This season has been one of mixed results and emotions for Chicago Bulls fans. One one hand, the team has overachieved with point guard Derrick Rose out and are in a fight for the Central Division lead. On the other hand, recent comments by Rose suggest he might not be back until next season. In the midst of that, they're also trying to find a way to get their payroll below the luxury tax threshold, which could mean the end of Carlos Boozer's run in the Windy City.
The Bulls' Outlook
At 30-22, the Bulls are in fifth place in the Eastern Conference and 1.5 games behind the Indiana Pacers for first place in the Central Division. They've done this with their typical stingy defense and excellent years from All-Stars Luol Deng and Joakim Noah, who leads the team in rebounds, steals and blocks. They've also received contributions from Boozer (having a nice bounce-back year), as well as Nate Robinson and Marco Belinelli (two free-agency steals). If Rose comes back, many think this team will be the Miami Heat's biggest threat in the Eastern Conference. However, Rose recently said he wouldn't return until he's "110 percent."
Boozer A Goner?
The other issue that's always seemingly in the picture for the Bulls is avoiding the luxury tax. Should they make a trade that could limit their short-term title chances but give them a little move financial flexibility moving forward? A trade involving Boozer and Andrea Bargnani is apparently out there, though a simple swap wouldn't work financially since Boozer makes $5 million more this year than Bargnani.
Boozer has also been much better than Bargnani this season. At 15.7 points and 9.3 rebounds per game, Boozer is second on the team in points and rebounds. As for Bargnani, the Raptors' center has been dreadful this year and is even worse than Boozer on defense. In theory, his ability to stretch the floor could do wonders in opening up the lane for Rose to attack. You have to wonder how long head coach Tom Thibodeau would allow Bargnani to stay on the floor given his defensive limitations, however.
Finances Over Wins?
It's difficult to say that a team with the NBA's best record over the previous two seasons cares more about saving money than it does winning games. It is fair to say that the Bulls have been reluctant to make a move that would cost them more money unless they know for sure it's going to help them win a title. It's possible they think a big man trio of Noah, Boozer and Taj Gibson has hit its ceiling, they need a change and Boozer's price tag makes him the likeliest trade candidate. How hard they try to trade may depend as much on whether they feel Rose can come back at "110 percent" this season as it does getting their payroll underneath the luxury tax.