CHICAGO – Doug McDermott plays basketball, an exhaustive Sports Illustrated article told us in March, in a “state of posthypnotic calm.”
The Chicago Bulls and their fans, however, conduct their pebble-grained business these day in a state of near-hysteria.
It would be nice if McDermott’s psychologist-induced sense of well-being and positive visualizations rubbed off on his new NBA team and its supporters. But it’s no small order. They would have to do like Doug – relax, count backward from five to one, then picture themselves at a beach. There, they would unburden themselves of all their anxieties – fears about Derrick Rose‘s long-term health, impatience over the newfound vulnerability of the Miami Heat, doubts about the Bulls’ front office and management’s commitment not just verbally but financially to chasing a championship with this core. Finally, as McDermott’s guru Jack Stark reportedly instructs him, they would pack that stuff in a box, place it on a raft and give it a push out to sea.
Problem is, for Bulls fans, that moment of serenity only would last if they envisioned Carmelo Anthony rowing ashore, right past the driftting box of toxins, flashing a big smile, waving a diminished contract and wearing a red-and-black Bulls uniform.
Or LeBron James. Or Kevin Love.
McDermott’s arrival Thursday night in the 2014 Draft – in a swap-o-rama move in which Chicago turned its Nos. 16 and 19 first-round picks into Denver’s No. 11, the Bulls landing Creighton’s irrepressible scorer and the Nuggets opting for Croatian center Jusuf Nurkic and Michigan State guard Gary Harris – immediately got judged for how it might lead to the Bulls fans’ free-agent imaginings.
If that happens, it will cast McDermott, the Draft, VP John Paxson and GM Gar Forman and everything else leading up to the 2014-15 season in a warm, fuzzy light.
If it doesn’t, the switch will flip quickly to overhead fluorescence, the decision judged starkly for what it is and what it isn’t.
But then, why wait? Better to know the floor for how this might or might not help Chicago splice a different ending on the plucky overachievers-turned-early eliminatees movie that’s been playing on a loop in The Loop.
McDermott is a scorer who did so constantly and resourcefully at Creighton, shaking off top-priority game-planning by opposing defenses to amass 3,150 points in his four NCAA seasons. He averaged 26.7 points on 52.6 percent shooting as a senior, including 45 percent from the college 3-point line. He’ll bring his nose for the net to a Bulls club that was offensively challenged, desperate for points in Rose’s absence and determined to spread the floor for their point guard if he does return healthy.
Both Forman and coach Tom Thibodeau all but wagged fingers at media folks who characterized McDermott strictly as a shooter – “He’s a lot more than that,” said Thibodeau, who will find out soon enough at the floor’s other end. But as far as judging McDermott’s addition on the court as a rookie, he likely will look like that deep-threat mischaracterization.
That’s not bad. But it only scratches the surface for why Chicago made this move.
McDermott’s strengths overlap enough with Mike Dunleavy that, now, the 12-year veteran and his $3.3 million salary are in play. Possibly in a sign-and-trade for Anthony, the scorer many Bulls fans believe will complement Rose, solve the team’s biggest problem and propel them back to the Eastern Conference finals.
It’s not just Dunleavy’s salary. It’s the money Chicago saved by turning two guaranteed first-round contracts into one. It’s the cap space it will free up once the Bulls invoke their long-anticipated amnesty cleanse of forward Carlos Boozer‘s $16.8 million.
Rolled together, those and a few minor tweaks could give Chicago about $12 million to $13 million to offer Anthony – or theoretically James, a real long shot – as the starting salary of a four-year contract. Without going backward – shedding key players such as Taj Gibson or Jimmy Butler – in a stab at going forward.
Might it happen? Might Anthony choose to kiss buh-bye a far more lucrative offer from his most recent team, the Knicks (who can pay him $129 million over five seasons)? Might he bank $30 million or $40 million on Rose’s prognosis and, let’s face it, luck, choosing that over new N.Y. boss Phil Jackson‘s proven jewelry box?
Sure. He might. James might go back to Cleveland, too. Love might run off and join his uncle’s band.
But without a big play in free agency, what the Bulls did on draft night won’t rise beyond a modest play for shooting and spacing. Nothing wrong with that, just as there was nothing really wrong four years ago in landing Boozer and a more experienced sharpshooter from Creighton. If McDermott can learn to defend and pass at the NBA level like Kyle Korver, while shooting as well or better, it’s a solid move.
It just won’t induce any state of calm and well-being around United Center, not without pharmaceuticals.