Bulls outlook still positive after off-season moves

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Bulls outlook still positive after off-season moves

It seems like just about every Bulls' fan I talk to wants to know why the front office wasn't more aggressive in trying to upgrade the roster over the last month. By now, you've probably already heard the explanation from Gar Forman and the team's beat writers. The Bulls want to maintain salary cap flexibility for the summer of 2014 when a big free agent class could provide a second star to go with Derrick Rose. That's also the summer the Bulls figure to use the amnesty provision on the final year of Carlos Boozers contract, and sign top European prospect Nikola Mirotic .So the question is: Are the Bulls in a holding pattern for the next two seasons?In terms of adding long term salary commitments, yes. But not in terms of fielding a team that can still compete in the Eastern Conference. Forman and his staff did a good job of rebuilding the Bulls' bench with the addition of solid veterans like Kirk Hinrich, Marco Belinelli and Nazr Mohammed. Hinrich will begin the season as the Bulls' starting point guard, then move into a reserve role when Rose finishes his rehab from knee surgery.
Belinelli is something of an unknown commodity since he came over from Italy and played his first five NBA seasons with bad teams. But the 26-year-old shooting guard is a career 39 percent shooter from 3-point range, and he's a more athletic player than the departed Kyle Korver. Belinelli admits he's not a great defensive player, but if anyone can help him, it's Tom Thibodeau.Hinrich is definitely an upgrade over C.J. Watson when he moves in to a reserve role, and we hear Captain Kirk is working out like a madman this summer, dropping weight and sharpening his skills for a second tour of duty with the Bulls. Hinrich has never been a high percentage shooter, but his ability to play both guard spots should give Thibodeau a lot more versatility late in close games. And no one will question Hinrichs work ethic and intensity on the defensive end.Second year forward Jimmy Butler also looks ready for regular rotation minutes. He has worked extremely hard at the Berto Center throughout the off-season, and was very impressive at the Las Vegas Summer League, making the All-Star team, along with free agent forward Malcolm Thomas. Butler looks a lot more aggressive on the offensive end, and should be able to get to the free throw line regularly with his ability to drive to the basket. Butler will eventually be an upgrade over the offensively-challenged Ronnie Brewer.
And lets hope the Bulls find a way to sign Thomas, whos getting attention from several teams after his strong summer league showing. At 6-foot-9, 220 pounds, his build is very similar to Taj Gibsons, and he would provide some insurance in case Tajs salary demands become too high as he gets ready to head into restricted free agency next summer.As far as Mohammed goes, the Chicago native has battled injuries in recent years, but he does have a nice touch around the basket, something that could not be said about the departed Omer Asik. Of course, Asik is a much better defensive player than Mohammed, but considering their relative salaries, its a trade-off the Bulls can live with. Bottom line, the bench will look a lot different than the last couple of seasons, but it could be just as effective, with more offensive potential.So where do the Bulls figure in the East? With Rose rehabbing for the first half of the season, the Bulls will go through some rough patches, especially on the offensive end. But the schedule is favorable early, and never underestimate the ability of Thibodeau and his staff to get the players prepared and motivated to take on every opponent. Assuming Luol Deng bypasses surgery on his injured wrist, the Bulls should have more than enough offense to win a high percentage of their games in the upcoming season. A finish somewhere in the four-to-six playoff seeding range is certainly reasonable. And, if Rose comes back strong for the second half of the season, the Bulls could be one of those dangerous teams that no one wants to face in the playoffs.Miami is still the class of the league, and the Heat got even better with the additions of Ray Allen and Rashard Lewis. Boston also reloaded with the addition of Jason Terry, Jeff Green, Courtney Lee and first round draft picks Jared Sullinger and Fab Melo.
Indiana will give the Bulls a battle for the Central Division title after keeping Roy Hibbert, and some of their young players should continue to improve. Add in the two New York teams, and its clear the East is stronger, especially at the top. But I would never bet against Thibodeau in giving his team an edge over the course of a grueling 82-game regular season. The Bulls might take a step back, but they should still be able to win at least 45 games, and qualify comfortably for the playoffs.The 2013-2014 outlook should be even brighter with Rose probably back in top form, and then well see if the long range planning by the front office will pay off big time in the summer of 2014. Believe me, the Bulls did not want to lose Asik. They scouted him, traded three second round draft picks to acquire him, and worked extremely hard to develop him over the last two seasons.
But that huge cap hit in 2014-2015 season was just too much to absorb. The focus continues to be about building the best possible team around Rose, and if that means passing on guys such as O.J. Mayo, Courtney Lee and Randy Foye in the short term, lets hope it pays off in the addition of a second major star somewhere down the line.In the meantime, dont panic Bulls fans. Your team will still be extremely competitive and fun to watch in the upcoming season, and we can all look forward to the day when Tommy Edwards can announce:...From Chicago...Welcome Back, Derrick Rose!

