While the NHL world collectively holds their breath (all seventeen of us) for Zack Parise to make up his mind where he will call home next year, I thought I’d use this opportunity to chime in on the other red, white, and black clad tenants of the United Center.  The Bulls are entering an interesting period in their opportunity forecasting.  While not a complete waste of a calendar year, the 2012-13 season is one where little promise is on the horizon for Los Toros and it’s up to John Paxon and Gar Forman to steer the ship and successfully navigate the waters of this off season to leave the team in position for lasting success in the years to come.

Due to Derrick Rose’s torn ACL, it’s safe to say that this coming year is a mulligan for the Chicago Bulls.  I know that.  You know that.  Frankly, I think the Bulls front office and Tom Thibodeau know that, but it will be interesting to see if they embrace it or not. 

If the Cubs have taught us anything this year it’s that a fan base can display patience as long as, A) there is a plan and, B) they are included in it.   When they speak, Paxon & Forman always refer to their having a “big picture” plan in place, and we’re about to see how big that picture really is.

The Bulls have been put at a crossroads these past few days in particular, but they’ve known that it’s been coming for some time.  The lynchpin in this particular scenario is the offer sheet that Omer Asik is about to sign with the Houston Rockets.  For those who haven’t heard, Houston has offered the Bulls backup Turkish center – he of the 3.1 points & 5.3 rebounds per game – $25.1 million dollars over the next three years.  The key to the deal, or more appropriately the poison pill to the Bulls, is the structure of it.  For the first two years Asik will receive $5M/year followed by a whopping sum of ~$15M in year three.  That’s a lot of cap space for a backup center who can’t score.  On draft night, as Forman was asked about how going over the salary cap was going to affect the team’s off season, he made very clear that, “our decisions this summer will be basketball decisions, not financial decisions.”  Well now the call must be made how much truth there is in that statement. 

There’s no doubt Asik has been a valuable member of the Bulls these past two years.  He and Taj Gibson are the defensive soul of the second unit which the team leaned on for a lot of regular season wins.  I think if Coach Thibs had it his way he’d keep Asik over all but Rose & Deng on the team (I’d guess he’d put Omer on par with Noah & Gibson in terms of on the floor value).  A basketball decision says Asik is a vital member of the team going forward.  A financial decision says that paying $15 million for your backup center three years from now is downright ludicrous.

During the 2014-15 season the Bulls are currently on the hook for $17.8M to Derrick Rose, $12.2M to Noah, and another $16.8M to Carlos Boozer alone (Deng’s deal expires the summer before but he’ll be coming off a regular payday of $12.3M).  As you can see there’s not going to be a lot of room to be paying any other player, let alone a backup, an eight figure salary.  Well, that’s not entirely true I guess.  I’ll save you the suspense and tell you right now that Carlos Boozer won’t be a Bull by this time.  Negotiated into the collective bargaining agreement that kept basketball from starting until Christmas this year was an amnesty clause which allows each owner a “Get Out Of Jail Free” card for one of their bad contracts.  The clause allows each team can cut one player from their team and remove them from salary cap consideration (the player still gets paid the money however).  It’s basically a way for owners to escape from one of the horrible deals they’ve handed out over the years – you know, like the $25M ones that they give to centers who score three points a game.  Carlos Boozer is going to be the Bulls amnesty clause case no doubt about it.  It will probably happen that summer so that the team has both he and Deng coming off the books at the same time freeing up ~$30M for the team to re-load. 

So essentially the 2012-13 season is shot (Rose’s injury), and the smart play is to revamp the lineup heading into 2014-15, so the remaining gap in the team’s championship window (2013-14) is two years away and it’s going to close (with the current core) the year after.  Thus GarPax has the option to try and plug the leak in the dam and sign players now to fill Derrick’s void until he comes back next spring in an attempt to stay competitive and try to win this year - or – they can cash in this year and save money, gain player development time for their youth, and play for a better draft pick.  Guess which way I think they should go?

A quick note…  Even without Derrick (and Omer) on the floor this year, the team as currently constituted is no worse than a #4 or #5 seed in the East, so we’re not talking about a Cubs-level tank job for the #1 pick in the draft here.  What I would propose is that the bigger victory this year is in learning what the team has with their last two first round draft picks – Jimmy Butler and Marquis Teague – as opposed to signing a washed up veteran to hold the fort until Derrick returns.  If the Bulls agree with this line of thinking then this summer you’ll watch them wave goodbye to Asik and let CJ Watson, Kyle Korver, and Ronnie Brewer find new homes, replacing them with guys on shorter, one to two year deals, who ideally have some upside meaning they could stick around for three or four years if they pan out. 

This is the “Blow It Up” plan that I personally would endorse.  I was even in favor of trading Luol Deng to Charlotte for the #2 pick in the draft (Charlotte needs leadership and a small forward) so that the Bulls could take Michael Kidd-Gilchrist whom most NBA insiders see as a Scottie Pippen in the making.  That didn’t happen but I’m still on board with the concept.  I’d like to see the Bulls find another young part that can fit with Derrick, Joakim, and Nikola Mirotic, and ideally the Charlotte lottery pick beginning in 2014.  Nikola who you ask?  How about the best young power forward in Europe and two-time Rising Star Trophy Award winner who just so happens to be the Bulls property.  Unfortunately due to his agreement with Real Madrid Nikola is unable to come over Stateside for another two years – which fits right into the Deng and Boozer contract expiration window.  This is your next shot at a championship team Chicago, and any quick fix expenditures on veterans that are going to block playing time or take up salary cap space two years from now are bad ideas. 

I’m sorry to be the bearer of bad news but this edition of your Chicago Bulls has had their shot and due to inexperience (2011) and injury (2012) they weren’t able to get it done.  Fear not however as the next opportunity could be right around the corner.  Pay attention these next few weeks because if Omer’s Rockets contract is matched, or if names like Derrick Fisher and Brandon Roy are bandied about and signed for more than a year (or two at max), then you’re dealing with a front office that refuses to close one window so that they can open another.