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Today’s Fastbreak Roundtable: Debating the Merits of the Bulls’ Front Office

Dennis Wierzbicki/USA TODAY Sports

Last Friday’s Today’s Fastbreak Roundtable featured a spirited discussion about the Chicago Bulls, and part of the conversation spun into a debate about the effectiveness of the team’s front office. What follows is that talk. 

Jason Patt: The Bulls’ front office probably does get criticized a bit TOO much (guilty), but then again, when it comes to trades, they simply don’t make them unless it’s a salary dump. At least not recently. You can ask who they’re supposed to trade for, but other teams find ways to make deals all the time. The Bulls’ FO likes their guys and rolls with what they got, which has been good but not good enough.

Ryan Davis: But I like criticizing this front office! In all seriousness, that’s the hardest part for me. They don’t do much in trades, so people get upset and assume that trades were available to improve the team. Maybe there are those trades, maybe not. The thing that gets me is bringing back the exact same team after a disappointing year, changing only the coach. It’s basically John Paxson’s hubris, saying that the team they constructed was championship worthy when we all know they weren’t.

Michael Wonsover: Exactly. No coach, not even Pops, is making this team championship caliber. The fact that the Bulls decided to only add a new coach in the offseason speaks to the conservative style of the front office. If this team couldn’t beat a depleted Cavs team, they’re certainly not going to beat this year’s Cleveland squad (if Irving comes back of course).

Kelly Scaletta: But, playing Bulls FO advocate here (someone has to!), you have to go back again and look at specifics and not vague generalities like “teams make trades all the time.” Sure some teams make trades. But that doesn’t mean that the players that were traded could have made Chicago better or were obtainable by the pieces Chicago has.

It seems much of the criticism is just in the abstract to me. “They should have made a trade!” Which is like saying, “The President should get rid of the debt” or something. It’s the type of thing SO much easier to say than do.

What deals were doable that didn’t get done this summer? The Bulls had virtually everyone under contract. You could argue that they should have signed someone other than Dunleavy, but who? Who was going to sign for what he signed for that would help more?

I mean, maybe we could have gotten Jeremy Lin instead of keeping Aaron Brooks. But even if that were possible (and we don’t know that they didn’t talk to Lin), would it really make a difference? If the Bulls traded Brooks for Lin tomorrow would you be like, “WE GONNA GET THE CHIP NOW, BABY!!!”

I’m not saying that the FO is above reproach, but I do feel like they get criticized too much. Fans take a lot of potshots at them, but it’s almost all this abstract, “they should do SOMETHING” variety and that’s just hollow rhetoric me.

Christophe Elise/Icon Sportswire

Christophe Elise/Icon Sportswire

Michael: But we don’t know the conversations going on. I can’t say today, as an NBA fan and writer, that I have any inside information on who’s available around the league. I’d like to think the Bulls are making calls and trying to look for deals, but their history of not making trades speaks for itself. Using James Harden as an extreme example, he was acquired with a package almost any team could’ve offered. The Rockets were the most aggressive and got the deal done.

Kelly, I agree that it’s not black and white like the fans make it out to be. But it’s also apparent the front office hasn’t tried to do its best for several years now.

Jason: I wouldn’t even necessarily say they aren’t “trying their best.” I think it’s more of the conservative, “we like our guys” mentality. It’s really not a terrible thing considering this has been a very good team, but at some point, they may have to shake things up to try something different.

Jake Weiner: I’m just saying…it’s not our job to figure out who’s available on the market to help the Bulls. It’s the front office’s, and they’ve largely neglected that role.

Kelly: Yeah. I’m not sure that “not making trades” equals “not trying its best.” That’s a bit post hoc ergo propter hoc.

Michael: Considering every other team in the league makes trades, it’s a pretty fair assumption. Maybe not as plainly as I put it, but there’s clearly more work that could’ve been done the last couple offseasons.

Kelly: But, based on what? You’re assuming that there was some trade out there that could have been made and they were just sitting around twiddling their thumbs and complaining about Tom Thibodeau.

This organization plays things INCREDIBLY close to the vest. Heck, most of our own media didn’t even know about the Deng trade until minutes before they pulled it off. So we don’t have a clue how many talks might have gone on that we never knew about.

That doesn’t mean they DO exist either. But it doesn’t mean they don’t.

In the grand scheme of things, the Bulls have been better run that most organizations.

Chicago Tribune/Zuma Press/Icon Sportswire

Chicago Tribune/Zuma Press/Icon Sportswire

Michael: I agree with Jason, but I can’t help but think of where the Bulls would be if Jimmy Butler didn’t go from a good role player to a near top 10 player in the league. He has saved the Bulls’ front office from looking pretty bad. Obviously they also deserve the credit of drafting him, but most late first-rounders don’t become stars. That grit test pays off sometimes, I guess.

