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Thursday, June 26, 2014

What the Bulls do in the draft might tell us about their future plans

Tonight is the NBA draft.  The Bulls currently have picks #16 and #19 in the first round.  They also have expiring contracts, the option to amnesty Carlos Boozer, the best player in Europe ready to come over, and lingering memories of being quickly bounced out of the playoffs this year.

I think we (and the collective media) have talked a ton about how the Bulls can improve to overcome the Miami Heat hurdle.  But does what they do in tonight's NBA draft tip their hand?

The Bulls have a few options here.  1) They can draft players they need that will fit their holes.  2) They can draft players they don't need as trade bait.  3) They can trade the picks.  4) They can trade 1 of the 2.  5) They can draft European players (we'll talk why in a moment).

Should the Bulls stand pat and draft American players with the #16 and #19 picks and they pick a scorer/shooter, a stretch power forward, or a developmental big man...odds are they are going to stand pat with their core roster, bring over Mirotic, and look for some mid-level free agents.  Why?  Although it's great to have 2 first round picks, they cost money.  They have to be slotted for a certain cap space.  With their cap space, Mirotic expected salary, and the existing contracts (even if they amnesty Boozer), the Bulls wouldn't have enough to tempt a Lebron or Carmelo to come to town.  So they'd be preparing to fill their own needs through the draft and lower level free agents. 

Should the Bulls take a position not listed above, you'd have to think they have a trade in the works and couldn't get a deal done before they had to pick.  They are taking the player for another team to be a cog in the trade machine.  It's always harder to trade players rather than the pick, but things happen.  If this is the situation, look for the Bulls to make a major free agency push.  It would appear they free cap space to be able to offer close to a max contract.  This will be more evident if they move a high price veteran in the package.

Should the Bulls draft 1 or 2 European players, this could be a situation where they have flexibility.  If they become major players in free agency, they can stock the European players away in the Euro leagues and have them not count towards the cap.  This would allow more financial space for a big contract.  But if they strike out on a big name, they can still bring the draft picks over to play this year.  I think this scenario is very likely.

The Bulls desperately need another shooter.  I think they have their hearts set on Michigan's Nik Stauskas.  One rumor is that the Bulls are trying to trade their #16 and #19 for an early pick in the #8-#11 range to be able to draft him.  What will this move say about the Bulls future plans?  This is the wild card situation.  It could be a case where they're trying to fill a major hole with best possible draft pick.  But it could also be a cap saving maneuver.  #16 and #19 picks will have a combined cap space higher than a single draftee in the #10 range.  So you get cap room while adding a better player.  You have more flexibility to go after a big name in free agency.  But if you don't succeed, at least you filled one hole.  And add Mirotic coming over with a rookie shooter and your offense becomes less anemic.

The NBA is difficult to GM because you have to draft before free agency opens.  If the position the Bulls are in isn't a perfect example to present commissioner Adam Silver about the error of the NBA's way, I don't know what is.  The Bulls have the potential to leap frog into an Eastern Conference favorite if things go right.  But they also could struggle as a playoff bubble team if they aren't able to land a free agent and make the wrong move on draft night.

Let's wait and see and analyze tomorrow.