When it comes to the start of NBA free agency early Monday morning, Chicago Bulls GM Gar Forman admits what the majority of his fan base already knows -- the Bulls aren't going to be very active because of salary cap restraints.
Obviously, the Bulls would like to bring back some of the key pieces to last year's bench, but Forman knows that probably isn't going to happen given how well players like Nate Robinson and Marco Belinelli played throughout last year. What Forman and many others within the organization are confident in is the belief that their team, with the core they already have in place, has the ability to compete for an NBA championship this season with a healthy Derrick Rose.
"We're very excited about next season," Bulls head coach Tom Thibodeau said on ESPN 1000's draft show. "A lot of our guys have already been in and begun their workouts for next year. I think with Derrick being back we're going to be a deep team. I think our bench will be fortified. Jimmy (Butler's) already been in, he started a couple weeks after the season ended. Kirk (Hinrich) has been in quite a bit, Taj (Gibson) has been in already, so we have a lot of guys moving in the right direction. Everyone's anxious about next season."
They're anxious because they know that with Rose back they have the ability to be one of the best teams in the league. The reality is that while many teams will be trying to add pieces during this free-agency period the Bulls are content to wait and see what happens for two main reasons. First, the organization feels it already has the core in place to win a title, and secondly they don't want to go even deeper into the luxury tax than they already will be.
"Obviously there's some players from our roster last year who are free agents that we'd like to talk about bringing back," Forman said. "But free agency starts Monday and I think those players need to get a feel, and their agents, what the market is and we need to get a feel what the market is going to be out there for us. But we were in the tax last year, we're going to be in the tax even deeper this coming year so that takes away some of the flexibility. With that said, we really like our roster and the biggest key to our roster is getting healthy so that's the goal. But obviously a majority of our key guys will return and we got to get them healthy on the floor, and then I think we'll have a chance to have a really good team."
Whether this Bulls team, as currently constructed, will eventually become a championship team will be debated well into next year -- but a quick glance at the roster shows that Forman does have a point:
How deep are the Bulls already?: With Rose coming back and Joakim Noah, Luol Deng and Carlos Boozer locked in, the Bulls have the type of veteran core that other teams would love to have. Butler is coming along nicely and is pegged in the starting lineup barring something unforeseen happening. Gibson begins a new four-year deal worth over $8 million a year and should be recovered from knee problems that hampered him towards the end of last season. Hinrich will be helpful as long as he can stay on the floor but that is a major question mark. Marquis Teague is hoping to crack the rotation after an up-and-down rookie year while Tony Snell and Erik Murphy will try to impress Thibodeau in their first year. If the Bulls decide to bring back Nazr Mohammed and Malcolm Thomas, they will only have a couple spots to fill on the active roster assuming that Robinson and Belinelli sign elsewhere.
Either way, the answer is simple as far as this team is concerned -- they are very deep. That's why so many within the organization are so excited about the possibilities if they can stay healthy.
Will the Bulls make any deals?: Very doubtful. Deng's name was dangled in various reports around the draft but the safe money is still on the two-time All-Star returning to Chicago next season. The interesting aspect to follow is whether or not the Bulls will give Deng an extension heading into next year. He is scheduled to make over $14 million this year in the final year of his current deal. ESPN.com's Marc Stein reported that the Bulls explored a deal that would have sent Deng to the Washington Wizards for the No. 3 pick but those talks never really developed. Yahoo! Sports reported last week that, according to sources, the Bulls had already begun negotiations on a new deal for Deng. Deng's agent Herb Rudoy told ESPNChicago.com that there had been 'zero' conversations about a new deal.
While Forman didn't specifically discuss the reports, he did repeatedly praise Deng and noted how much the Bulls value him. However, he did not come right out and say the Bulls wanted him to be part of their future plans. Deng's contract status will continue to be the biggest non-Rose storyline hovering over the Bulls. The Bulls would move Deng for the right pieces (specifically younger players still on rookie deals or draft picks) but they aren't going to get enough value for a player who has the ability to walk away at the end of next year.
Recruiting?: No matter who the Bulls end up going after this summer, both Thibodeau and Forman know they need a game plan for best- and worst-case scenarios. They also understand how important the recruiting game has become in the NBA world.
"Usually what we'll do is we'll map out our plan of guys that we want to talk to," Thibodeau said. "Often times they want to talk to us. So their agents will be in contact with Gar and then with some guys we'll bring them in for visits but there's a lot of conversation that will take place."
Would Thibodeau like to see Rose take a more active approach in the recruiting process?
"I think things have changed in the last 10 years or so," Thibodeau said. "These guys are real familiar with each other and even though it may not be formal they're in contact with each other quite a bit. They've grown up playing AAU ball and of course the college game and then they get to the pros. And then their agents, often times they work out together in the summer and things like that so there's a lot of conversation that goes on. I think we have a very strong franchise, a great tradition, a great fan base, so I think we have a lot to offer."
Who is out there?: The question for the Bulls isn't even so much who is available, it's who is willing to take a minimum deal. As Stein noted on Friday, former Bull John Lucas III could be a possibility since his deal was not picked up in Toronto. Former Bull Ronnie Brewer is another possibility but with Snell now in the fold that doesn't seem as likely. Kyle Korver would be a perfect fit off the bench but he made $5 million last year and doesn't figure to take a pay cut after being one of the league leaders in 3-point shooting last year.
In the end, the Bulls will be content to see how the market shakes out and wait for the pieces to fall to them instead of chasing after players that they already know will be out of their price range.