CHICAGO -- A year and a half later, everything centers on a recruiting pitch once again for the Chicago Bulls. At 9 CT on Monday morning, Gar Forman, Tom Thibodeau and the rest of the executives and coaches around the league will have the ability to start contacting players again, according to ESPN's Marc Stein. It may not have the same sizzle that came at midnight on July 1, 2010, but for the Bulls the stakes are almost as high.
No, LeBron James and Dwyane Wade are not in this group of free agents, and no, the Bulls probably won't be putting together personalized iPad applications for each free-agent target as they did last July, but that doesn't make Forman and Thibodeau's pitch any less important. Despite losing out on the two biggest names in free agency a year ago (three if you count Chris Bosh) the Bulls seemingly have all the other pieces in place to go after a title. As my colleague Michael Wilbon put it earlier this week, the Bulls' recruiting pitch is clearer than ever.
"Here's the pitch," Wilbon wrote. "We've got the MVP of the league who is 23 years old in Derrick Rose. We've got the best frontcourt defenders in the league in [Joakim] Noah, Taj Gibson and Omer Asik. We've got the best bench in the league, willing role players in Kyle Korver, Ronnie Brewer, C.J. Watson, Asik and Gibson. We've got the coach of the year in Tom Thibodeau. We've got great chemistry, the experience of getting to the conference finals. We've got everything to seriously compete for a spot in the Finals except you. Will you come for less?"
As far as the Bulls are concerned, that's really all it boils down to. Will one of the players on the market agree to take less money so that they can play alongside Rose and chase a title? Can Forman and Thibodeau convince a player like Jason Richardson or Jamal Crawford that a ring will be in his future if he takes a big pay cut and signs on the dotted line for the midlevel exception? What about restricted free agents like Nick Young and Arron Afflalo? Can the Bulls find a way to lock either one of these guys up without having their current teams match the offer? A sign-and-trade possibly? A straight-up trade for a guy like O.J. Mayo? Could they accomplish either of the last two options without giving up young players they have been determined to hang onto like Gibson and Asik? The Bulls are certainly discussing all of these options as we speak, and have been for several months given all the time that's come between their last contact with players before the lockout.
Of course, the underlying issue, the one that privately scares the hell out of some members of the Bulls staff, is whether or not any one of these guys can get the Bulls past the Miami Heat this season. Bulls owner Jerry Reinsdorf has come out publicly several times in the past few years, most recently through a Bulls spokesperson to the Chicago Tribune earlier this week, saying that he would go into luxury tax if the move was warranted. That's all well and good, but the bigger question is can the Bulls actually find a player who gets them past Miami?
That's the question that nobody has an answer to right now.
No matter what the Bulls decide to do, they will upgrade themselves as long as Thibodeau decides to give Brewer and Korver a majority of the 15-20 starter's minutes he gave to Keith Bogans every night last season. Obviously, finding another dynamic scorer to play alongside Rose would make them even better, but even if they somehow landed Afflalo, Young, Crawford, Mayo or Richardson, there's no guarantee that the move would ultimately get them where they wanted to go. The Bulls are in need of something that is not readily available at the moment -- another superstar. They need a guy who can take over the game when Rose is off and carry the offense. They need a guy who can fit right into Thibodeau's system and play the type of defense that the veteran coach demands.
They had a chance to land two of those guys last summer and failed. A year and a half later, they have to find a way to make things different this time. They need to find a guy who actually wants to be a Bull. Each one of the players on the market has flaws, some are big, some are not. It's up to Thibodeau and Forman to recruit the right one for the Bulls system.