Coming into free agency, the Chicago Bulls seemed to have it all: an up-and-coming point guard, a solid big man, one of the market’s most coveted coaches, decent role-playing talent, and oodles of cap space. The world was theirs, though now there’s a slight problem — it isn’t. Chris Bosh and Dwyane Wade have both reportedly spurned the Bulls to sign with the Heat, Amar’e Stoudemire is already committed to the Knicks, Joe Johnson has agreed to stay with Atlanta, and LeBron James seems to have pared down his options to Cleveland and Miami. That means the top five free agents have all chosen to ignore Chicago’s incredible potential, which will cause the Bulls to shift gears a bit.
According to K.C. Johnson of the Chicago Tribune, the Bulls will now focus on acquiring either Carlos Boozer or David Lee (presumably in that order), while trying to pick up a few shooters and acquire more talent via trade. All of those moves make a hell of a lot of sense for Chicago. The Bulls were 19th in the league in three-point shooting percentage last season, and their two most productive long-range threats (Kirk Hinrich and John Salmons) have been traded. Power forward has long been a position of weakness for Chicago, and though Bosh and Stoudemire have already been swept off their feet, Boozer and Lee are still incredibly talented and productive.
Without a premier free agent in tow, the Bulls will have plenty of money to spend on shooters. Ray Allen (unrestricted), J.J. Redick (restricted), Anthony Morrow (restricted), Kyle Korver (unrestricted), Roger Mason Jr. (unrestricted), and Wesley Matthews (restricted) are all solid free agent options for Chicago, and none of those players are expected to break the bank. Redick and Morrow are among the more intriguing long-term options, but their restricted free agent status will make it fairly difficult to pry them away from their respective teams without seriously overspending.
It’s tough to anticipate how the Bulls would work the trade market, but I think it could safely be assumed that they’ll try to fill both of the aforementioned needs (power forward and wing shooter) through that channel while possibly trying to deal away Luol Deng. Without the dual-max contract possibility hanging overhead, there’s no urgency to trade Deng. However, I’m sure the Bulls still wouldn’t mind climbing out from underneath the $51.3 million Luol is owed over the next four seasons.
Missing out on the top free agents is tough luck for Chicago, but they can still be off-season winners. As long as the Bulls address their weaknesses by signing quality players to reasonable contracts, second-tier talent could be enough. Derrick Rose and Joakim Noah are still growing into their own talents after all, and could just be a solid PF and supporting cast away from making things interesting in the East.