of free agents after a flurry of signings to begin the month, it appears that the Bulls are finally getting into the swing of things. Such is the nature of the organization's approach this offseason. An unwillingness to spend as freely as many of their peers can be interpreted as either the expected "step back" team general manager Gar Forman referred to earlier this summer, or exhibiting wise fiscal sense in the face of the league's punitive rules in the new CBA, as well as having an eye toward the future.
Veteran center Nazr Mohammed will be on board next season, as first reported by Peter Vecsey early Sunday morning and confirmed by a person privy to the negotiations. The addition of the Chicago native, who attended Kenwood Academy in Hyde Park, was confirmed by an individual with knowledge of the situation, and indeed signals that the Bulls are unlikely to match Houston's 25.1-million offer sheet to restricted free agent Omer Asik, which was attempted to be delivered by the Rockets in Las Vegas on Saturday, giving the Bulls until Tuesday evening to make a decision.
Mohammed is regarded as a solid defender and while not an offensive juggernaut, is a more reliable option than Asik as a scorer. And while he doesn't possess the same upside in the latter stages of his career, he should help the Bulls' case to remain one of the league's elite defensive units. However, Mohammed's signing, confirmed to be at the league's veteran minimum, doesn't mean the Bulls are done adding post depth.
Summer-league revelation Malcolm Thomas is being wooed with a one-year-contract, according to a source, though the active 6-foot-8 power forward is also garnering interest multiple other NBA teams. Thomas notched double-doubles and led all competition in rebounding through his first four games in Las Vegas, prior to playing fewer minutes in the Bulls' blowout loss to Milwaukee in their finale Sunday. Thomas and swingman Jimmy Butler were named to the summer league's all-star team Sunday, despite the team only winning one game.
Bringing a backup shooting guard to Chicago also remains a priority and Marco Bellinelli, a sharpshooter who suited up for the Hornets last season, looks like he'll fill that role, combining with forward acquisition Vladimir Radmanovic to replace the outside shooting of the departed Kyle Korver. According to a source, Bellinelli's deal, likely at the league's bi-annual exception, is done, but that apparently isn't precluding the Bulls from continuing to pursue another free-agent: shooting guard Randy Foye. Compared to Belinelli, Foye is more of a slasher, better on-ball defender and has the ability to slide over to point guard, something that must be considered in the wake of first-round draft pick Marquis Teague's uneven summer-league play. Former Celtic E'Twaun Moore, a native of nearby East Chicago, Ind., and Patrick Beverley, who starred at Marshall High School and participated in the Bulls' mini-camp prior to Las Vegas, are also more remote possibilities.
Evaluated individually, none of these moves can be considered earth-shattering. Following Korver's trade to Atlanta, Asik's signing with Houston and fellow reserves C.J. Watson, John Lucas and Ronnie Brewer being waived, the tremendous depth the Bulls have enjoyed over the last two seasons has taken a hit, if not in talent, then certainly in chemistry and on the defensive end (Watson and Lucas will play for the Nets and Raptors, respectively; Brewer is the only member of the "Bench Mob" yet to find a new home). The front office's approach to free agency of waiting out the market for low-priced veterans -- with the relative exception of veteran guard Kirk Hinrich, whose two-year contract became official Monday - -might not sit well with fans, or even jibe with the Bulls' coaching staff win-now philosophy, but it is part of a long-term plan.
Although the chemistry of the erstwhile second unit won't be immediately duplicated, Bellinelli's relative youth and shooting prowess has the potential to provide a reasonable match for what Korver brought to the table. Hinrich can be considered an upgrade from Watson when he moves to the bench after Derrick Rose's eventual return, Mohammed should be effective in the same limited minutes Asik played last season, and Radmanovic, as a deep reserve, is a more feasible on-court option than fan favorite Brian Scalabrine. Butler's Vegas production also justifies giving him a shot to replace Brewer.
For all of the talk about the Bulls pinching pennies, from an on-court and financial perspective, consider the following: They did bring in serviceable talent to fill in for what they lost, it's now unavoidable that the franchise will pay the luxury tax for the first time in its history, even if it's less of a penalty than other, more free-spending teams, and looking ahead, they did gain some flexibility for the future.
While priorities remain signing both head coach Tom Thibodeau and Taj Gibson, the last remaining member of the "Bench Mob," to long-term contract extensions in the near future, as well as finishing off free agency with likely one backcourt and frontcourt acquisition, the upcoming season isn't one in which the Bulls can be considered a true contender, at least not based on present personnel. They should, however, at least be able to tread water. In an Eastern Conference that's improved, but still not strong from top to bottom, the Bulls' projected roster still appears to be a playoff team, even without Rose to begin the season in a pack that includes the Knicks, Nets, Pacers and 76ers, but below the defending-champion Heat and conference-finalist Celtics.
What the Bulls need is, based on Thibodeau's defensive schemes, the hope that a rejuvenated Hamilton remains healthy, Boozer can carry more of the scoring load early on, Hinrich proves that he's still capable of being a starting-caliber point guard for a long stretch, the increasing possibility of Deng not having wrist surgery after the Olympics, Gibson using his stint with the USA Select Team as a springboard to a stellar campaign and the new additions to the rotation, from Butler to the free-agent acquisitions, forming a cohesive second unit.
But moving forward, after Hamilton comes off the books next summer -- the team holds an option for him in the 2013-14 season; the incumbent starting shooting guard is presently working with the team's strength and conditioning coach in an effort to not repeat his injury-plagued debut campaign in Chicago, and get back to his previous form -- the Bulls will have an opportunity to make a push in free agency, when the likes of Oklahoma City's James Harden and others are free agents, especially if the amnesty provision is used on Carlos Boozer, something they could postpone until the following offseason, but are extremely likely to use at some point before his contract expires. Of course, they could wait until 2014 to amnesty Boozer -- something that's extremely likely to occur before his contract expires.
2014 is also when the contract of All-Star Luol Deng, who scored 25 points, albeit in a blowout defeat, in Great Britain's exhibition game against Team USA last week, expires -- dovetailing nicely to the expected arrival of 2011 first-round pick Nikola Mirotic from Spain and also making another major asset, the future draft pick from Charlotte acquired in the Tyrus Thomas trade, even more appealing.
So yes, in 2014, when the likes of LeBron James, Dwyane Wade and Carmelo Anthony can exercise early-termination options in their contracts to become free agents -- aging stars such as Kobe Bryant, Dirk Nowitzki, Paul Pierce and long-rumored Bulls target Pau Gasol will also hit the market that summer -- the Bulls will have an opportunity to make a major splash.
Several factors, including Rose's health, Gibson's impending free agency, whether or not Deng will be part of the team's future, Mirotic's potential, maximizing the value of the Bobcats' pick and the belief that the spending of rival teams this summer will prohibit them from competing as effectively from a financial standpoint down the road, will impact how successful the Bulls' vision will be, but it's time to come to grips with the blue-collar team that the Windy City identified with morphing into a new group, still with the talent to win, yet one that can only be judged on the success of the franchise in the future, based on a strategic gamble in the present.

