This past year the Bulls finished with the best record in a locked-out shortened season; then, everything changed. With a blink of an eye and a tear of an ACL on Derrick Rose’s left knee, the Bulls were vanquished, gone in the first playoff round. And, with Rose involved in a lengthy rehab, many other members of the team are also gone: The Bulls broke up the Bench Mob.
The friendly group of back-up and role players included Derrick’s back up, C.J. Watson (credited with coming up with the nickname) who has moved onto the Brooklyn Nets. He made a poor decision in the final playoff game by not dribbling the ball to run out the clock. The Bulls dealt Kyle Korver, their three-point specialist, to Atlanta, and versatile Ronnie Brewer left as a free agent to the New York Knicks. The other back-up point guard, John Lucas III, remains a free agent.
Omer Asik, the big center from Turkey, was a restricted free-agent and received a surprising contract offer from Houston: a three-year deal totaling $20 million. The tough part was the $15 million the final year of the contract. With big money already tied up with Rose, Carlos Boozer, Joakim Noah, Luol Deng and potentially Taj Gibson, the price tag was too much for the Bulls to match. They would have been in luxury tax hell.
Losing these players is a loss for the team. Each member of the Bench Mob had specific talents, and was instrumental in creating a cohesive squad. Most importantly, they bought into the hard work ethic of Coach Tom Thibodeau; they bought into a system that meant attention to detail on defense.
The NBA salary cap was a crucial reason for the personnel losses, but the status of Rose’s injury puts this team in a questionable position for success in the upcoming 2012-2013 season. What if Rose hadn’t been hurt? Maybe the Bulls would have bit the bullet and paid. Recently, the Bulls All-Star posted a very brief message (less than one minute) to YouTube, giving an update about how he felt. Other than that video, there has been no contact with the media about his rehab progress.
Rebuilding the bench
Bulls General Manger Gar Forman spent the past few months working on reconstructing the Bulls bench. In the draft, he selected point guard Marquis Teague and has second year forward/guard Jimmy Butler coming off the bench. Butler has played well in the NBA summer league. To get some veteran leadership and defensive toughness, the team signed back former Bull Kirk Hinrich. Two years ago, when the Bulls thought they were in the hunt for the “Big three” free agents — LeBron James, Chris Bosh and Dwayne Wayne — Hinrich was seen as expendable. But there were no remaining bad feelings with Hinrich over that move. As a free agent this year, he had the choice to re-unite with former coach Scott Skiles in Milwaukee or go back to the Bulls. Returning to Chicago felt right for Hinrich. “My heart and my gut told me this was the right move for me and my family,” he said. He signed a two-year deal worth $9 million. His outside shooting is expected to help with the loss of Korver.
Additionally, the Bulls signed 11-year veteran forward Vladimir Radanovich from Serbia — he also has long range shooting ability. Also, joining the Bulls is 26-year-old guard Marco Belinelli from Italy. Not household names, but they will be an important part of rebuilding this important part of the team. Next the Bulls are expected to ink 34-year-old veteran center Nazr Mohammad. The Chicago native would fill the spot vacated by Asik.
There still is the question of Luol Deng, of course, and his injured wrist. If he can handle the rigors of the Olympics (he’s playing for England), that will be a relief for the Bulls. If not and he needs surgery. . . next season could very long and difficult until both Deng and Rose come back.