July 28, 2014
Once Bulls coach Tom Thibodeau latches on to a talking point he can stand behind, it becomes a regular addition to his chats with the media.
His latest: ‘‘That’s why I keep saying that I really like this team.’’
But there are reasons Thibodeau has an appreciation for his players this season, and it starts with their ability to compete, no matter how short-handed the Bulls are. The players have embraced the ‘‘next man up’’ mentality and are running with it.
But let’s see how much Thibodeau likes his team at the end of the season — or what might be left of the roster if players are moved before the NBA trade deadline Feb. 20.
With little going right for the Bulls, starting with the season-ending knee injury to Derrick Rose, they have some players who could command value on the trade market. They just might not be the obvious ones or the ones the Bulls most would want to move.
Three most valuable pieces
1. Joakim Noah: Even after a slow start, Noah has the highest player efficiency rating on the team at 17.8 (the league average is 15). And he only has been getting better in the last few weeks. Noah is a rarity among centers because he can pass out of the high post. He’s almost a point center. Signed through the 2015-16 season and scheduled to earn a combined $27.5 million in the next two seasons, Noah would fit on almost any roster.
2. Jimmy Butler: Injuries have slowed him down, but he can guard three positions and is a knock-down three-point shooter from the corners. Still working under his rookie contract, Butler could be a huge get for a team, provided the Bulls are willing to part with him.
3. Mike Dunleavy Jr.: Teams never can have enough shooting. And while Dunleavy is shooting only 38.8 percent from three-point range, the Bulls signed him as a free agent for only $3 million this season and next. That fact alone makes him an attractive commodity.
Three toughest pieces to move
1. Derrick Rose: A superstar? Yes — pre-knee injuries, that is. But what if the Bulls want to do the unthinkable and trade him? Good luck. Signed through the 2016-17 season and owed almost $60 million from the time he returns to the court next season until his deal is done, no team would gamble on Rose returning to what he was before his knees betrayed him.
2. Carlos Boozer: Boozer has more value than fans think. He’s a go-to presence in the post and a consistent double-double threat. But not at $15.3 million for the rest of this season and $16.8 million next season. Plus, other general managers know the Bulls might seek amnesty on his contract during the offseason, so they can get him at a better price in free agency.
3. Luol Deng: The Bulls eagerly would accept a player with an expiring contract and a first-round draft pick for the do-it-all Deng, but a deal like that doesn’t exist at this time. As painful as it might be, the Bulls might have to let Deng walk into free agency unless he lowers his expectations on a contract extension.