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Are The Chicago Bulls Planning Something Big This Summer?

USA Today Sports

USA Today Sports

What if I told you four players with a combined -0.1 Win Shares during the 2013-14 season have the chance to change the power structure in the NBA?

No, this isn’t the lead-up to an awful 30 for 30 parody, it’s a reality occurring right now in Chicago. The four players in question are Louis Amundson, Mike James, Ronnie Brewer and Erik Murphy. If you’ve been following the Chicago Bulls transactions as late, there’s been some head-scratching moves made over the recent weeks. It’s not that any of the aforementioned players are bad enough to make you wonder what the hell John Paxson and Gar Forman are doing, it’s the frequency at which these players are being acquired.

Sure, you could chalk it up to head coach Tom Thibodeau wanting some more depth going into the NBA playoffs, but I want you to remember who we’re talking about it. It’s Tom freaking Thibodeau, Lou Amundson isn’t touching the floor. God willing, Mike James isn’t getting a second of rub.

What’s at work here is something much larger. As Chicago Tribune reporter KC Johnson eluded to late last week, the foundation is being laid for the Chicago Bulls to pursue a big-money trade in the offseason.

The dominoes started to fall on April 3 when the Bulls waived 2013 second round selection Erik Murphy. The 23-year-old only played 62 total minutes for the Bulls and showed little to no signs of being anything more than bench depth. The move to waive him seemed justified but also a bit of a head-scratcher. Murphy to many including SBNation’s Mark Deeks, seemed like a good option to stay with the Bulls the rest of the season because of his tremendous value:

If you’re faced with the choice between a fringe NBA veteran getting a roster spot, or your second-round pick, then any luxury tax concerns the team may have will play a factor in the decision. For example, Erik Murphy with Chicago has only a $250,000 guarantee on his $490,180 salary this season, yet he is surely extremely likely to survive the whole season, as a replacement player (whom the Bulls would likely have to sign just to meet the minimum roster size) will cost about double that.

So when the Bulls waived Murphy it seemed quite odd, what was at play here? It’s not as if anyone they would sign off the scrap heap would find a way into Thibs rotation. Suddenly, it all started to make sense. The Utah Jazz inexplicably claimed Murphy off of waivers.

As Doug Thonus of Chicago Bulls Confidential wrote, it seemed all too much like a favor returned. A favor done some years ago when the Bulls signed Carlos Boozer to a free agent deal but eventually agreed to terms with the Utah Jazz on a sign and trade.

This didn’t get Boozer more money as the original terms stayed the same, nor did it get the Bulls more assets. The only practical outcome of the deal was that a giant traded palyer exception was created for the Jazz

That player exception was used to bring Al Jefferson to the Jazz. The Bulls did the Jazz “a solid” and the Murphy waiver pick-up was the return. With Murphy claimed and on the Jazz’s books, the Bulls no longer had to worry about luxury tax issues with Murphy that could arise if Taj Gibson and Joakim Noah receive performance bonuses. In essence, the Jazz picking up Murphy gave the Bulls an extra $490,000 in salary room… thanks Utah!

To get their roster back to 12, the Bulls signed former “Bench Mob” member Ronnie Brewer. He may play a little here and there, but I’d highly doubt it. He’s a number, a non-guaranteed number.

A pure signing this summer still seems like a long shot as pointed out by Bullsville’s Don Ellis. Amnestying Boozer, something Bulls fans have been eagerly anticipating still won’t free up enough money nor will signing Euroleague star Nikola Mirotic. So if they Bulls are in the market for a big time player, it will have to be done by a sign and trade.

The plan was put into motion with the signings of Amundson and James, both of whom signed non-guaranteed contracts putting the Chicago Bulls roster at 15 but more importantly giving the Bulls a few more assets to trade this summer if they so choose.

Now understand, a trade for a superstar is still a long-shot for the Chicago Bulls. Some may even find it a bad idea to send off someone like Taj Gibson in pursuit of a star, but at this point, the Bulls are going to try their damndest.

Also, I think they have their guy. Let’s play guess that quote:

“It’s interesting because with USA Basketball, they talk about him being a playmaker…He scores and if a guy is open, he passes the ball. I think oftentimes it’s who he plays with…A lot of the things that you hear about him I heard about Kevin Garnett and Ray Allen and Paul Pierce before they came together and won it. That changes perception. Carmelo has been one of the elite scorers in the league for a long, long time.”

If you guessed usually lost for words, hard-nosed Tom Thibodeau, you would be correct. I don’t want to read too far into quotes, but Thibs is a methodical guy, he knows when to pick his spots. He could have just as easily said something generic about Anthony and moved on. He didn’t though.

Again, I don’t want to assume anything here but Thibs sounds like a guy who thinks very highly of Carmelo Anthony. Likewise, Melo sounds like someone who wouldn’t mind playing for Thibs:

“(The Bulls) have a great coach and system… It’s like Gregg Popovich’s system. You can put anyone in the system and it’s going to work. Guys have been in and out of the lineup and they still get it done.”

Could Anthony and Chicago be a match this summer? Will Anthony be able to persade the Knicks that he isn’t going to re-sign so they’ll take pennies on the dollar to get some assets back for him? We don’t know yet, but what we do know is the Chicago Bulls have a plan in place to make it happen.

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