CHICAGO – After the hated Miami Heat bounced his team from the playoffs earlier this week, Chicago Bulls guard Derrick Rose was nowhere to be found at the team’s practice facility.
Once again, he left coach Tom Thibodeau and a few of his battered, beaten teammates to answer questions about his decision to sit out the entire 2012-13 season.
Then again, some things are best left unsaid.
For Team Try Hard, it was a season of sprained body parts and unfulfilled promise, one of too many ills and not enough thrills. The suggested title of the team video is Next Man Down.
Except for the development of Jimmy Butler, who emerged as a starter in his second season, I can’t think of any real positive to come out of it. It finished the way it started – in futile pursuit of LeBron James, Dwyane Wade and company.
Whether or not the Bulls close the gap on the Heat next season may depend solely on the ability of Rose to return to his Most Valuable Player form of two seasons ago. Because there aren’t many other routes to improve the roster.
As it stands, the team payroll is slightly more than the anticipated $71 million luxury tax for next season. Half of the eight players under contract – Rose, Carlos Boozer, Luol Deng and Joakim Noah – account for more than 80 percent of that total.
Team investors remain dead set against exceeding the luxury tax after doing do for the first time in team history this season, which severely limits the chances for a noticeable upgrade this summer.
In addition, their free agents include Nate Robinson, who may have increased his value on the open market more than any player in the postseason.
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Internally, the consensus seems to be that it makes more dollars and sense to tread water for another season. In the summer of 2014, Deng and Kirk Hinrich will come off the books, which will leave the organization in position to make a big splash in free agency.
By that time, James will be 29 years old and in position to opt out of his contract, Wade will have turned 32 and the Heat will be on the back nine, presumably.
I doubt that GM Gar Forman and operations chief John Paxson will rule out a blockbuster move in the weeks ahead, though. Sign-and-trade deals also will be an option.
Can some combination of Deng, Boozer and Euro star Nikola Mirotic (profiled here by our Nick Gibson) be moved for something of value in return? Also available is a first-round pick as part of the Tyrus Thomas trade with the Charlotte Bobcats three years ago. The pick would be unprotected in 2016, the final year of availability.
Even with Rose in uniform, I doubt the Bulls would have had enough to beat the Heat in a best-of-seven series. As was painfully evident time and again, there was a lack of options, especially late in games. As Thibodeau said at the postmortem, “We’ve got to have more shooting. You’ve got to have toughness and character. We have a lot of that already, but we have to add what we have.”
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