In the wake of the latest blow to his club, Bulls general manager Gar Forman is making no commitments.
Chicago will be without star guard Derrick Rose for nearly all of this season, having seen him put in 10 games before tearing the meniscus in his right knee, an injury that follows up the ACL injury that cost him all of last year and the previous season's playoffs. By the time this season ends, including the playoffs, Rose will have played in, at most, 20 percent of his team's games in the last three seasons.
That's concerning enough, of course. But making matters more difficult for Forman is that he must consider the future of the roster with Rose remaining as the centerpiece, a difficult trick to pull off considering how little Rose will have been on the court by the time he returns next fall. Rose still has three years and $60 million left on his contract after this season, and though he is only 25, he has what is now an extensive injury history. He will be the Bulls mainstay, for better or worse.
Already, there has been much hand-wringing in Chicago about the closing of the Bulls' championship window, with Carlos Boozer having aged, with Joakim Noah continually hobbled and with Luol Deng heading into free agency. It is fair to assume the team Rose left won't look like the one to which he will return.
Forman has said there are no plans for major changes on the roster, but there are nearly three months remaining before the league's trade deadline. Forman will have plenty of time to gauge the value of his top trading chips between now and then:
Of all the players on the Bulls' roster, Deng would be the easiest to move, because his contract expires this year and he is an ideal do-it-all role player on a contending team. The problem is, no contending team has the young pieces the Bulls would want in return for Deng, and Chicago values the cap space he will bring when his $14.3 million deal runs up this summer.
Sources said that the Cavaliers were interested in trading for Deng last summer, but the Bulls turned them down. That is likely to be the case again this winter. Deng would be an ideal fit in a place like Washington, but the Wizards have already given up their draft pick to the Suns in the Marcin Gortat deal, and if the Bulls can't get a '14 draft pick, there isn't much sense in moving Deng.
Had the Bulls known Rose would be down, they would have amnestied Boozer last summer, but lacking a better offensive option in the frontcourt, they stuck with him. Boozer has only one year left on his contract (for $16.8 million) after this season, which makes him somewhat more attractive as a trade chip. But probably not attractive enough.
"There are still a lot of players who can do what Carlos does at a much cheaper price," one general manager said. "No one is putting themselves out to get him."
Have hope, though, Bulls fans — the Knicks are 3-11 and hurting in the frontcourt. They might just be desperate enough to move on Boozer.
Noah has been injury-prone over the last five seasons, but he does have high value around the league because he produces when he plays. His contract is manageable, too, at two years, $25.6 million. Seven-footers are hard to come by, but Noah will be 29 next February, and is probably at his peak in terms of trade return now.
Noah was mentioned in trade rumors when Portland's LaMarcus Aldridge was said to be unhappy, but those talks never really even materialized. Again, the Knicks make a logical landing spot, but several teams (Pelicans, Thunder, Mavericks) would be in pursuit should Noah hit the trade block.
This is the wildcard when it comes to the future of the Bulls and Rose. One reason the team has been reluctant to waive Boozer is that there was hope that Boozer could be a useful contributor until Mirotic could come over from Europe, likely next summer, and man the starting spot for a year. But in the meantime, Mirotic — the Bulls' first-round pick in 2011 — has developed into a star player in Spain, what one scout called, "The best player who is not in the NBA right now."
He is a versatile 6-9 forward who can shoot the 3, won the MVP of Spain's top league last year and in his first seven games for Real Madrid, is averaging 15.0 points on 63.9 percent shooting from 2-point range and 70.0 percent shooting on 3s. For guys like Deng, Noah or Boozer, the Bulls would be looking for cap relief, draft picks and/or youth. But if they deal one of those guys in a package that includes Mirotic, they will be looking to get a star in return.