Jason: Ricky O’Donnell mentioned that Butler point on Twitter the other night. They’d be pretty darn screwed if 2013-14 Jimmy was basically the normal Jimmy. Clearly, they’d still be good, but not even close to a contender.

Kelly: But they drafted Jimmy Butler.

Jake: We should also probably note that they almost screwed up royally with Butler. They didn’t think he was worth 4/$48 million (more or less proving they had no idea how good he would become) and ended up guaranteeing him basically double that. Now, things worked out because the Bulls have some room to maneuver and Butler pretty much had to stay BUT think about this — what if Butler had proven worthy of $70 million and the Bulls flinched at a bigger offer? A lot of their successes have been through luck as much as skill.

Kelly: They were never in danger of losing Butler.

Michael: Agree with Jake entirely. Also, the whole Thibs fiasco was pretty embarrassing. Everyone knew Fred Hoiberg was coming for around a year. Heck, most Bulls fans were rooting for Iowa State in the NCAA Tournament. That was ugly and pretty unfair treatment of a coach that got the best out of marginal Bulls teams for years.

Kelly: Two fair questions here.

1. How many teams have made meaningful trades that put them into contender status?
2. How many of those trades involved players the Bulls could have realistically gotten?

Because this all still boils down to the Bulls didn’t do deals that weren’t there as far as I’m concerned.

Jake: There are a lot of teams, a lot of players in this league and plenty of assets on the Bulls. Making a trade is not that difficult. After several years of no trades or even rumors, I think it is MORE than fair for us to say the front office has been overly conservative on the trade front.

Kelly: Yes. I understand that you want to say that the Bulls could make a trade in theory. The problem is theories don’t make you better. I could posit a lot theoretical trades. That doesn’t make them realistic.

Jason: I’m not going to take the time to go look back at all this stuff (because I don’t have that kind of time!), but it’s not a stretch to say they’re very conservative on that front. And again, that’s not always a bad thing, but the track record speaks for itself. So it’ll be interesting to see if any moves are made.

Jake: So we can’t make assumptions about trade talks but you can assume the Bulls were never in danger of losing Butler? If Butler doesn’t break out as a top 15 player, the calculus for his next contract gets a lot more complicated. And that’s the risk they brought upon themselves by not giving him 48 over 4 when they were willing to do 40.

Ryan: It’s hard to think of a contender that didn’t make a significant trade to get where they are. Cavs with Love, Rockets with Harden, Clippers with Paul, Warriors with Iggy/Bogut. Only one that’s a true contender that you can argue is probably the Spurs.

Jake: And they traded George Hill for Kawhi on draft day!

Ryan: Ah, that’s right! Forgot Kawhi wasn’t their original draft pick.

Jake: I’ll also once again say that it’s not my job to make trades for the Bulls. It’s on the front office, and it’s an open secret around the league that they’re not a very active group.

Kelly: In terms of Butler, I’m saying that all along they were saying they were going to keep him. But the reality is that there’s not that much difference between what he was asking for and what they ended up giving him.

Jake: $12 million and $19 million? Pretty big difference. And you’re still assuming that he was staying for sure all along.

Michael: The Bulls have all of their own first-round picks, the Sacramento wild-card pick, Bobby Portis, Nikola Mirotic, Doug McDermott and the trio of Gasol, Noah and Gibson to trade. Packaging some of those assets can get a legit player, but obviously we have no idea what the market is. Still fair to assume that over the course of the past half-decade or so the Bulls have failed to pull the trigger on potential deals that could’ve been had. Those deals might’ve not made them championship contenders, but they certainly would’ve made the team more interesting than the repeater team it is right now.

Kelly: The Bulls tried to get Love but they didn’t have Wiggins to deal. They didn’t have a remote shot at getting Harden or Paul. Iggy was a free agent (and not a franchise player). So the question stands.

Ryan: Point is well taken (although Iggy was signed-and-traded from the Nuggets to the Warriors). It wasn’t so much “here are the guys the Bulls should’ve traded for,” more that each contender has at least one big trade they made that vaulted them to championship status.

Kelly: My point was from the Bulls’ side. There’s this generally accepted notion that there were trades available that could have won the Bulls a title if only the FO would pick up the phone. I think that’s just an easy, potshot way to criticize.

Incidentally, the Heat made no major trades. The Warriors didn’t really make any significant  trades to go from also-ran status to contender status. The Spurs didn’t make any trades. The Thunder didn’t make trades to get to the Finals.

Furthermore, the Nets made big trades that turned them into trash. So did the Knicks. So did the Lakers. Making big, splashy trades is a double-edged sword. Maybe you should also credit GarPax for not making the desperation trade that killed the future of the franchise.

