By Matt Nestor
There are many ways to skin a cat. There are just as many ways to win an NBA championship. The Chicago Bulls are getting ready to try a new approach.
The past four years have seen the Miami Heat represent the Eastern Conference in the NBA Finals, where they won two of the last four championships.
They did so with star power: LeBron James, Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh — the “Big Three,” as they were called. The Heat rode their stars, and rode them hard.
The Bulls did as much in the 1990s, riding their own superstars of Michael Jordan and Scottie Pippen to six titles of their own. They have tried over the last few years to recreate that kind of team.
Derrick Rose turned into an MVP. Joakim Noah turned in to an all-NBA center. Taj Gibson is a solid starter. The Bulls have just been trying to find another star to go with that group.
After the 2010 season, the Bulls worked hard to put that together. They went hard after Wade, Bosh and James in hopes of luring one, or more, to create their super team. Ultimately, they failed and settled for Carlos Boozer. One Eastern Conference Finals and a slew of Rose injuries later, the Bulls were at a point where they had to start again.
So, they went back to the drawing board this offseason, looking to accomplish the same thing. They used their amnesty clause to get rid of Boozer. A few other minor trades later, the Bulls had significant cap room, again looking to create a super team.
This time, their target was Carmelo Anthony. The New York Knicks superstar had said he would test free agency. He also said winning was much more important than money.
The Bulls had significant room, yet not as much as the Knicks. They asked him to put his money where his mouth was. And he declined.
The Bulls were, again, without their superstar. Other times when this happened, they were left with regrettable signings. Boozer in 2010. Ben Wallace before that. Money and cap room spent, just because it was there.
Think back to the NBA Finals this year. The super team in Miami was defeated by a deep, talented team in San Antonio. The Spurs won by wearing you down. They were talented, no doubt. But they sent players at you in waves. When the Heat stars were trying to catch their breath, another Spurs player was hitting a three, or making a steal, or causing general problems for the Heat.
Fast forward to the Bulls’ offseason, and they had a pretty good plan B.
They drafted Doug McDermott, a talented scorer. Tony Snell looked like a new player in the summer league, improvement from within. They signed Pau Gasol to help man the middle. They brought over Nikola Mirotic, a smooth-shooting big man from Europe who scouts say could have been a top three pick in this year’s draft. They signed Aaron Brooks, who averaged 9 points per game for Denver last year.
Suddenly, the Bulls are looking at a team that may legitimately be able to play 12 players every game. They go from a team that had no offense last year that suddenly has offense at every level.
A lot depends on the health of Rose. If he can return healthy, suddenly this is a powerful team.
It is a copycat league. This is by no means a guarantee that the Bulls and Spurs will face off for a championship next season. But in an Eastern Conference turned upside down, the Bulls certainly may have a new formula that could set them up for that chance.
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From the July 23-29, 2014, issue