Friday, February 15, 2013

Trade Rose?

There is what I call a "rationalist" school of thought in terms of what to hope for when it comes to your sports teams. Its main tenet is aiming for the next possible championship, and you should hope for any event that furthers that goal.

Now, I don't necessarily, as a fan, subscribe to a "rationalist" approach to an exercise - fandom - that is inherently irrational. After all, there is exactly no consequence to the fan if any game is lost. The actual conditions of my life were not affected any more by the Jordan Championship era than they were by the Tim Floyd dark ages. Yes, I got more enjoyment from watching the Bulls during the former. But then again, I got some real enjoyment watching a couple of good Scott Skiles seasons, as I did watching Derrick Rose since he came into the league. The existential enjoyment that comes from enjoying sports and being part of a tribal, communal "rooting" experience comes almost as much (for most people) just from the very existence of consequential games.

Some, most notably 670 The Score's Dan Bernstein, refer to anything short of having at least a 50/50 chance of winning a title as "basketball hell". Observers of that ilk actually get more enjoyment from really bad basketball than they get from a team that is very good but not clearly the best, because being awful does not burden the fan with any realistic hopes. The emotional burden of being close enough to the prize to plausibly hope for it is simply too much for them to bear, so they retreat into the "rationalist" ramparts in order to take the inherent emotionalism of fandom out of it.

As a fan, I don't lean that way. But if you're an executive of any sports team, where it's your JOB to win the next championship... the businesslike "rationalist" approach is how you must prosecute it. That's your fiduciary responsibility.

To that end...

There is a strong rationalist argument that the Bulls won't win a title in the next four years. I personally believe it might be possible to overcome LeBron and the Heat before then, but any rational situation analysis must at least grant that Miami will reside at or near the top of the table for the next few years.

Further, given the style of his game, it's reasonable to question just how long of a prime Derrick Rose is going to have - and reasonable to question whether that prime will extend further into the future than that of LeBron James.

I am not going to offer an opinion on these matters right now. What I am going to do, however, is accept these premises for the sake of argument, and apply the rationalist approach.

And if you carry this to its logical conclusion, then there is only one rational course of action:

Trade Derrick Rose.

To win the next possible NBA Championship, the objective should be to optimize a roster for 2016-2020 - at least so that you catch the tail end of LeBron James' prime, or to consider the possibility that the Heat could break up and LeBron will cast his lot with another franchise once his two buddies no longer represent a strong enough supporting cast anymore.

The Bulls should want to load up on future assets, and at least put themselves in a cap situation where they could be an option for LeBron or Durant if and when either hits the market.

Optimizing the roster for the latter half of this decade means that selling high on Deng and Noah right now is the thing to do - they will both be well north of 30 by then - in addition to cashing in on Rose and Taj Gibson.

Here's the blueprint:

1. Luol Deng to Atlanta for expiring contracts and one of their two first round picks, in the middle of the round.

2. Joakim Noah to Oklahoma City for Kendrick Perkins, Perry Jones and the Toronto pick the Thunder own in one of the next three years. Jones is a developmental project. Perkins is a placeholder for two more years - someone still has to play center while you re-tool. The pick is the value here. You're getting a late lottery pick for Noah.

3. Taj Gibson to the Knicks for Iman Shumpert. Gibson is going to be 28 this spring, so if your window is four years out, you're not looking at him as a mainstay at that point. In New York, Chandler and Stoudemire are already 30, and Stoudemire is a shadow of his former self. For a team that wants to compete right now, Gibson would be an appealing option at the 4. At 22, Shumpert should be in the middle of his prime when the Bulls are ready to compete again. This deal should work on the cap with Gibson as a base year player.

4. Derrick Rose to Charlotte for Kemba Walker and their #1 pick this year (which will be in the top 3). You get a promising young point guard who is two years younger than Rose and whose game should give him a longer shelf life... plus another pick at the top of the draft.

So now you have your own pick this year, Atlanta's pick this year, Charlotte's top-3 pick this year, Toronto's pick in one of the next three drafts, and the future Charlotte pick you already have from the Tyrus Thomas deal. Plus, the Bulls' own picks are going to be higher for the next year or two.

In terms of bodies for the future, you have Walker (22), Shumpert (22), Jimmy Butler (23) and eventually Nikola Mirotic (22). Four years from now they will all be 26-27. Plus you have projects like Marquis Teague and Perry Jones.

And on top of all of this, the Bulls will have cap flexibility for the next two summers, with another $25 million worth of Boozer and Kendrick Perkins coming off the cap in the summer of 2015 - right as Walker, Shumpert, Butler and Mirotic should be peaking and right after the Bulls have loaded their roster with draft picks the previous two summers.

If you want to take the "rationalist" approach and optimize your roster for when the Heat might start to falter or disintegrate, this is how you do it.

Friday, February 8, 2013

Irony can be pretty ironic sometimes...

I spent two years screaming that Carlos Boozer and his albatross of a contract were the biggest limiting factor on finally being able to piece a Championship team together around Derrick Rose.

