Welcome back, NBA, your sweet siren song is a welcome reprisal from the pain of the current state of the Chicago Bears! Yes, the NBA season opens next Tuesday when our Chicago Bulls take on the Miami Heat. Hard to think that game will determine anything about this season, but the Bulls ARE the only team to have a winning regular season record against the LeBron Heat. However, this preview is about the season as a whole, not the games we have Tuesday and Thursday, so hows about we talk about what the Bulls can accomplish this year?
The overall sentiment I’ve been getting from fans and the media is… hell there is no overall sentiment. Nobody can agree! Some think the Bulls will end up as the 5th seed (behind Miami, Indiana, Brooklyn, and New York), some think the Bulls will lose to the Heat in the East Finals, some think the Bulls will win the title! Hell, I’m sure someone thinks they’ll miss the playoffs as well.
What do I think? I think we, for sure, play Miami in the East finals. Indiana is basically Chicago lite, and we kind of have their number. Brooklyn? That’s going to be the most enjoyable train wreck to watch since… well, since last year’s Lakers! The Bulls and Heat will be the #1 and #2 seeds in some order. Thibs plays his guys like it’s the playoffs every regular season game: it’s hard to imagine the Bulls not winning 60+ with Rose looking like he does.
But what happens in that series against Miami? That depends a lot on…
Hey, this is that season I’ve been talking about for the last two years!
If you read the Hoopyball column at all last year you’ll remember me going on and on about how this is the season Chicago constructs their true title team. Luol Deng’s deal is expiring. Boozer has this year and next left. The Bulls have that Bobcat #1 pick and Marquis Teague. Essentially, the Bulls have a package to send somewhere, and it is:
Carlos Boozer OR Luol Deng + Bobcats pick + Bulls #1 pick + Marquis Teague FOR:
And the options are, in order of interest: Kevin Love, Lamarcus Aldridge, Al Horford.
Who the Bulls get depends largely on how the Timberwolves, Blazers, and Hawks do this year. Whichever of those teams really and truly collapses will probably end up sending their guy to Chicago. Minnesota would be the #1 choice, and wonderfully that is also the team that has the greatest desire for what the Bulls are giving out. Minnesota needs the ability to have Derrick Williams play the 4, and they have no true 3. Giving them Luol Deng gives them a 3 for this year to see what Derrick can do and allows that salary to come off the books for this next offseason. They also covet Marquis Teague (for some reason, let’s not ask, Timberwolf logic is madness) and that Bobcats pick looks tastier every year. This is the ultimate rebuild package, and if that’s the way Minnesota chooses to go, I find it hard to believe they would turn it down. It’s common NBA knowledge that Kevin Love is leaving Minnesota after next season. If they want value, now is the time to get it.
If the Bulls swing that trade they will then have a lineup of Rose, Dunleavy, Butler, Love, Noah. That’s a team that can win a title. It’s also a supremely likely scenario. But hell, what would an NBA preview column be without a little madness?
Crazy Thing I Think Will Happen
I do have a sneaking suspicion as it relates to this upcoming off-season, and a slight reach as it relates to this trade deadline. STAY WITH ME. The Los Angeles Lakers are going to be a very, very, very bad this year. Kobe won’t be back for a while, and even when he comes back the Lakers will have no defense. If you thought they were mediocre last season just wait until you see Nick Young playing SG. Kobe Bryant, second best SG ever, wants only to win one more title. If the Lakers are bad for the second year in a row, he is going to try to get out. There are two possibilities here as it relates to the Bulls:
Option 1: Kobe decides the Lakers might be able to rebuild themselves into a title contender after the season and he rides this shit-show out until then. He becomes a free agent, tries to recruit people like Wade did with LeBron and Bosh, and goes from there.
Option 2: Kobe realizes he has 2 or 3 years left and that the Lakers will in no way be able to win a title in 2 or 3 years. He demands a trade.
Okay, so option two means the Lakers will need a trade partner that can A) win a title (Kobe, incredibly, has a no trade clause) and B) has pieces to help the Lakers out somehow. The Bulls will have whoever they don’t trade for a PF (out of Deng and Boozer). Both can help them long term: Boozer might help to fill out the team depending on who they sign this off-season, Deng and a Bulls first rounder for 2016 would allow them to keep their maximum cap flexibility, give them an in to sign Deng, and give them future considerations.
Now these aren’t GREAT deals, but where else does Kobe go? The Thunder do NOT WANT another guy who loves to shoot (Russell Westbrook lead the league in shots last year. And he has Kevin Durant on his team), Kobe doesn’t fit with San Antonio (they want to get younger), and the Lakers won’t want to trade within the conference anyway. The Heat won’t replace Wade, The Pacers just gave a max deal to Paul George, the Nets are in cap Hell and are completely devoid of any trade assets, and the Knicks gave a REALLY stupid deal to J.R. Smith. So literally the only team Kobe can both win a title at and be wanted at is the Bulls.
Which brings us to Option 1. If Kobe tests free agency he is leaving L.A. anyway. The Lakers are going to go all in for Lebron, and Lebron will not, ever, be a Laker. Lebron is going to either stay in Miami or go back to Cleveland. Word is Carmelo will stay in New York. If that’s the case, L.A. has no shot at winning a title any time soon. Kobe will decide that a title is more important than money (of which he has way, way too much anyway), and he will sign a cheapish deal with a contender. For all the reasons listed above, he really only has one choice, which is to fill the Bulls’ SG hole.
Before you mention how Kobe doesn’t fit Thibs’ defensive philosophy, understand that the Bulls have managed to hide Carlos Boozer for years. Kobe will be defending the weakest position in the NBA currently. Name 5 great current NBA shooting guards! My guess is Kobe, Wade, and Paul George were in there, then you had to struggle with a bundle of aging or underperforming 2s. If you have to have a defensive weakness in today’s NBA, it’s at SG. When the Bulls play Indiana they’ll simply move Butler onto George. This would work. Also, if the Bulls actually trade Deng for Kobe, finally, the irony would be delicious.
If I had to give an ironclad position, I think the Bulls, as they are, can win an NBA Title, but they will lose to the Thunder in the Finals if they get past the Heat. I think, with Kevin Love, they could beat the Thunder as well. This season has many more teams that can win a title than previous years: I think the Bulls, Pacers, Heat, Spurs, Thunder, and even the Warriors have a shot at it. If Derek plays as well as he has in pre-season, and the Bulls FINALLY stay healthy… well, the playoffs will be a great time.
I’ll see everyone on Friday to recap the Bulls-Heat and Bulls-Knicks games (Both on TNT) and to preview the B1G basketball season. Until then, Go Bulls!