Bulls could go from marginal to marvelous by playing their cap right
CBSSports.com Senior Writer
At the United Center in mid-December, when the Bulls were busy going
through the motions in losses to the Celtics and Lakers, it appeared to
me that Vinny Del Negro knew. He knew it was only a matter of time.
Like anybody else, a coach knows when he’s about to get canned. His DNA kicks in, and he starts issuing thinly veiled statements about injuries and "young players developing" and all the great effort his team is giving him — even when it isn’t true.
There were rumblings that the team was considering elevating assistant coach Pete Myers — or John Paxson, if he wasn’t so thin-skinned — to replace Del Negro. By the end of the month, the Bulls stumbled into Madison Square Garden having just blown a 35-point lead in a staggering home loss to Sacramento and gave no effort in an 88-81 loss to the Knicks. At one point in the game, the Bulls had been outscored 75-24 since the third quarter against Sacramento.
But the calendar has flipped to February, and Del Negro is still standing — still coaching. And before losing two consecutive to the Clippers and Sixers, the Bulls had become the first team in NBA history to win five in a row on the road against teams with winning records.
The two losses dropped the Bulls below .500 again after they had finally climbed above that mark for the first time since Nov. 19. But as dismal as things once looked for the Bulls, they’ve reached a crossroads that could present the biggest opportunity for this franchise since it drafted Michael Jordan in 1984.
Sources say the team is looking seriously at several trade options that could unleash enough 2010 cap space to sign not one but two marquee free agents. Here’s how the math computes: If the Bulls didn’t make any trades before the Feb. 18 deadline, kept their first-round pick and let their free agents walk, they’d have about $16.5 million in cap space -– assuming the cap is $52 million, roughly the midpoint of early projections. That’s enough to sign one max free agent, and league execs believe Chicago native Dwyane Wade would be the Bulls’ primary target, with Joe Johnson a close second.
But that figure doesn’t include a $14.2 million cap hold for Tyrus Thomas, space that must be allocated to him that includes the $6.3 million qualifying offer he’ll be due as a restricted free agent. That’s why league sources believe the Bulls will try to package Thomas in a significant deal for expiring contracts — such as a proposal under consideration that would also send Kirk Hinrich to Boston for Ray Allen’s $19.7 million expiring deal — or in a separate deal to one of several Western Conference contenders that have inquired about Thomas’ availability.