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What will Bulls do with Rajon Rondo and Dwyane Wade?

What will Bulls do with Rajon Rondo and Dwyane Wade?

The Bulls have made their biggest decision of the offseason but the future of Rajon Rondo and to a lesser extent, Dwyane Wade, is still in the air.

Due to the trade for Kris Dunn and the Bulls having acquired Cameron Payne at the trade deadline last season, it doesn’t appear to be much room for Rondo. Even moreso, considering Dunn and Payne’s lack of production, one would think the Bulls would easily guarantee Rondo’s $13.3 million for next season.

But with the June 30th deadline approaching, it seems more and more like the Bulls will buy Rondo out for $3 million and go with a total youth movement, despite Rondo’s success with guiding some of the young players on the roster.

If not for Rondo’s wrist injury in Game 2 of the Bulls’ first-round series against the Boston Celtics, the Bulls could’ve advanced to the second round of the playoffs. Instead, they’re embarking on what could be a long process that may take years to recover from.

“He’s always been a great teammate and nurturer of the young guys,” said Bill Duffy, Rondo’s agent. Duffy also serves as Zach LaVine’s agent, so he was in attendance for LaVine’s introduction at the United Center.

The handling of Rondo’s benching, re-emergence and subsequent importance to the Bulls this past season has helped Rondo, in a sense. Rondo proved to be a galvanizing force to a degree after being shuffled in and out of the starting lineup.

“I think it’s fair to say he definitely showed a different persona that what had existed but like I said, he’s always been that way, I think it’s more publicized,” Duffy said. “I think he just loves to develop people, always managing and directing. So I think that’s always the case with the younger guys.”

If Rondo is released—and it certainly appears matters are trending in that direction, the 31-year old could have suitors in the New Orleans Pelicans and Indiana Pacers, sources tell CSNChicago.com. One would think the Bulls could use Rondo’s type of straightforward but encouraging brand of leadership in the locker room, but the Bulls have yet to guarantee his contract for next season.

“That’s still to be determined,” Bulls Executive Vice President John Paxson said. “We’re going to sit down with Bill and talk it through. We do understand that veterans are important for a young basketball team, the right veterans – guys that are good teammates, are supportive of the young guys and can continue to teach them how to be pros. Those are things we’ll be addressing.”

“The proof’s always in the pudding and I think if you talk to the front office and coaches, they really love what he brought and how he handled the challenges last year,” Duffy said. “I think we all mature over time and he’s been in the league a long time. He wants to win but he loves the game. I think he appreciates it more, he’s kinda of in his twilight years or approaching it.”

As for Wade, he exercised his $23.8 million option for next season as he was expected to, but that was before the Jimmy Butler trade that ushered in a new day of change.

There’s been speculation Wade would seek a buyout from the Bulls at the start of free agency but so far, those conversations haven’t been held and Paxson intimated Wade would have to give back a significant amount of that money to become a free agent.

There’s been speculation of Wade joining LeBron James with the Cleveland Cavaliers, as well as Carmelo Anthony getting a buyout from the Knicks and following suit.

But the Cavaliers will have very little to offer in the way of cap space, so it’s tough to see Wade giving back a large sum then going to Cleveland for the veterans’ minimum—which would not make up the difference of a “significant” amount.

“I know Gar has spoken with Leon Rose, Dwyane’s agent, As far as the buyout, that has not been broached,” Paxson said. “I would say this: In this type of scenario, it would have to benefit us. It would have to benefit us. Dwyane was a great pro last year, and he’s been around a lot of different situations.”

But with Wade’s history of giving up large sums of money in the name of team, it’s harder to predict his moves. As strong as his relationship with Butler is, the possibility of Butler being moved didn’t affect him picking up his option, so his desire to play competitive or at least meaningful basketball could be weighed against wanting to keep his family comfortable after relocating to Chicago last year and collecting every dollar of his deal.

“He was in Miami when they had a couple rebuilding years as well,” Paxson said. “So right now we’re operating under assumption that he’ll be here. But like I said, if that subject is ever broached by them, it would have to be advantageous for us."