The Chicago Bulls had one of the most curious offseasons in recent memory. Concerned about future flirtations with the luxury tax and their viability as a contender with Derrick Rose injured, the Bulls replaced their elite bench with the cheapest talent they could find, turning a major strength into a weakness. The one time they did splurge more than necessary was to sign old friend Kirk Hinrich to fill in for Rose, which would have been a great move four years ago, but not now.
In the process, the Bulls took a contending team and turned it into an also-ran whose only hope to deliver the city a deep playoff run is for Rose to come back way sooner than expected and for Tom Thibodeau to inspire his existing players to overachieve like they've never overachieved before.
Let's analyze their bad offseason.
SIGNED KIRK HINRICH, LET CJ WATSON GO
There's almost no way to defend this move. The only way it works out is if Hinrich can rediscover the game he displayed in being one of the Bulls' core pieces a half a decade ago. Hinrich isn't quite as bad as his numbers in Atlanta showed last year -- he was awful in the first half while recovering from injury, then played better in the second half -- but he is in clear decline. Worse, he now must be a lead point guard again after drifting off the ball and into a spot-up shooting role over the past couple years. All this for a guy who they used the non-taxpayer mid-level exception to sign instead of trying to get him for less or acquiring him in a sign-and-trade involving Kyle Korver (more on that later). That decision essentially capped the Bulls' total team salary at $74 million, limiting the flexibility they hoped to attain this summer.
The odd thing about this move is the Bulls had a much simpler alternative: keep C.J. Watson. Watson was better than Hinrich last season and would have been under contract for $3.2 million next year, which is less than what Hinrich will make. But for some reason, the Bulls elected to waive Watson and his non-guaranteed contract. It wasn't even a cost-cutting move, because they went out and paid Hinrich more money. I guess Hinrich offers them a little more versatility and better defense, but Watson was a more creative ball-handler and perimeter shooter last year. Not sure why the Bulls complicated this.
TRADED KYLE KORVER
I guess I can understand viewing Korver as a luxury given his $5 million-plus salary, but in trading him to the Hawks for nothing rather than just waiving him, the Bulls really only saved an additional $500,000. They got a trade exception back, but given their obvious desire to avoid the luxury tax, I doubt they use it. The sensible thing, if they wanted Hinrich anyway, was to work out a sign-and-trade where they'd swap him for Korver. Not sure why the Bulls didn't do that.
LET OMER ASIK GO
I can understand this one. Asik got a three-year, $25 million contract offer from the Houston Rockets, and while he was extremely valuable in his limited role for the Bulls, they couldn't afford to match that. This doesn't bode especially well for contract negotiations with Taj Gibson, though.
SIGNED MARCO BELINELLI, LET RONNIE BREWER GO
This was simply replacing one rotation player for a cheaper one. Brewer was an important player for the Bulls at times last year, but he would have been under contract for $4.37 million next year. The Bulls took advantage of his contract being unguaranteed and released him. Belinelli will provide replacement-level production at half the cost, and Jimmy Butler, a 2011 first-round pick, could easily make up the rest of the gap.
SIGNED VLADIMIR RADMANOVIC AND NAZR MOHAMMAD
These signings were simply about filling out a roster as cheaply as possible. Nothing more. Given those parameters, the Bulls could have easily done worse.
OFFSEASON GRADE: D-
Big-picture, you have to wonder what Rose is thinking right now. He's intensely loyal and generally will roll with the punches no matter who his teammates end up being, but if I were him, I'd be upset. As soon as he suffered his injury, the Bulls immediately went into cost-cutting mode, even though they have banked a decade of league-best profits that could be used to absorb any luxury-tax hits. I think Rose has every reason to be upset at the Bulls' direction. Whether he expressed that disappointment remains to be seen.