After the short-handed Thunder and Bulls both lost their respective series in five games, it’s unclear where they’re headed. Even with the return of Derrick Rose and Russell Westbrook, the Bulls and Thunder will need to make moves if they plan on being real title contenders next season. While getting healthy will be the main way the Bulls and Thunder improve next season, they still need to make moves, even with their minimal cap room and late draft picks.
Coming off of a disappointing second round exit, the Thunder may believe a healthy Russell Westbrook will bring them back to the Finals, but seeing the series against the Grizzlies, it’s clear that the Thunder have some more work to do. With Westbrook, the Thunder will surely be the favorite to come out of the West, but it’s now clear that the Thunder are a very average team without him. Serge Ibaka, the guy Sam Presti decided to pay instead of James Harden, has proven to be a 13 and 8 guy who looks like he’s already hit his ceiling. Ibaka is only 23, but his failure to step up in Westbrook’s absence is just another reminder that the Thunder absolutely made the wrong choice picking him over James Harden.
Even without Westbrook, if the Thunder had Durant and Harden, there’s a good chance they still would have reached the Finals. Moving on though, it looks like the Thunder’s best move would be to re-sign Kevin Martin, but only at a much discounted rate. Martin was a good sixth man, but when Westbrook went down, it was obvious that Martin couldn’t handle being Robin. Aside from re-signing Martin, the Thunder won’t have much cap room at all. They will have to look to the draft to improve their team. While the Thunder’s lack of any real post presence has been a constant source of criticism, it would be foolish to waste their top ten pick this year on a project. Yes, we know Durant, Westbrook, and Ibaka are all young guys, but the Thunder’s title window is now. At this point, the Thunder are better off looking for a long-term replacement for James Harden/Kevin Martin. They did receive Jeremy Lamb as part of the Harden deal, but Lamb isn’t a sure thing. He was a lottery pick and he has a history of being a successful Robin, as he played second fiddle to Kemba Walker at Uconn when they won the title. If the Thunder can get lucky in the lottery and end up with a top 5 pick, they could possibly land Victor Oladipo from Indiana, who would be a perfect fit next to Westbrook in the backcourt.
He’s similar to Westbrook, in that he’s a freak athlete and top tier defender, but also like Westbrook, his outside shooting is far from refined. The Thunder’s best bet in the future is to mimic the Heat and go with a small ball lineup, playing Ibaka at center and Durant at power forward. The Thunder would then hope to play some combination of Westbrook/Reggie Jackson/Jeremy Lamb/Victor Oladipo in their backcourt. No matter what the Thunder do this summer, they could use some luck after dumping one of the ten best players in the league in Harden for fifty cents on the dollar.
Not only did the Thunder deal away Harden cheaply, but in doing so, they created a future rival in the Rockets. Without going into too much detail, the Rockets now have a superstar, with an up-and-coming supporting cast and a boatload of cap room that could reel in Chris Paul this summer. Hopefully we won’t hear anymore Sam Presti praise, hailing him as the greatest forward-thinking GM in the league. He blew it. Big time.
Derrick Rose may have lost some fans this season for not returning from his ACL injury, but he will be greeted to a hero’s welcome next Halloween when the season begins. Rose will vault the Bulls from a pesky second round team to a legitimate threat to the Heat in the East. The Bulls’ offense was ugly at times, especially against the Heat, but they showed the heart and grit (RED ALERT: SKIP BAYLESS CLICHE´) of a team that isn’t afraid of the Heat.
Adding the MVP of two years ago, Derrick Rose, the Bulls will have a real go-to-guy that can carry them in the 4th quarter when their offense is stagnant. The Bulls impressive run in this year’s playoffs provided more than just a moral victory going into next season. Joakim Noah showed himself to be one of the best players in the NBA and the heart and soul of the Bulls. He is one of the few players in the league who relishes playing against LeBron and isn’t afraid of the Heat. This playoffs also showed Nate Robinson’s worth. He’s an ideal sixth man that provides instant scoring off the bench. The Bulls now realize Jimmy Butler is a keeper, who should be a full time starter next season. Having Butler in the starting lineup suddenly makes a guy like Luol Deng expendable. Deng will be in the final year of his contract next season, and his name always shows up in trade rumors at the deadline. Deng would have plenty of suitors, from those teams looking to add a final piece for a playoff push to those teams seeking him for his expiring deal. Maybe the Bulls could even roll the dice and go after a disgruntled star in New Orleans to add a strong scoring punch next season. Imagine if the Bulls went with Rose, Eric Gordon, Jimmy Butler, Boozer, and Noah in their starting five, with Taj Gibson, Hinrich, Belinelli, and Nate Robinson on the bench. Who knows if that team beats the Heat, but that team would easily be a top three seed in the East. The Bulls should obviously re-sign Robinson and Belinelli, but those will most likely be the only key moves in Free Agency.
In the draft, the Bulls will have a late pick that would best be used either on a wing scorer or solid big man who could replace Omer Asik. The Bulls should look for someone who can contribute right away, rather than take a young player like Marquis Teague. The Bulls have a team that is ready to win now. Rose is young, but the rest of his team is in its prime, and adding a project piece makes little sense given the current state of the team. Hopefully with the addition of a healthy Derrick Rose, as well as a potential trade involving Luol Deng, the Bulls should be ready to give the Heat a stiffer challenge next season. The Bulls should be close to their 2010-2011 campaign that ended up with 62 wins.