CHICAGO -- In the midst of the Chicago Bulls' preparations for Game 3 against the Brooklyn Nets on Thursday, Grantland's Bill Simmons offered up a reminder that no matter what happens over the next few weeks, the Bulls always must keep an eye on the future.
It's a reminder that the Bulls front office didn't need because it's been their motto throughout this season without Derrick Rose and myriad of injuries to key players.
In the second part of Simmons' annual ranking of the NBA's top 50 players, he comes to the 20th spot on his list: Kevin Love of the Minnesota Timberwolves.
He references the fact that Love has an opt-out clause in his current deal that would allow him to become a free agent after the 2014-2015 season. That's when the Bulls become involved, with Simmons noting that Love would very likely opt out of his deal. Simmons believes the Bulls are the likeliest suitor for Love:
"The Bulls have big contracts to make the trade work (Luol Deng on the enticing side, Carlos Boozer on the less enticing side); they're loaded with assets like Jimmy Butler (no. 49 on this year's list), the rights to Mirotic (a high lottery pick if he entered this year's draft), and the rights to Charlotte's future no. 1 pick (top-10 protected in 2014, top-eight protected in 2015, unprotected in 2016); and they're a big-market contender with a superstar in house (so they could keep Love for the long haul).
Simmons doubts the Wolves could turn down a deal that includes Boozer, Butler, Mirotic and the Charlotte pick.
There are a lot of different layers to this proposal. Let's break them down individually.
How badly do the Bulls want Love?: He has been on their radar for awhile. Like many teams, the Bulls would love to have him. He would serve as one half of a rebounding twin towers next to Joakim Noah. He can also shoot the three and would figure to work well with Noah since both can see the floor very well. Love would seemingly also fit in well to the Bulls locker room seeing that he has trained in the past with Rose and the two have always spoken highly of one another.
Would the Bulls give up that much to get him?: Obviously, Bulls GM Gar Forman and John Paxson would want to lower the price. They would do just about anything to get out of Boozer's contract because they know they're likely going to amnesty the final year of the deal anyway. They love Butler and they are extremely high on Mirotic. They also know that the Charlotte pick appears to be getting better every year because the Bobcats are so atrocious. The guess here is that the Bulls would try to do this deal for Boozer, Butler and/or Mirotic and the Bobcats' pick -- but not both.
Isn't Mirotic supposed to be very good?: Yes. The Bulls love the way his game is progressing and he continues dominate at various points in Europe. Forman has said Mirotic would work well at the four spot. The issue with Mirotic is his contract. While the Bulls remain hopeful that Mirotic will be able to get out of his deal with Real Madrid in a little over a year and come to the Bulls, even they aren't sure how it will work out. Another potential sticking point: What if Mirotic doesn't want to play in Minnesota? The young big man has said in interviews that he is looking forward to playing in Chicago. He could pull a Fran Vazquez and just decide not to come over and play in the NBA. This leverage may actually help the Bulls from keeping his name off the table but it surely makes things more complicated for all involved.
Doesn't everybody love Butler?: In the past few months, Butler's popularity has exploded in Chicago. Many believe he could be the two-guard of the future and his ability to defend multiple positions on the floor. The Bulls believe like they got a gift with the 30th pick in the first round of the 2011 NBA draft, but they also don't know just how good Butler can be. After all, he struggled for playing time early this season under Thibodeau. Butler's defense isn't the question -- it's his offense. Can he continue improving to a point where he can score 15-20 points a game and knock down open shots off the dribble? Does he fit better as a two or a three long term? These are all questions the Bulls front office is bouncing around, but he is a much more attractive trade chip than he was earlier in the season.
Are the Bulls actually willing to part with the Charlotte pick?: Yes. When Forman talks about assets, this is the biggest one he is referring to. The Bulls know this pick has value -- potentially a lot of value -- but they also realize it could be at least three more years until they get to use this selection. Forman and Paxson would move this pick to land the right player. The question is would a general manager on shaky ground be willing to swing a deal for a player he may not even be able to draft?
Is Deng still a core piece for the Bulls?: This the most interesting subplot to any and all trade conversations this summer. Deng has one year left on his deal worth a little more than $13 million. Given the Bulls' current cap situation, and their desire to get another star to pair with Rose, Deng would likely have to take a fairly large pay cut to stay in Chicago over the next few years. As solid as Deng has been, the Bulls could easily move Butler over to the three position and not lose that much production, especially on the defensive end. The Bulls want to keep Deng, but they aren't about to overpay him as they ended up doing during his last contract. If he balks at signing a cheaper extension this summer, do the Bulls look to move him? What is the trade market for him, especially if he decides to get the wrist surgery he's been putting off for the last year and a half? Those questions have to be figured out before any talk of a Love deal gets serious. The Bulls wouldn't want to lose Butler if they have a solid feeling Deng won't be back in a year. Butler is a younger, cheaper version of one of his mentors.
Is anyone untouchable?: Rose. He's the only one. The Bulls are hoping he can bounce back into superstar form after missing all of this season as he recovers from an ACL injury. Everybody else on the roster is at least up for discussion as far as a trade goes. Would the Timberwolves actually make this deal?: With Timberwolves GM David Khan at helm, anything is possible. As Simmons points out though, if Minnesota knows Love is going to walk don't they have to deal him sooner rather than later? The question is would the Timberwolves believe Butler, Mirotic and a mystery draft pick that could come in three years be enough for giving up a star in his prime and a horrible contract (Boozer)? Again, with Kahn's track record, anything is possible.
Would Love sign an extension with the Bulls?: If the Bulls gave up that much to land Love, they would want some kind of assurances that he would sign an extension with them and stay long term. The Bulls would be giving up pretty much every asset they have and wouldn't have many other major moves to make for the foreseeable future. Rumors have swirled that Love would like to return to his West Coast roots at some point, but maybe the thought of chasing a title in Chicago with Rose would be too much to pass up.
Would that Love deal put them over the top against Miami?: It's an impossible question to answer right now. The Bulls front office knows it needs to bring in another star to win a championship but nobody knows whether Love is that guy. He has had injury problems in the past and missed most of this year after breaking his hand twice and had knee surgery to cap it off. Still, he's just 24 years old and is capable of going off for 20 points and 20 rebounds every night. Given the uncertainty of the summer of 2014's free agent class and who will opt out, Love may be one of the most surefire pieces available. The Bulls don't want to risk being empty-handed again and giving up more years of Rose's prime. If they don't believe they can land LeBron James -- and odds are they can't -- then Love may be the next best bet. In the immediate short-term they may not be able to beat Miami -- but with another legitimate star playing alongside Rose it would give the Bulls a better chance to win a title than they currently have and would set them up very nicely for the future.