The Chicago Bulls are poised to shake things up in a big way this summer. They have a number of available assets, potential significant flexibility under the cap and have been linked to at least three relatively high-profile players in Arron Afflalo, Kevin Love and Carmelo Anthony. And then there’s LeBron James, who just kind of hovers over everything.
The fact is that there are about 300 different scenarios for the Bulls this summer. I’ve come up with about 20 in the last three days without even trying. But right now I’m going to break them down in the simplest terms, lumping them together into kind of general ideas. Let’s start with Thursday’s draft.
Draft Scenario 1: The Bulls keep both picks 16 and 19 and use them on players that will be on the team next season.
This one is pretty straightforward. Rather than trade up or down or use one or both picks to acquire a veteran or taking an overseas player they could stash, the Bulls just stand pat and pick two guys they like.
The corollary to this scenario is that if the Bulls do this, they could well be picking for another team. More on that later.
Draft Scenario 2: The Bulls trade up.
The Bulls have been rumored to be interested in trading up. First it was packaging 16 and 19 for 11, targeting Nik Stauskas or Gary Harris. Then it was moving up to 8th, where they would take Doug McDermott. It’s possible that moving up to 8 would require Taj Gibson to be involved, but that gets tricky because then Sacramento would have to match salaries and they just don’t have anything the Bulls would want.
But a trade-up scenario makes sense for two reasons. One, Tom Thibodeau doesn’t really like playing rookies and swapping two picks for one pick allows the team to sign a veteran instead of another rookie. And two, it would save the Bulls some money under the cap. The 11th pick in this year’s draft would make just under $1.9 million. The 8th pick would make just under $2.3 million. The 16th and 19th picks combined would make about $3.75 million. That doesn’t seem like a lot, but every bit helps in this kind of situation.
Draft Scenario 3: The Bulls draft at least one international prospect that they stash overseas.
Dario Saric stands out as a guy who would fit with the Bulls plans, after word broke Monday that he would be staying in Europe for at least the next two or three years. Scouts love his talent, and he might have gone in the top 10 if he’d been willing to come over immediately. It’s reminiscent of Nikola Mirotic in 2011, really: a guy with obvious talent who drops to a team who’s willing to wait for him.
Drafting Saric or another international prospect allows the Bulls to eliminate that pick from their cap this summer. So it wouldn’t shock me if the Bulls traded up to secure Saric, as that would eliminate both picks from their cap number and guarantee them a juicy asset down the road.
Draft Scenario 4: One or both picks is traded for a veteran.
Arron Afflalo seems like the obvious candidate, though the Bulls’ reported offer to the Minnesota Timberwolves for Kevin Love is Taj Gibson, Tony Snell and both picks. There’s also been some chatter that the Bulls just want a veteran wing scorer, like Afflalo or whoever. Either way, there’s a decent chance the Bulls don’t even have one or both of their picks by draft day.
So that’s the draft. Now there’s everything else.
Offseason Scenario 1: Carmelo Anthony Sign and Trade
This is what the Bulls would like to do. Boozer and picks and maybe a lesser asset like Snell or Mike Dunleavy would go to New York and Melo would come to Chicago. Centering the trade on Boozer allows the Bulls to stay over the cap, leaving them free to use the full mid-level exception to bring the aforementioned Nikola Mirotic over from Europe. But the Knicks are resisting taking back Boozer, so I guess we’ll see how everything shakes out.
By the way, there’s been come confusion about including this year’s draft picks in a Melo sign and trade, so let me clear that up. A sign and trade couldn’t happen until after the moratorium ends on July 10, which seems to rule out trading the picks. But the Bulls could simply draft a prospect the Knicks like and trade their rights to New York after the moratorium ends. Technically, the Bulls and Knicks can’t exactly have conversations about this now, since that would be illegal under the CBA, but Phil Jackson has been pretty vocal about his love for PJ Hairston, which could be a cue to the Bulls that he would like them to take Hairston and trade him to them. But the point is that you can trade picks after the draft.
Offseason Scenario 2: The Bulls trade for Kevin Love.