For the first time, we finally have a specific Boozer trade rumor, and...

I dunno.

I can't really get my head around this Andrea Bargnani rumor. It makes little sense. Yes, he could be a "stretch" power forward whose perimeter shooting might give the Bulls' offense another dimension. Maybe he'll decongest the lane for Derrick Rose by pulling opponents' power forwards out to the perimeter. But he adds no more to the mix defensively than Boozer, and he's a 7-footer who rebounds like a good shooting guard.

And while Bargnani is making a little less per year than Boozer, it's still not nearly enough to get the Bulls under the cap. And if he exercises his player option, he'll delay the Bulls having cap space by another year after Boozer would have been gone - and he takes the amnesty option off the table, which the Bulls currently have with Boozer. (You can only amnesty a player who was on your roster at the time the lockout ended.)

The only thing I can think of at this point is that Bargnani won't be any WORSE than Boozer, but his contract may be slightly less untradeable than Boozer's. Maybe the Bulls feel like Bargnani might be movable for an expiring contract, where Boozer is not.

Further, since Taj Gibson has a history of producing much better as a starter, you could more easily justify bringing Bargnani off the bench as a scoring anchor for the second team so Luol Deng doesn't have to do it forever.

I suppose if you look for reasons this makes some sense, you can find them. But Boozer has played well enough this year that I don't feel all that compelled to move him just for the sake of doing it.

Is it possible this is just the first chess move in a broader gambit?

Stay tuned, I guess. Gar Forman is the top dog. The head cheese. Numero uno honcho...

Tuesday, February 5, 2013

Playing GM

Last night the Bulls hung around in another road game they had no business being in before finally succumbing to the Pacers. (Incidentally, if the Pacers can get any real value for Danny Granger, they have the potential to be a nasty team as Paul George and Lance Stephenson develop.)

Sitting at 10 games over .500, on pace for 50 wins even without Rose, it's time to start asking what moves might be made at the trade deadline to get over the hump and put a real scare into the Heat and Knicks in the East.

Conventional wisdom says the Bulls need a second shot-creator. Now, for starters, I'm not sure this is so. If you have one possession at the end of a game, you have the option of putting Rose and Nate Robinson on the floor together. And Marco Belinelli can get his own shot better than any of the options we have seen with Rose since maybe John Salmons when Rose was a rookie. And he was actually playing the 3 with Deng injured in that epic series with the Celtics.

But in the bigger picture, I just don't believe in absolutes like that. The Mavericks took down the Heat without a second pure shot-maker to run with Nowitzki. I think the Bulls just need a better basketball player at the 2.

Now, I have been fairly impressed with Marco Belinelli. His ability to both defend and create his own shot have been pleasant surprises - two areas of his game in which he's an upgrade over Kyle Korver. With Rip Hamilton looking for all the world like the guy who doesn't know the party is over but for some reason is still there, could the Bulls turn the 2 position over to Belinelli and the emerging Jimmy Butler, along with spot minutes with Hinrich and Rose sharing the same backcourt? Truth is... probably. It would be better than the Keith Bogans/Rip Hamilton experience of the past two seasons. But I'd feel better with a legit starter plugged into that spot.

To that end, let's look at the guy who was almost a Bull in the first place: J.J. Redick. The Bulls signed him to a front-loaded offer sheet during the Summer of LeBron, which was meant to make the cash-strapped Magic swallow hard before matching. Once they did, the Bulls settled for Korver and Brewer. Well, Redick is having a career year this year, scoring 15 points per game, shooting 40% from distance, and is a willing enough defender for Tom Thibodeau. His contract expires after this year, and there is smoke that he is available.

Could the Bulls send Hamilton's expiring contract and a first round pick to Orlando for a Redick rental, along with the hopes of retaining him with his Larry Bird rights? It seems a worthwhile gamble given where the Bulls will be drafting, and even a late #1 for a rental is probably the best the Magic will do

One other element the Bulls continue to miss is a big-bodied, defensive-minded center to replace what they lost in Omer Asik. Nazr Mohammed is another veteran who looks like he has stayed too long at the party.

Denver's Timofey Mozgov might fit the bill. He is very low-priced - a bit over $2 million - and he is averaging fewer than 3 points per game in limited minutes. And the Bulls would not be counting on him for many, as they are comfortable in many matchups with Taj Gibson. But Mozgov is a club Tom Thibodeau would surely like to have in his bag,

The expiring contracts of Nazr Mohammed and Vladimir Radmanovic along with one or two second round picks should be sufficient for Mozgov. His market value is not high - he's a luxury item few teams have a distinct need for right now.

This would give the Bulls a bench of Hinrich, Belinelli, Butler, Gibson and Mozgov, which I submit is not just better but QUITE A BIT better than the fabled "Bench Mob" of recent vintage.

If the Bulls were to simply re-sign Belinelli, Redick and Mozgov, they would need to make no other moves this offseason to go into next year expecting to compete for the title. And they could keep their very valuable future assets - Nikola Mirotic and the Charlotte pick - as the roster someday turns over around Rose.