Plenty of Bulls fans have wondered if the Orlando Magic center would end up in Chicago now that the Nets, at least for now, appear to be out of the running. But here's what Bulls fans just don't want to grasp: Howard does not want to play in Chicago and sign an extension with the Bulls. He has made it clear that the only team he wants to go to is Brooklyn and the only team he would sign an extension with is the Nets. Other than that, he has said he will test free agency at the end of the season if he doesn't get what he wants.
The Bulls do not want to deal for Howard unless they know for sure that he will sign an extension in Chicago. And that’s the right move.
Let's say the Bulls traded for Howard despite the fact he won't sign an extension. Like other teams around the NBA, they were banking on the fact that once Howard played with their team for a year and was embraced by a new fan base, it would be hard for him to leave. OK, fine. But remember, this isn't Otis Smith running the show anymore in Orlando. New Magic GM Rob Hennigan, he of the Oklahoma City and San Antonio pedigree, seems intent on getting back young cheap players and draft picks.
Hennigan doesn't want to clog up the Magic's cap space with long-term deals, and he wants to unload some of the bad contracts Smith acquired in recent years. Let's say the Bulls clear that hurdle. Let's say GM Gar Forman offers the Magic Joakim Noah, who is in the second year of a $60 million deal, Luol Deng, who has two years and almost $28 million on his deal and still has a torn ligament in his wrist, and Taj Gibson, who will become a restricted free agent at the end of this season and expects to garner at least $7 million to $8 million a year in his new deal. Forman could add in the Charlotte Bobcats pick that could become unrestricted in a few years, plus another future first-rounder or two. If the Magic throw in Hedo Turkoglu's contract, and another piece or two, they might be able to crunch the numbers to a point where things could work. The deal would have to look something like that for it to work from the Chicago perspective because nobody is taking on Carlos Boozer’s bloated contract.
But let's say that they find a way to pull it off, and Howard becomes a Bull.
The Bulls still wouldn't be good enough to beat the Miami Heat this season even with Howard. Derrick Rose is still rehabbing his knee injury and will be out for a huge chunk of the season. The Bulls would have just dealt away three of the top defenders on their team in Deng, Noah and Gibson. Howard, playing with an old backcourt of Kirk Hinrich and Richard Hamilton and with his buddy Boozer in the front court, would feel at times like he was still in Orlando. Sure, he has a little more help, but Boozer isn't the player he used to be, and the same goes for Hinrich and Hamilton.
But, Rose is coming back ....
Yes, he is. But it's going to take at least another year for the former MVP to look like himself again. Nobody should expect Rose to play great right away given all the rehab he still has to endure. Even if he did, even if he came back as the pre-injury Rose, the Bulls as they are currently constructed in this fantasy, still wouldn't have enough to knock off the Heat with all the chips that they have added and the fact that they will be playing with more confidence coming off their NBA title.
With a little more seasoning to firm up the roster, and another year to get Rose's body back in order, the Bulls would be in much better shape to surround Howard and Rose with the pieces they would need to be successful. But the Bulls don't have that option. Howard doesn't want to come to Chicago and sign an extension. He could very easily walk at the end of this season and try to find greener pastures elsewhere.
Then what would the Bulls have to show for it?
They gutted the core of their team to trade for a superstar who doesn't want to be here. Then they would be left with Rose, a player who will be amnestied soon enough in Boozer, and a bunch of spare parts -- all to take a risk on a guy who never wanted to play for the Bulls, and in Rose's shadow, in the first place.