NBA: Carlos Boozer among keys to Bulls' draft
Eleven years have passed since the Cavaliers drafted Carlos Boozer out of Duke. Ten have gone by since the Heat foiled the Bulls' interest in Dwyane Wade and plucked him from Marquette. And it has been five since the NBA draft lottery gods smiled on the Bulls, bestowing them with the No. 1 pick that became Derrick Rose.
All those players in some small way could have an impact on what the Bulls do Thursday night with the 20th pick in the first round and 49th overall selection in the second round of the draft.
If that sounds far-fetched, just wait until general manager Gar Forman like most league executives declares he can't believe whomever the Bulls select remained on the board for their pick.
The point is this: With Rose returning from missing the entire 2012-13 season after knee surgery, Wade still sporadically potent but also looking more and more mortal and Boozer not guaranteed to fall victim to the contract amnesty provision even next summer, the need to hit on cheap talent is paramount.
The Bulls almost certainly will keep their high-priced core of Rose, Boozer, Luol Deng and Joakim Noah intact for next season to challenge a Heat team that has won back-to-back titles but is showing signs of vulnerability.
Despite widespread speculation that Boozer's $16.8 million salary for 2014-15 will be shed via the amnesty provision which allows a team to remove one salary from its books for both salary-cap and luxury-tax purposes though it still must pay the player that determination hasn't been made. Much will depend on how the Bulls fare in 2013-14.
Thus, adding rotation players who play on modest rookie scale contracts is essential. One star, depth and size formed the Bulls' blueprint to try to beat the Heat when LeBron James spurned their free-agency overtures and took his talents to South Beach in 2010.
Forman, executive vice president of basketball operations John Paxson and the scouting staff have hit on Taj Gibson and Jimmy Butler from the back end of the first round. (Gibson, in fact, graduates to his four-year, $33 million extension next season.) Marquis Teague showed flashes last season but can't be judged fully yet. And management remains high on Nikola Mirotic, who won't come as cheaply if he leaves Real Madrid in the summer of 2014.
But the burden remains on management to draft wisely. Such is the reality of the new collective bargaining agreement and a core that will make a combined $58.3 million next season. In fact, the Bulls are beyond the projected luxury tax figure with just the eight players they currently have under contract.
The Bulls' main needs are big man depth, particularly in light of Noah's lingering plantar fasciitis issues and Omer Asik's unexpected departure last summer, an additional shot creator and outside shooting. None, of course, will be solved fully by an untested rookie drafted two-thirds of the way into the first round.
But even with the likely return of Nazr Mohammed via free agency, the Bulls might be served best addressing the big man need Thursday. For starters, this draft features big men who fit the Bulls' traditional draft profile of multiyear college players who have played in big-name programs. Duke's Mason Plumlee, Louisville's Gorgui Dieng and Kansas' Jeff Withey all are projected to be on the board when the Bulls make their first pick.
The Bulls, who project to be a luxury tax team for the second straight time next season, won't be big spenders in free agency this summer. They will need to find contributors on veteran minimum salaries, a la Nate Robinson and Mohammed last season.
As usual, almost everything revolves around Rose, who will be the team's biggest offseason addition. Thursday night will provide just a piece but an important one in the grand financial scheme of the NBA's new reality.