It's been fun watching this young Bulls team mature over the last month of the regular season and through the playoffs. However, I think a lot of us were drinking a bit of Kool-Aid in believing that this rag-tag group could knock off a Heat team that boasts a starting lineup featuring two of the top five players in the NBA in Shaq and Dwyane Wade.
In the wake of being eliminated last night, though, the Bulls have a lot to look forward to this offseason. They have tons of cap space to pursue a free agent (NBADraft.net has a "State of the Cap: Chicago Bulls" article up on its wesbite) and at the very least a top-five draft pick via Isiah Thomas' gifts back to his hometown (for your pure entertainment for the day, please see the "State of the Cap: New York Knicks" entry) to add to a continuously improving young core group of players. Hopefully, the Bulls can address their two glaring needs:
1) Size in the Frontcourt – This has been the biggest issue for the Bulls all season and it was on full display in the last two games against Miami. I thought that Tim Thomas could have provided some help this year for the Bulls in that area, so I sent in a question to the Chicago Tribune's Sam Smith on the subject. He posted a response to my email online, which essentially said that "you had to be there" and that Thomas was a bum. I'll trust Smith's judgment since I consider him to be the Peter Gammons of the NBA, but I'm still not completely sold after watching Thomas drain a monster three-pointer to save the Suns' season last night.
Anyway, a lot of buzz for the upcoming draft have the Bulls using their draft pick from the Knicks on LaMarcus Aldridge or Tyrus Thomas (of course, it will depend upon where the lottery balls fall in a couple of weeks). Either of those guys look great on paper. What I'm worried about, however, is the only reason that those players are rated so high is that the upcoming draft has a dearth of quality big men and that their athleticism is being touted more than their power games. In essence, Aldridge and Thomas both sound like Tyson Chandler at this point, which won't help the Bulls at all.
Ben Wallace is a free agent and would turn the Bulls into a bona fide contender for the NBA title immediately, but there's little indication that he wants to leave Detroit, which could become the closest thing the NBA has seen to a dynasty since the Lakers' Shaq-Kobe era if the Pistons go all the way this year. The other free agent centers on the market include Joel Przybilla, who doesn't exactly make my heart fluttering at the thought of glory again. However, a merely adequate big man might be enough for next season if the Bulls add a…
2) Gamebreaker at Shooting Guard or Small Forward – For a team that is overflowing with guys whose natural positions are at the two or three spots, the Bulls amazingly don't have a true gamebreaker among them. Sure, they have high-level players in Kirk Hinrich, Ben Gordon, Luol Deng, and Andres Nocioni rotating through those spots, but none of them is a true go-to-guy that can create his own shot when the game is on the line. Every single one of them fits the wing man role perfectly, yet I don't see a #1 alpha-dog among them when it comes to taking over a game. In order to win in the NBA, you need that one player that can just break down the other team when necessary. Some Bulls fans think that guy can be Gordon, but the problem will always be that he's a 2-guard with the size of a point guard and is simply either really hot or really cold – the consistency that you need isn't there with him and I'm not sure that will ever change.
Therefore, it wouldn't be so bad if the Bulls don't end up getting the top-2 draft pick that they're anticipating in the lottery and instead have a lower pick where they take Brandon Roy. Out of the top prospects for the draft, he combines the right athletic size and fit that the Bulls need with a proven and polished game from leading the Washington Huskies in college. If there's a Dwyane Wade-type guy in the draft, Roy is it (and I'm not just saying that because he shredded the Illini in the NCAA Tourney this year).
As a result, the Bulls might be better off signing a mid-level center such as Przybilla or Nazr Mohammed in free agency while drafting Roy as opposed to using its draft pick on a big man. Besides, if the Knicks continue to bomb next year, we'll be in position to grab Greg Oden in the 2007 draft. In that scenario, a Bulls dynasty for the 21st century won't just be a pipe dream anymore.