After losing game six 79-78 to the Philadelphia 76ers, the Chicago Bulls became just the fifth one-seed in NBA history to exit the playoffs in the first round.
And as the Bulls limp back home with more bumps and bruises than Miguel Cotto, the questions surrounding this team shouldn’t be about CJ Watson’s ill-advised pass to Omer Asik (the worst free throw shooter on the team at 45%) in crunch time. They shouldn’t be about whether or not Joakim Noah should have given his bum ankle a go, or whether Lucas should have replaced a struggling Watson in the second half. Nor should they be about Carlos Boozer’s astonishing inability to score (wait, maybe that last one should be included).
No, the questions should have more foresight, given all of the flaws exposed over the course of this series. For example, how are the Bulls going to survive next season while their two leading scorers are busy rehabbing after surgery (let’s not forget that Luol Deng is opting to get wrist surgery after the London Olympics)?
Or, more importantly, what kind of moves can the Bulls’ front office make in the offseason to remedy the painfully apparent scoring woes the Bulls have when Rose isn’t on the floor?
Or, even more importantly, should the Bulls consider amnestying Boozer after yet another sub-par playoff performance?
Unfortunately the Bulls’ offseason options are slim, considering Brian Scalabrine, John Lucas, and Mike James are the only players with expiring contracts. Their combined salary is around $2 million, not nearly enough to pick up even a veteran free agent like Kirk Hinrich.
So what about trades?
The Bulls have some decent assets, most notably Asik and Taj Gibson, who will have increased trade stock after their performances against the Sixers. But do the Bulls really want to weaken their front line? Assuming Rose, Deng, and Noah are untouchable, the other players on their roster have little trade value given how offensively challenged they’ve proven to be. So do the Bulls try and move players whose contracts expire in 2014, in order to give teams trying to rebuild some cap relief?
Of course it all depends on what type of remedies the Bulls are looking for. Do they look for more low-post scoring, something that Boozer hasn’t been able to consistently provide?
Or maybe they look to strengthen their backcourt, given Watson and Lucas’ inability to run the offense effectively?
Whatever course management chooses, it is clear that without cap flexibility there is very little room for change, let alone improvement.
Which is why the Bulls’ best option seems to be amnesty.
By using their amnesty option on Boozer’s contract, the Bulls are able to free up their salary cap and sign free agents like Lamar Odom or Jason Kidd without having to worry about giving up too much. Gibson proved over the course of this playoff series that he is more than capable of handling extended minutes on the floor and can easily fill the hole created by Boozer’s absence. What’s more, Gibson is far more active on the defensive end, giving the Bulls’ starting lineup even more of an advantage.
The question, then, becomes whether or not the notoriously stingy Bulls owner Jerry Reinsdorf is willing to pay Boozer post-amnesty.
If not, the Bulls are looking at limited offseason options and, after witnessing their postseason struggles this year, a very long first half of the 2012-2013 season with a roster that will be without their all-stars.