As I mentioned earlier, the Bulls have made an offer to Love. It is something of a lowball, yes, but I’m torn between trashing the Bulls for lowballing when they have a chance to get a superstar and applauding them for negotiating like pros. Golden State’s offer for Love was a joke, and Boston’s young guys are mildly terrible. The Phoenix Suns could pretty much trump everyone in terms of picks and young guys, but it’s unclear whether Love would re-sign there once he becomes a free agent. So the Bulls, by offering such a minimalist package, put themselves in position to call Minnesota on draft night and add Mirotic to the deal as a sweetener, which suddenly seems like a big get.
I still consider this unlikely to happen, but god knows I’ve been wrong before.
Offseason Scenario 3: The Bulls sign Melo outright.
This one gets tricky because it basically requires the Bulls to either dump Taj or convince Melo to take less. The Bulls can open up about $20 million by discharging their obligations to pay for their draft picks and finding a taker for Mike Dunleavy. That might be enough to bring Melo over or it might not. Their hope, I’m sure, would be to convince Melo to take $20 million, line up the deals to clear the space, and then approach the Knicks about a sign-and-trade. That way, the Bulls have all the leverage because the Knicks would otherwise be left with nothing when Melo leaves. But if Phil turns up his nose, the Bulls can go ahead with their deals and sign him outright.
I covered the financial aspect of this scenario over the weekend, though I theorized Melo might be willing to take just $15 million.
Offseason Scenario 4: The “fuller roster” approach with Arron Afflalo
In this scenario, the Bulls would eschew both Love and Melo and focus on building depth. The Bulls could conceivably send Tony Snell, one or both draft picks and maybe someone like Mike Dunleavy to the Orlando Magic and absorb Afflalo into their cap space once they amnesty Carlos Boozer. The deal could be agreed to on draft night, allowing the Bulls to pick for the Magic explicitly, though it wouldn’t go into effect until after the moratorium.
From there, they could bring Mirotic over using what’s left of their cap space (about $10 million if the Afflalo deal includes both picks, Dunleavy and Snell) and use the rest, as well as the $2.7 million “room” exception to fill out the rest of the roster. This doesn’t have the star power of some of the other options, but it is reminiscent of 2010, when the Bulls picked up a lesser star (Boozer then, Afflalo now) and filled the roster out around them and won 62 games.
Offseason Scenario 5: Love and Melo
This can go two ways. Pretty much any hypothetical Love trade is essentially cap-neutral. If a Love trade centered on Taj — for instance, the one they’ve reportedly offered — goes through, the Bulls could still amnesty Boozer and trade Dunleavy and have a decent chunk of cap space. So they could theoretically sign Melo outright. But if it’s centered on Boozer, or if they have to take back Kevin Martin as part of the agreement, it would have to be a sign and trade. The good news is that acquiring Love in a trade centered on Boozer would free the Bulls up to offer Taj to the Knicks for Melo, an offer that seems like it would be more palatable to New York than Boozer and picks.
The most plausible scenario — and it’s not terribly plausible, sadly — would be the Bulls getting Love and Martin in exchange for Boozer, Dunleavy, Snell, Mirotic and some combination of picks. Then they could offer Taj, $4 million in non-guaranteed contracts and whatever’s left of their pick stash to New York and sign Melo to a contract starting at $17 million. If they somehow managed to pull that off — not likely — they would have 8 players (Rose, Love, Melo, Martin, Joakim Noah, Greg Smith, Jimmy Butler and their 2nd round pick this year) under contract for $73 million. If they filled out their roster with only minimum salaries, they might not even pay the tax.
Alas, this won’t happen. Moving on.
Offseason Scenario 6: Melo and Afflalo
This one is less complicated, though still extremely unlikely. Trading Afflalo for the aforementioned Dunleavy/Snell/picks package is also more or less salary-neutral, then Boozer and picks would go to New York. Or the Bulls could amnesty Boozer and sign Melo outright. Either way.
Offseason Scenario 7: Standing pat.
Basically, the Bulls could just stick with what they have. Hold on to their picks. Bring Mirotic over, probably with cap space created by a Boozer amnesty. Fill in the roster around the guys they already have. It’s the most boring scenario, but frankly the most likely. The Bulls are notoriously risk-averse and like holding on to “their” guys. Maybe they make a couple of minor moves, but nothing too crazy.
Offseason Scenario 8: LeBron.
Yeah… no. Let’s just not even talk about this. We’re done here.