By Dan Bernstein-
CBSChicago.com senior columnist
(CBS) Doug McDermott can excite Bulls fans as much for what he isn’t as what he is.
Perhaps no single player in this draft arrives as well scouted as the four-year collegian with 4,569 minutes worth of action on tape, and few are as well decorated with all-everything accolades and national awards.
In some other year he’d be the trophy himself, a typically solid building block for yet another conservative core of personnel, his known skills valued over any perceived deficiency of explosiveness or athleticism, another Midwestern coach’s son embarking on an NBA career likely to be both successful and unspectacular.
But this is something different – something still on the move. There is palpable energy permeating the league at the moment as Carmelo Anthony and LeBron James prepare to enter free agency next week and as unhappy 25-year-old All-Star Kevin Love waits to be traded. Those names matter more than any called in last night’s NBA Draft, and every current transaction for a certain group of eager franchises must be seen in that context.
Decisive, aggressive action from Gar Forman and John Paxson — particularly that which fell right in line with prevailing word around the league — is indicative of more than just their desire to acquire McDermott himself, and it whets the appetite for more. Instead of incurring the salary burden of two first-rounders, Chicago retained some flexibility while making Mike Dunleavy’s $3 million more easily expendable in a deal. Though required to take on Anthony Randolph, his expiring contract of $1.8 million could also be dealt individually.
Sources continue to tell 670 The Score that the team is determined to make every effort at radical changes that would end the frustrating cycle of regular-season overachievement and playoff disappointment. They see their Eastern Conference as more unstable than ever, with multiple paths to contention.
Make no mistake: The Bulls really like McDermott. Having somebody who can put a ball in a basket without too much help was their greatest need and still remains so. But Forman and Paxson are setting up for next week knowing full well the best things going for them are open minds and an elastic roster. The whims of stars, agents, shoe companies and trading partners leave only volatility, not certainty, and only a team that is prepared for numerous scenarios will emerge with a realistic shot at a title.
Despite the Bulls’ awkward relationship with coach Tom Thibodeau (due more than anything to the fact that he’s just a very odd person with absent or unpolished interpersonal skills), there is trust that their coach will find a way to make it work, provided they deliver the scoring punch from somewhere. The Bulls really believe they have a shot at landing Anthony, but they don’t know if the Knicks will be backed into a sign-and-trade after staring into the abyss.
Similarly, the Timberwolves can wait for the teams that miss out on Anthony to enter a bidding war for Love as consolation, unless they are presented with something good enough at any time. As all this goes on, it remains possible that the best-laid plans of Pat Riley spin out of his control and James himself reshapes the NBA.
Chicago’s frontcourt pieces, both currently and potentially, would seem to have some overlap: McDermott, Dunleavy, Nikola Mirotic and Love all share some similarities. Taj Gibson’s game is more complementary, but he’d probably be demanded in any deal. Carlos Boozer is still on the team, too, awaiting either inclusion in trade or freedom via the amnesty provision. Acquiring any of the three available stars would mean assessing what you have left under contract, patching around it, hoping Derrick Rose can still play at a high level and seeing how far it all goes.
Draft night is always fun, and this one provided evidence of uncharacteristically forceful behavior from a front office desperate to land something long-sought. It might be the beginning of something.
Next week only decides the Bulls’ future.