Jake: No one on here is saying the Bulls should’ve acquired Kevin Durant. Have they traded for someone playable in-season since John Salmons? I mean, honestly.

Kelly: I know what people are saying. I’m not arguing that they haven’t been conservative. I’m arguing that just simply grading them pass/fail where making trades is passing and not making trades is failing is short-sighted.

Jason: The Warriors did trade for Andrew Bogut. They also cleared cap space to make space for an Andre Iguodala sign-and-trade. The Heat didn’t make trades because they had three of the best players in the league. As did the Thunder.

Ryan: And, I mean, technically the Heat traded for LeBron and Bosh. Cavs still have the Heat’s first-rounder next year, right?

Kelly: Technically. But come on, Ryan. That you have to say technically means you know it doesn’t count.

Ryan: Oh, I know. Just was pointing it out because I still find it funny that the Cavs have LeBron back AND still have the Heat’s first-round pick.

Jake: Well, at least the Bulls packaged five picks for Doug McDermott!

Kelly: That’s so overhyped. Do you think those represent five players who would be on the roster right now? So much criticism is overstated.

Jason: Hey, there ya go. They did make a significant trade recently that wasn’t a dump!

Michael: The Warriors and Thunder also nailed their draft picks. The Bulls traded two first-rounders for Doug McDermott. Whether those picks would’ve turned into anything doesn’t matter. Right now, the front office would rather have Jusuf Nurkic and Gary Harris over McDermott. It’s not even close.

Kelly: You assume the Bulls would have used those picks on Nurkic and Harris.

Michael: The Bulls certainly would’ve taken two players that would’ve combined to be worth more than McDermott. I actually like McDermott, but there was no reason to give up that much to move up five spots. And the Bulls have been torched with him on the floor this season with him shooting like Korver. That’s not a good sign.

Jake: Well at the least Bulls traded Korver for a trade exception! Is that one better, Kelly? Ha.

Ryan: In fairness to what Kelly has said, we probably can’t complain that the FO hasn’t been willing to make trades and then turn and say there was no reason to give up that much to move up five spots. If that’s what it took, that’s what it took. I was fine with the move at the time because second-rounders and late first-rounders have such a low success rate, overall. If they thought McDermott was a poor man’s Klay Thompson or a more athletic Kyle Korver, it was worth doing.

Kelly: I’m not saying everything they’ve done is perfect, but it’s funny that fans are so hard on them about McDermott and ignore that they also drafted Noah over Hawes (criticized), Rose over Beasley (less criticized but still hotly debated) and “reached” on Jimmy.

Yeah, there’s Teague in there too. But when you’re talking about picks, no one is perfect, not even the Spurs. It’s just EASY to pick nits here.

Also worth mentioning, McDermott is looking much better this year and isn’t dead. Let’s not write the eulogy of his career just yet.

John Peterson/Icon Sportswire

John Peterson/Icon Sportswire

Ryan: I’m with you on this, Kelly. I have a belief that players that want to improve on defense can do it. He won’t ever be good, but if he can just be slightly below average, his offense makes him a major weapon.

Plus, everyone likes to write off Bulls players early in their second season. People did it with Butler and Snell, too. People are still writing off Snell. Jason Goff kept calling him a bum the other day and was saying he shouldn’t be in the league. I mean, he’s nothing special, but yikes is that wrong.

Jake: McDermott had terrible athletic indicators and was generally regarded as a bust by all forward-thinking draft people. So, I don’t really agree about that move. Another one that many of us freaked the f out about at the time.

And Michael brings up a great point. If the Bulls are getting torched with him shooting so well, what is there to really feel good about?

Michael: It’s also easy when the Bulls traded up for a 22-year old that can’t play defense. Kelly, I agree that we are too harsh on a front office that drafted Gibson, Mirotic and Butler late, but that doesn’t mean the McDermott criticism isn’t fair. That was a mistake.

Kelly: I’m not going to argue against that. Not even saying it was the “right move.” I’m just saying the “cost” to get him is exaggerated. Second-round picks who wouldn’t be on the team and a couple of other mid-to-late first-round picks? Not like that was the difference in the title.

Jason: The “cost” to get him may have been exaggerated, but it still wasn’t an optimal use of assets either way. Not really a killer or anything, but I wouldn’t call it a good deal. Hopefully Doug can prove us wrong, because his offense has looked very nice.

Michael: Agree with that. The original thought of drafting McDermott was the mistake.

Jake: There’s no one thing that gives you a title, besides maybe signing LeBron. But every time you miss on one of the smaller important moves, you decrease your margin for error. Two more young useful players on rookie contracts gives you a hell of a lot more room.

Kelly: That’s about where I stand. I don’t think it was a good move. I’m just saying those who criticize it overstate the cost.

Jason: Fair enough. We could probably go on and on and on about this topic, but we’ll save that for another time. Good talk.

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