It's been a slow couple of weeks in the NBA, and on Fear the Sword, so I've decided to take an hour or so every day to review what the other members of the Central Division have done with their offseasons. If the Cleveland Cavaliers have playoff aspirations, they must win more games within their division; Cleveland finished 3-13 in the Central last year, which tied with Orlando for worst in the entire league. We were blown out by the Bulls in the second game of the season (I was there and it was even more miserable in person) and things never really got better from there.
However, the Cavs have made a lot of improvements to their roster over this offseason. We brought in Jarrett Jack, Earl Clark, Sergey Karasev, and Anthony Bennett. While many at FTS would have preferred Noel to Bennett, these players still represent a huge improvement of talent over our squad last year. When we combine these acquisitions with the expected internal improvement from our young core and the return of a healthy Anderson Varejao, it is clear to see that the Cavaliers should be much improved.
However, our division rivals were all active in improving their teams over the offseason as well. This FanPost will focus on the roster improvements that the Chicago Bulls made, and I will do a FanPost for each of the other Central Division teams over the next few days if you guys like this one.
The Chicago Bulls entered the offseason after being knocked out of the playoffs by the Miami Heat in the second round. They were decimated by injuries in their series against the eventual champions. The list of players who missed time or struggled to play through injuries in that series is staggering: Joakim Noah, Kirk Hinrich, Luol Deng, and, of course, Derrick Rose. They managed to steal a game against the Heat thanks to an offensive explosion from FTS fan favorite Nate Robinson, but the Heat locked down after that game, and put away the Bulls without much more resistance.
Going into the offseason, the Bulls had three objectives: get healthy again, find a back-up center, and find more three point shooters. The Bulls were decimated by injuries in the postseason, but they shot poorly from distance all season long. They were 29th in three-point attempts and 21st in three-point percentage, shooting 35.3% as a team. Spacing is the NBA's new obsession, and it is especially important for a team like the Bulls, whose star point guard is not an elite outside shooter. In addition to adding shooters, the Bulls needed someone play behind Joakim Noah.
Bulls GM Gar Forman had to find good three point shooters without much cap space to work with, due to ownership's reluctance to pay the luxury tax. In order to find cheap shooting, Forman turned to the draft and to free agency.
With the 20th pick in the 2013 Draft, the Bulls took Tony Snell, a 6'7" SG/SF from the University of New Mexico. Snell is a long defender who shot the three-ball at a 39% rate his junior year. ESPN Insider Chad Ford had this to say about the pick: "The Bulls wanted a shooter, but I wonder about Snell. With other shooters such as Allen Crabbe and Reggie Bullock left on the board, I think there were safer picks than Snell. Snell is intriguing, but he was very inconsistent at New Mexico. He was sort of a workout wonder. Don't love this pick."
I agree that Reggie Bullock was a better prospect than Snell, however Snell also fits the role of a 3-and-D wing. Snell will likely see some minutes off the bench this year, especially if injuries plague this team once again. I don't love the Snell pick, but the Bulls don't need him to contribute very much this year, with the emergence of Jimmy Butler and the signing of Mike Dunleavy Jr.
On July 1st, the Bulls signed former Milwaukee Bucks swingman Mike Dunleavy Jr. to a 2-year, $6 million contract. I love this signing for Chicago. Dunleavy is a veteran wing who is an excellent three point shooter (He shot a career-high 42.8 percent last year), as well as being a solid defender. Dunleavy is a definite upgrade over Marco Bellinelli, who later signed with San Antonio. Dunleavy instantly becomes the best shooter on the Bulls roster, and does so without compromising the defense upon which their success is built.
Here's something that I had almost blocked from my mind; it's Mike Dunleavy torching the Cavs for 29 points last November, the same game in which Brandon Jennings' dubious buzzer-beater downed the Cavaliers. This video is not for the faint of heart.
In addition to their acquisitions of Dunleavy Jr. and Snell, the Bulls addressed their back-up center position by re-signing Nazr Mohammed to the veteran's minimum (Source). I don't hate this move, because Mohammed is a solid rebounder and defender who knows Thibodeau's system, but I think that the Bulls could have done better if they had picked a center in the draft. Gorgui Dieng was taken with the next pick after Tony Snell, and I believe that he would have been a great fit in Chicago.
In addition to signing and drafting new players, the Bulls also let some old players go. They chose not to re-sign Nate Robinson or Marco Bellinelli, and they paid the $1 million fee to buy out Rip Hamilton's contract. All of these moves are addition by subtraction, especially because Dunleavy is an upgrade over Bellinellii. Hamilton has struggled with injuries in recent seasons, missing 50 games this past year. Nate Robinson was excellent in the playoffs, but he is no longer needed now that Derrick Rose is set to return (He is going to play again, right?). He signed with Denver for 2 years and just over $4 million, which would have forced Chicago to choose between Dunleavy and Nate. They chose correctly.
So where does all of this put the Bulls? Last year, the Bulls were 45-37, which was good for second in the Central Division and a fifth seed in the East. This year, I believe that the Bulls will be the second seed in the East. The Heat will be the first because they have Lebron James, but I believe that the return of Derrick Rose, combined with their offseason acquisitions and hopefully a bit of health, will be enough to propel the Bulls past the Pacers and the Nets. I believe that the Bulls will win about 55 games this year, which should be good for the second seed in the East. Hopefully they can knock off the Heat in the playoffs, if we haven't already done it.
So in summation, the Bulls made a few smart, cheap acquisitions this summer. They drafted a 3-and-D wing in Tony Snell and signed Mike Dunleavy to a great contract, while losing Nate Robinson and Marco Bellinelli. They also cut Rip Hamilton and re-signed Nazr Mohammed. These moves should help a little bit, and combined with the return of Derrick Rose, the Bulls should once again be one of the league's elite teams.