- Nick Friedell, ESPN Staff Writer
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CHICAGO -- Whether Jimmy Butler can live up to the $90 million-plus deal he agreed to on Wednesday remains to be seen. Over the last season, Butler took the kind of dramatic leap from inconsistent offensive player to All-Star that few 25-year-olds are able to make. The Bulls rewarded him for the jump after failing to come to a far less lucrative agreement with him before the deadline for restricted free agents in October.
The second guessing from fans is all water under the bridge at this point. Some will argue that the Bulls should have locked up Butler for less money when they had the chance. Some will argue that the Bulls made a better decision by waiting for Butler to turn into a better player before investing those kinds of big dollars.
Either way, Bulls GM Gar Forman made the moves he had to make on Wednesday. He really had no other choice. If he didn't give Butler such a mammoth deal there would have been a line of teams that would have. If he didn't lock up veteran Mike Dunleavy for three more seasons, there would have been plenty of teams waiting to add a veteran shooter who is respected throughout the league.
With cash streaming into the NBA at an all-time high because of the new TV deals, this is just the cost of doing business in a league that is more competitive than ever in regard to signing talent. The reality for Forman and his staff is that while Butler's ultimate ceiling remains to be seen, the Bulls didn't have a lot of other options in order to remain competitive.
There is a small minority of fans who have already called for the Bulls to blow up the core of this team given the disappointment of last year's second-round loss to the Cleveland Cavaliers. The problem with that plan is that the Bulls front office still wants to give this core one more chance to push for a title under new head coach Fred Hoiberg. The belief is that Hoiberg's offensive system can help push the Bulls over the hump in the Eastern Conference.
With Butler back in the fold for the long haul, the Bulls continue to have a top-tier perimeter defender who has had more success than almost anyone in at least slowing down LeBron James in the last few years. The issue for the Bulls is that even if the organization decided it wanted to blow up the current roster and build around a core of Butler and Nikola Mirotic moving forward, what would they get in return for the pieces they already have?
Derrick Rose still has two years left on a mega max extension and has yet to show he can stay healthy for an entire season since tearing the ACL in his left knee in April 2012. Pau Gasol has two years left on his deal and is coming off an All-Star season of his own, but he'll be 35 next year, and it seems unlikely his production will be the same. Gasol averaged 18.5 points and 11.5 rebounds in almost 35 minutes a game last year. Even with Hoiberg in the fold, it's a stretch to believe that Gasol will be able to play 78 regular-season games as he did a year ago.
Taj Gibson also has two years left on his deal but he just had ankle surgery and is expected to be out about four months. Why would a team trade for him now before seeing how he performs after the rehab is completed? Same goes for Joakim Noah, who only has a year left on his contract, but looked like a shell of his old self last season as he continued to recover from off-season knee surgery.
If the Bulls are intent on blowing up their team and starting fresh, next year always made more sense for the deconstruction given the amount of quality players in the final year of their respective contracts. For now, the hope within the organization is that younger players like Doug McDermott and Tony Snell will thrive with Hoiberg, not Tom Thibodeau, now in charge -- giving the Bulls an even deeper, more confident roster in the upcoming year.
While considering the ramifications of the front office's work on Wednesday, consider the reality that Forman had come to long ago. The Bulls may still not have enough talent to knock off James and the Cavaliers in the foreseeable future, but what other options did they have in the short term to keep themselves competitive? Re-signing Butler and Dunleavy were no-brainers for a team that still holds out hope that the championship window it has been holding open for several years hasn't closed completely.