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After Missing Out on LeBron, Bulls Try To Move On

By Benjy Lipsman in News on Jul 9, 2010 2:40PM

After months of speculation and weeks of building hype, LeBron James finally announced his "Decision" on an hour-long show on ESPN last night. By picking the Miami Heat, he chose to team up with Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh and spurned his other suitors -- including the Bulls. Once again, the Bulls thought they could lure the top free agents to town. Once again, they came up short against the Sunshine state. This time it's LBJ, CB4 and D-Wade in Miami instead of T-Mac and Grant Hill in Orlando.

The NBA's biggest free agent summer ever was a big bust for the Bulls. So where do they go from here?

The Bulls had been biding time for over two years, waiting for this summer to arrive. The hiring of Vinny Del Negro was clearly a money-saving placeholder move. John Paxson and Gar Forman gambled heavily, spent two years gutting their roster by trading productive players for misfits with "expiring contracts" to clear cap space. In recent weeks, they doubled down by effectively giving away the popular Kirk Hinrich and their first round pick to try and get as close as possible to being able to offer two max contracts. All in the hope of landing at least one of the elite crop of free agent available this summer. Instead, their top three targets all chose to team up in Miami (who gutted their roster even worse than the Bulls).

With no future to point toward, Bulls management must now figure out how to build a competitive team for this upcoming season -- fans have been in a holding pattern long enough. Those fans will question whether Pax and Forman could have built a contender incrementally by building on the successes we saw in that exciting Boston series last year. Should they have let outside scoring threat Ben Gordon leave with no attempt to keep him? Did they give up on Tyrus Thomas too soon? Should they have kept John Salmons? Was dumping Hinrich so late in the game without any clear indication of landing top targets a reckless move? And, most importantly, how do they intend to overcome these mistakes?

The last time Bulls management found themselves in a similar situation of excess cap room after missing out on their top free agent targets, the team overspent on the likes of Ron Mercer, Brad Miller and Eddie Robinson. Bulls fans suffered through a series of sub-20 win seasons close on the heels of the Bulls' second Threepeat, as their miscalculation prevented the team from rebuilding quickly. More than a decade later, and we're still waiting for a competitive team again. Hopefully, they'll spend more wisely this time around. Having already inked Carlos Boozer to a five-year, $76 million deal on Thursday, they still have about $19 million in cap space left and a whole lot of roster spots to fill. While mostly spots on the bench, the team is now desperate for a starting shooting guard, particularly one with some outside shooting skills. But this free agent crop is light in shooting guards -- Mike Miller, Kyle Korver, J.J. Redick and Ronnie Brewer just might be the best ones available. And there aren't many assets left to trade now that all those "expiring contracts" have in fact expired. That Hinrich trade is really going to come back to bite Paxson and Forman in the ass, as they'll likely end up committing way more money, for a longer term, to an inferior player. Both executives deserve to lose their jobs over that last trade. And meanwhile, Bulls fans can expect many more seasons of (maybe) squeaking into the playoffs before making early exists at the hands of the Celtics, Magic and Heat.