The Bulls, which had conversations regarding a potential deal with former Orlando GM Otis Smith, continued kicking the tires on a potential swap with new Magic GM Rob Hennigan after he was hired in late June.
The Howard saga appears to finally have come to an end in a four-team deal involving the Magic, Lakers, Philadelphia 76ers and Denver Nuggets, with Howard going to the Lakers, according to sources. The Magic will get Arron Afflalo, Al Harrington, Nikola Vucevic and one protected first-round pick from each of the three teams. Orlando also will receive 76ers draft pick Moe Harkless, a source told ESPN.com's Marc Stein.
As Stein and several others have reported, the Magic were looking for young, cheap assets in any potential deal, making any Chicago proposal a tough sell. Given the untouchable status of former MVP Derrick Rose and the difficult-to-move three remaining years on Carlos Boozer's contract, any potential deal involving the Bulls and Magic would have included a combination of Joakim Noah, Luol Deng, Taj Gibson, Nikola Mirotic and draft picks, including the Charlotte Bobcats first-round pick, acquired in the Tyrus Thomas deal.
While it's unclear how far, if at all, the talks progressed under Hennigan, what is clear is that Noah and Deng don't fall into the younger, cheaper assets category. The pair is on the books for nearly $75 million over the next four years (two for Deng, four for Noah). Couple that with the fact that both players are dealing with ongoing injury problems -- Noah has dealt with ankle problems for the past few seasons and still isn't 100 percent after badly rolling his ankle in the playoffs, and Deng has a torn ligament in his wrist and may need surgery -- and it's understandable why Hennigan and the Magic went in another direction.
What remains unclear is whether the Bulls would have executed a deal even if Hennigan had taken back a package centered on Noah and Deng. From the beginning of last season, it seemed that Howard wanted to be dealt to a select number of teams, and the Bulls were not on that list. They never got a clear sense of whether Howard would sign an extension with the Bulls and would embrace playing alongside Rose. His preference always appeared to be going to the Brooklyn Nets or, most recently, the Lakers.
Any potential Howard deal with the Bulls became even trickier because Howard, who has stated through agent Dan Fegan that he won't sign an extension with any team that acquires him, would have been forced to play without Rose for much of the season as the guard recovers from ACL surgery. The Bulls faced the possibility that even if they had acquired Howard, he may still have chosen to walk at the end of the season, leaving the Bulls with no long-term assets except Rose.