With Derrick Rose finally returning after an 18-month absence due to an ACL injury, the Chicago Bulls were primed for a deep playoff run in 2013-14. But not even a month into the season, Rose went down with another major knee injury, this time suffering a torn meniscus.
Rose's injury meant another "lost" season for the Bulls, and with this in mind, they began to look to the future. The front office wasn't confident it could re-sign Luol Deng without overpaying him, so they took advantage of the unique Andrew Bynum situation and traded the long-time Bull to the Cleveland Cavaliers for what amounted to salary cap relief and some draft picks.
At the time of the Deng trade, the Bulls looked like they were possibly heading to the lottery, and the belief was more trades were on the way to assist with that effort. But Chicago has turned things around, and they're currently in the running for the No. 3 seed in the Eastern Conference. As a result, the Bulls might not be as willing to sell off more parts.
Dunleavy on the move?
There has been speculation about the Bulls going after Carmelo Anthony, but there are no signs that the New York Knicks are even entertaining offers for their superstar. So while dreams of Anthony may be in the heads of some Bulls fans, there is no reason to expect a trade of that magnitude to go down.
Instead, it would be more reasonable to expect a smaller deal that includes somebody like Mike Dunleavy. The veteran sharpshooter was signed to an affordable two-year deal in the offseason, and he would be a valuable addition to the bench of a contending team. For example, the Oklahoma City Thunder are searching for a shooter, and Dunleavy could be a good fit.
Considering that Dunleavy is playing on a favorable deal, the Bulls may just want to keep him around for next year when Rose returns, however. Chicago is already lacking shooters, so keeping a veteran on the cheap makes a lot of sense.
Other names that have come up in trade rumors are Kirk Hinrich and Taj Gibson.
The Golden State Warriors had some interest in Hinrich before trading for Jordan Crawford, and perhaps another team has some interest in point guard help. However, Hinrich will likely finish the season in Chicago with the Bulls in the hunt for the No. 3 seed and lacking in point guard depth following Rose's injury and the trade of Marquis Teague.
As for Gibson, the Bulls took some calls from several other teams, but they have little reason to deal the power forward unless they're guaranteed a star. Gibson has come into his own this year, and he is poised to take over a starting role if Carlos Boozer is gone next season.
In addition to NBA players, the Bulls have some assets in the form of draft picks and a stud prospect playing in Europe. Chicago owns a pick from the Charlotte Bobcats that is top 10 protected in 2014, top eight protected in 2015 and unprotected in 2016. In the Deng trade, the Bulls acquired a pick that originally belonged to the Sacramento Kings that is top 12 protected in 2014 and top 10 protected for three years after that. If the pick isn't acquired by that time, it becomes a second-round pick.
The European stud is Nikola Mirotic, who is having another excellent season for Real Madrid after becoming the youngest MVP in ACB League history last year. Many believe Mirotic would be a top five pick in the 2014 draft, so the Bulls won't move him except in exchange for a star player.
The Boozer situation
Boozer's situation has the Bulls in a tricky spot. Boozer is making $15 million this year and is owed $16.8 million next year, a number that clogs up the Bulls' cap sheet as they enter an offseason in which it would be beneficial to have some room to maneuver.
Ideally, the Bulls would trade Boozer for expiring contracts or a player that's actually useful long term, but a deal like that will be difficult to find. Instead, Chicago can simply amnesty Boozer to wipe his salary off the books, which in turn would open up space to breathe. Other trades could open up even more cap space, giving the Bulls the ability to potentially make a major splash in the offseason.
Even if a big move didn't happen, having significant cap space would make it easier to bring over Mirotic, who has an expensive buyout and is off the rookie scale. Because of Mirotic's immense talent, the Bulls would like to bring him over sooner rather than later.
While using the amnesty on Boozer makes basketball sense, there is still some question as to whether Bulls owner Jerry Reinsdorf will be willing to pay the big man to go away and then turn around and use up his cap space on other players. There have been rumblings that Boozer won't be amnestied (or traded), and if he sticks around, Chicago will only have the mid-level exception to offer Mirotic. With Real Madrid possibly willing to offer a large contract extension, the MLE may not be enough to entice the Spaniard to come stateside.
Skirting the tax
The Deng trade allowed the Bulls to get under the luxury tax, but just barely. Chicago is currently about $650,000 under the tax, and they would like to avoid paying if possible in a season that likely won't result in a title. There are also concerns about the looming repeater tax, but if the Bulls amnesty Boozer that shouldn't be an issue.
In any case, management is clearly wary of paying the tax this season. There are incentives in Gibson's contract that would add to the payroll costs if met, which is a reason why Chicago waited a long time to add a 13th man to their roster.
The Bulls could avoid any threat of the tax this year by dumping salary in a trade, although it wouldn't sit well with fans if a quality asset wasn't received in return.