LAS VEGAS -- When the final story of the 2014-15 Chicago Bulls is written, this past weekend will serve as one of its seminal points in time.
It started Saturday afternoon a few hours before the Bulls' summer league team played its first game. That's when the organization came to the realization that Carmelo Anthony was staying in New York for sure and taking all the extra millions that came with that decision.
The Bulls were upset. They felt confident Anthony understood and appreciated their direction and the opportunity to contend for championships right away. But instead of sulking over the choice, they went into action with their contingency plans. Pau Gasol announced he was headed to Chicago soon after Anthony made his decision. The Bulls came to terms with veteran Kirk Hinrich on Sunday -- and then a few hours later, prized European prospect Nikola Mirotic tweeted out that he was headed to Chicago. In a 36-hour span, the Bulls improved a roster that was already solid.
Is it a roster that can contend for a championship? Only time will tell -- the Bulls still lack the type of create-your-own-shot scoring that Anthony would have provided -- but it is unquestionably deeper on paper than it was at any point in the past season. Obviously, the health of Derrick Rose hovers over everything the Bulls do, but the front office did a nice job of loading up the rest of the rotation with players who should be able to contribute in several ways.
Rose is the key, but Joakim Noah, Taj Gibson, Mike Dunleavy, Hinrich and Gasol are all proven veterans who know how to play. Jimmy Butler is one of the best defenders in the league and, if he develops a consistent shot, will make himself a lot of money. Tony Snell struggled at various points this past season but has played well to start summer league.
Rookie Doug McDermott has also looked solid to start summer league play and is being counted on to help the Bulls stretch the floor with his shooting prowess. Mirotic remains a bit of a question, in the sense that he has never played an NBA game, but the Bulls' front office has always believed he would produce at this level, and his length should help spread the floor for Rose.
That's 10 players Thibodeau should be able to count on to produce in some form this year. What is left for the front office in the coming weeks? They have to decide if they believe second-round pick Cameron Bairstow can make the roster this season. No matter what, they must continue to try to add another backup center to take a little pressure off Noah. Veteran Nazr Mohammed remains interested in playing for a third season in Chicago, but it it's unclear if he'll be back.
The Bulls must continue to evaluate backup point guard options. With their recent moves, they have the ability to wait and see how the market unfolds, but D.J. Augustin isn't an option anymore after agreeing on a two-year deal with the Pistons on Sunday. Bulls GM Gar Forman needs another veteran in the mix for this role and has had good luck filling that need the past few seasons.
No matter how the rest of the roster is filled, the Bulls' have their core in place. These are the players who will decide how far the Bulls go in the playoffs next season. These are the ones Thibodeau must mold into a contender over the next nine months. The Bulls badly wanted Anthony, but they did the best they could, given the circumstances. It's a tired refrain for frustrated Bulls' fans, but the belief within the organization is that this is still a team that has the ability to contend for a championship right away. The pieces are in place -- now it's time to find out if there's enough talent.