By Cody Westerlund-
DEERFIELD (CBS) – On the night the Bulls made their first bold move of the offseason, Chicago general manager Gar Forman held a measured pitch as he weighed a barrage of tap-dancing questioners who, aware of NBA tampering rules, dared not utter “LeBron James” or “Carmelo Anthony” when all they wanted to know about were “the two top free agents” on the open market.
Acquiring Creighton forward Doug McDermott from the Nuggets at the No. 11 pick in a draft night deal – the Bulls sent away this year’s No. 16 and No. 19 picks and a 2015 second-rounder in return for McDermott and Anthony Randolph – was a quality start to the offseason, Forman believed.
And he was sure to emphasize, the maneuvering also did little to change the bigger goal: chasing high-profile free agents.
“In the scheme of things, we’re still in the same position we were (financially),” Forman said. “The numbers will change slightly, but they don’t change dramatically. That’s something we’ve spent a lot of time preparing for, is that it’s going to be a very fluid situation. Obviously, we’re going to evaluate all the different avenues that we have on how to make the team better.
“We’ll certainly try to be as aggressive as we can be to try to improve our team.”
That’s the approach the Bulls took Thursday night when they acquired McDermott in a move that was a bet on the here and now. With intentions to compete for a championship, Chicago wanted someone who could help immediately, so management passed on younger, greener talents like Gary Harris and James Young, who were eventually still available at No. 16.
Perhaps that will look silly in a decade, but to lure Anthony to Chicago, the Bulls have to continually display the win-now mentality.
Drafting a four-year college standout with an offensive game as polished as they come was certainly a signal.
“We’re all very optimistic that no matter which way it goes, that when we come out of this July period, our team’s going to be stronger than it was going in,” Forman said.
“We’ve mapped out a number of ways this could go.”
There was only one path the Bulls wanted to take Thursday. They displayed their belief in McDermott, the consensus national player of the year in his senior season, to the extent that they took career reserve Randolph in the trade despite his $1.8 million salary next season not helping the goal of clearing cap space for Anthony.
“Our feeling is he’s much more than a shooter,” Forman said of McDermott. “He’s got a lot of game.
“We really feel he’s a guy who will fit with the pieces we have.”
It’s easy to see why.
Chicago was the NBA’s lowest-scoring team last season. The 6-foot-8, 225-pound McDermott is the NCAA’s fifth all-time leading scorer, and he could score using any avenue – be it from the outside, the free-throw line, in the mid-range game, on the block, off screens or in what Forman termed “crafty” manners. McDermott averaged 26.7 points as a senior and shot nearly 46 percent from 3-point range in his college career.
McDermott’s defense will certainly be a work in progress, as his lateral quickness will be challenged by some of the world’s best athletes. He admitted his defense must improve, but nothing could curb his excitement as he spoke from Brooklyn after attending the draft.
“Great city, great fans,” McDermott said of Chicago. “I couldn’t ask for a better spot.”
Funny part is, that’s the same message the Bulls will be sending to Anthony soon when they ask him to accept less than a max contract for the chance to chase championships. They’ve made one sensibly bold move early in the offseason.
Now, they just hope to pull another bigger one off.
“What we’re always going to sell is obviously the great city of Chicago, our fan base, the culture that’s being created here, the success we’ve had up to this point,” Forman said. “We feel like we’ve got a lot to sell, but again, it’s going to be a fluid situation.
“Some of it we control, some of it we don’t.”
— The Bulls selected New Mexico power forward Cameron Bairstow with their second-round pick at No. 49 overall, and they’d long been eyeing him there. “He’s another guy that fits our culture, is a strong, physical player,” Forman said of the 6-foot-9 Bairstow, a native of Australia. “He’s got a good skill level, can hit the mid-range shot.”
— Derrick Rose’s recovery from a right medial meniscus tear continues to be on schedule, and he’ll practice with the Bulls’ summer league team and then at Team USA’s late July mini-camp, coach Tom Thibodeau confirmed. “Derrick’s doing great,” Thibodeau said. Rose has been taking contact on the knee drills.
— The Bulls are still unsure of whether they’ll be able to lure Spanish League star forward Nikola Mirotic to Chicago this offseason. He has a buyout of around $3.4 million with Real Madrid that could prove problematic if the parties don’t get creative. “We’re very high on him,” Forman said. “It’s our feeling he’s excited to come play for the Chicago Bulls. We’re still not sure whether that will be this summer or the following summer. He’s got some buyout issues. He’s certainly still in our plans moving forward.”
— Randolph can’t be traded as part of a multi-player deal in the next 60 days, Forman said, assuming the Bulls remain over the cap – which would make it seem unlikely that he’s a part of any potential sign-and-trade.
Cody Westerlund is a sports editor for CBSChicago.com and covers the Bulls. Follow him on Twitter @CodyWesterlund.