When you already have an All-Star point guard and a borderline All-Star centre on your roster, striking out on the big three in the summer of 2010 is a whole lot easier to swallow.
However, when you use the cap space intended for one or two of the big three to get Carlos Boozer, Kyle Korver, Ronnie Brewer, Kurt Thomas and C.J. Watson – well, then you become the summer's biggest winner outside of the talents taken to South Beach.
Look, everyone knew that there were too many teams vying for the services of LeBron, Wade and Bosh for everyone to come away from that hunt happy. The smart teams knew that they'd have to have a backup plan or two in their pockets should they miss on all three major targets. To look at what teams like New Jersey, New York and the LA Clippers wound up with, though, makes one think that very few teams in fact had a plan beyond the new Miami Thrice. In fact, it's hard to believe that any team had a workable plan outside of these Chicago Bulls. Again, though, it helps to be seen as less of a loser when you're already employing Derrick Rose and Joakim Noah.
What this team did, then, was find the right talent to surround those two assets with. In getting Carlos Boozer, the Bulls grabbed one of the most reliable power forwards in the game today, and they got him for 20% less than the Knicks had to pay to get Amar'e Stoudemire. Boozer provides this team with the kind of low-post scoring they've been craving since Eddy Curry left the squad, and he's an ideal partner for Rose in the pick-and-roll since it's been the play he's been running with Deron Williams for five years in Utah. Boozer takes tremendous amounts of scoring pressure off of Rose, too, since he's spent the last four years averaging exactly 20-points-per-game. After Ben Gordon left the team last summer, the Bulls went from 18th in offensive efficiency (105.1) down to 28th (100.8) as they struggled to consistently create offense.
Boozer, along with sharpshooter Korver, will help tremendously in perking up this team's offense as both are coming from a perennial top-ten offensive efficiency outfit in Utah, and both are tremendously focused in what they excel at on the offensive end.
It will also help Boozer immensely that he now gets to play beside a legit defensive centre in Noah (as well as Thomas), since Boozer is undersized at his position at 6-foot-8 and could stand having some shot blocking behind him as insurance. While Mehmet Okur was a nice floor spacer for Boozer, he was hardly Bill Russell when it came to protecting the rim.
One of the big questions concerning this team is going to be how first-time head coach Tom Thibodeau responds to finally having a shot at the big chair. The notorious defensive guru, most recently in charge of the Boston Celtics' defensive renaissance, has been passed over year-after-year for a head coaching job, to the point where his prowess as a head man may have become a tad overrated by the chorus of those in support of his push for the big job. While the Bulls will no doubt remain a top-ten defensive efficiency outfit, questions remain as to how his demanding demeanor and unknown offensive stratagem will play this season. Thibodeau opted not to round out his staff with the kind of experienced former head coaches that his predecessor did, which is not a negative so much as it exemplifies the unknowns going into the season.
Either way, he's got a tremendously talented group to coach, easily the most talented roster this team has had in a very long time, and in a top-heavy Eastern Conference, they rank near the top in terms of potential for this coming season.
PROBABLE STARTING LINEUP
PG – DERRICK ROSE
Rose's ascension towards stardom continued unabated last season, as he upped his scoring and field-goal percentages nicely and even managed to see only a 0.3 dip in assists-per-game despite the loss of the team's most potent offensive weapon (Gordon). As mentioned earlier, the addition of Boozer should only make him a more efficient offensive force now that he'll be required to do less of the scoring and more of the team's playmaking, and one has to hope that that freed up responsibility leaves him with more energy to focus on his exploits at the defensive end of the court. He wasn't as bad a defender as he was in his rookie season, but with his speed and athleticism he could become a terror for opposing guards at both ends, which would help this Bulls team leapfrog some of the upper-crust outfits in today's NBA.
SG – RONNIE BREWER
As of right now it looks as though this spot belongs to Brewer, but that isn't exactly an ideal fit. While he is a tremendously high-I.Q. player that excels at the defensive end of the court, right now the Bulls have no consistent outside shooters to help space the floor for their starting unit. Most believe that eventually Luol Deng will be moved and that shooting will come from the small forward slot, but until that happens Brewer's hold on his position has to be considered tenuous. Nonetheless, grabbing him out of the free agent pile after Memphis inexplicably renounced their rights to him was a great move as all of the league's best teams have a long defensive stopper on wing who's sole responsibility it is to try and slow down the game's greatest perimeter players. If he can maintain a high-level of superstar slowdown then his inability to hit the three (he's a 23% career outside shooter) will be an irrelevant factor in his remaining in the starting five.
SF – LUOL DENG
After Kirk Hinrich was traded to Washington before the draft, Deng became the last man standing from the Bulls last Playoff-tested outfit that included guys like Gordon, Tyson Chandler and Andres Nocioni. Deng actually had a bit of a bounce-back year last season, going for 17.6-points and a career-high 7.3-rebonds per-game, but unfortunately for him he'll always be considered a let-down if he can't replicate the kind of output he managed in his breakout (and it's now looking like outlier) season of '06-'07. At that time the Bulls were reportedly turning down trades for Pau Gasol, Kevin Garnett and Kobe Bryant because the teams wanted Deng in return, and the expectations those reports created in the heads of fans and the media alike have proved too hard to shake for some. Still, at only 25-years-old, Deng still has plenty left in the tank and we'll see if a new coach and new teammates are enough to help justify the four-years left on his contract at a $50-million price.
PF – CARLOS BOOZER
Here's a question: If Boozer is so good, why didn't Utah try harder to keep him? Well, because as good as he is when he's on the court, he has trouble staying on the court. He averaged just 59 games-per-year in Utah and he'll be turning 30 at the start of the next season (assuming a lockout doesn't derail it's opening). While the Bulls are better positioned than the Jazz were to reduce his minutes and protect him from having to guard much bigger bodies around the basket, there is no telling how his body will hold up over the life of his five-year contract. Every year he plays over 70 games gives the Bulls a great chance to be a heavy hitter, but when those sub-40 game seasons crop up, it will be hard for the Bulls to remain much more than an afterthought behind the Magic and the Heat.
C – JOAKIM NOAH
Noah is the perfect example of a player whose best assets lie outside of the box score. Sure, his 11-11-1.6 stat line are welcome, but it's the infectious energy that jacks his team and fan base up that really makes him more than just another Tyson Chandler or Andrew Bynum. This is a guy who maxes himself out every game both physically and emotionally and for all of the jabs people want to take at former coach Vinny Del Negro, he knew how to tap into that energy to great affect without allowing it to overwhelm other parts of his game or the team's game. The only thing standing in his way now is his troublesome left foot and lingering bouts with plantar fasciitis. Big men and foot problems make for devastating combinations, so hopefully everyone necessary is on board with keeping that foot in the best shape possible because Noah is as integral as anyone to the Bulls hopes for success.