Bulls Talk Podcast: Gar Forman defends Jimmy Butler trade

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AP

Bulls Talk Podcast: Gar Forman defends Jimmy Butler trade

On the latest Bulls Talk Podcast, Mark Schanowski, Will Perdue and Vincent Goodwill recap the Bulls' busy NBA Draft and the decision to trade Jimmy Butler to Minnesota. 

Bulls general manager Gar Forman joins the panel for an exclusive interview. He breaks down why the organization decided to move the three-time All-Star. 

Click here to Bulls Talk Podcast.

Nikola Mirotic and why the Bulls traded their second-round pick

Nikola Mirotic and why the Bulls traded their second-round pick

The Bulls entered rebuild mode on Thursday night after they dealt Jimmy Butler to the Minnesota Timberwolves. They acquired a pair of guards in Zach LaVine and Kris Dunn, and the No. 7 pick which they used to select Arizona power forward Lauri Markkanen.

But the Bulls opted not to continue adding youth to their roster when they sold their second-round pick, No. 38 overall, to the Golden State Warriors. That pick was Oregon power forward Jordan Bell, who many considered a late first-round prospect.

The move was perplexing for a team that hours earlier had traded away its franchise player to start a youth movement. But VP John Paxson said after the draft that the decision to move the pick was based on team depth, hinting at a significant move the Bulls will make in free agency.

"We had some wings on our board that we had targeted that were the only way we were going to keep that (No. 38) pick, and they went before us. And drafting Lauri (Markkanen), and the fact that we have, Niko’s a restricted free agent we intend to bring back, Bobby Portis, we didn’t want to add another big and that’s really all that was left on our board."

Both Paxson and general manager Gar Forman have said since the season ended that Mirotic, who will become a restricted free agent on July 1, is part of their future plans. The Bulls will be able to match any contract that another team offers Mirotic, and they intend to keep the 26-year-old in Chicago. After Butler's departure, Mirotic is now the longest tenured member of the Bulls. He's been with the team for three seasons.

The wings Paxson may have been referring to include Miami's Devon Reed (32nd overall to Phoenix), Kansas State's Wesley Iwundu (33rd overall to Orlando) or SMU's Semi Ojeleye (Boston, 37th overall). Point guards Juwan Evans (Oklahoma State) and Sterling Brown (SMU) were still on the board and potential options, but the Bulls were set on looking for wing help after receiving point guard Kris Dunn and shooting guard Zach LaVine in the Butler trade.

The Bulls frontcourt depth looks filled, as Cristiano Felicio is expected to return behind Brook Lopez. Mirotic, Portis, Markkanen and Joffrey Lauvergne should make up the power forward depth chart. Opting against using the 38th pick, which Golden State bought for a whopping $3.5 million, also leaves the Bulls with room to add a 13th player in the fall.

"It keeps us at 12 roster spots and gives us real flexibility for our roster," Paxson said. "So we didn’t just want to use up a roster spot on a player that we probably wouldn’t have kept."