With reports flying around the NBA that all of Chicago's competitors are getting better by signing key free agents, Chicago must make some moves NOW to ensure that the Bulls remain a championship contender after Derrick Rose returns from injury.
Although many of the top free-agent targets have already reached agreements with championship contenders, the cupboard is not bare. There are still plenty of feasible targets for the Bulls to land in an effort to remain in the championship hunt.
Due to financial constraints and potential luxury tax issues, Chicago must be creative. I suggest that Bulls' ownership and management make the following moves in the next week:
1. Not match Houston's offer for Omer Asik.
While Asik is a quality player, he is horrible on the offensive side of the ball (probably one of the top five worst offensive players in the NBA). His defense is tremendous, but Chicago already has a lot of money invested in a defensive-minded center in Joakim Noah.
If Asik caught more than half the passes thrown his way or could score in any manner other than a dunk, he might be worth it—but he can't.
Plus, the money saved by not re-signing Asik can be set aside to re-sign Taj Gibson, who is set to be a free agent after next season. Gibson is also a brilliant defender, but he is much more offensively skilled and is one of only three Bulls who can spark the team and change the entire feel of a game (along with Rose and Noah).
Gibson is the player Chicago needs to be concerned with, not Asik.
2. Not pickup Ronnie Brewer's option.
I love Ronnie Brewer. That being said, he is a player whose minutes can easily be replaced by another player currently on Chicago's roster, namely Jimmie Butler. Butler brings the same kind of defensive potential and can guard both wing spots but at only a fraction of the price.
The biggest problem is that there just aren't enough minutes in Chicago's rotation for Butler to find the floor. Letting Brewer walk saves the team money, opens up more playing time for Butler and gives Chicago a little more offensive potential with Butler.
3. Pick up Kyle Korver's option and convince the Clippers to a sign-and-trade deal for Nick Young.
The Clippers have already agreed to terms with Chauncey Billups and Jamal Crawford, but they are still in need of a pure three-point shooter. Chicago could send Korver to Clipperland and bring back a true scoring shooting guard in Young.
Los Angeles could sign Young to a three-year deal with a team option for the fourth year at slightly over the $5 million Korver makes next year and send him to Chicago (think $6-$7 million per year). Young is athletic, can shoot the three ball and is a score-first player.
Yes, I know he shoots a lot and that scares many Chicago fans, but that quality is something Chicago actually needs (and it is a quality that can be under control with the right teammates and coach). The Bulls must acquire a player who can keep pressure on defenses and become a second option to Rose on the offensive end of the court, which Young can do.
4. Pick up C.J. Watson's option and convince Atlanta to a sign-and-trade deal for Kirk Hinrich.
Atlanta is clearly in rebuilding mode and Watson would help bridge that gap for them until Dwight Howard hits the free-agent market after next season. Watson would act as a potential one-year rental to backup Jeff Teague at the point for a decent price. His three point shooting would also be a welcome addition to a revamped Hawks roster.
Atlanta could sign Hinrich to a two-year deal with a team option for the third year at slightly over the $3.2 million Watson makes next year (think around $4 million per year).
Hinrich would immediately become Chicago's starter and a mentor to this year's first-round pick at point guard, Marquis Teague. After Rose returns from his injury, Hinrich would serve as a combo guard backing up both the point and shooting guard spots (a veteran second unit of Hinrich and Hamilton would be nice).
Moreover, Captain Kirk is still a defensive stopper even if he isn't quite the player he once was during his first tour of duty with the Bulls. Hinrich's three-point shooting ability coupled with Young's three-point stroke would easily fill the void left by Korver's departure. His defensive ability coupled with Butler's defensive potential would similarly fill the void left by Brewer's departure.
5. Sign Greg Stiemsma to be the new backup center.
Stiemsma is a solid, but unspectacular player. He does enough of the little things right to be an effective player, but does not do anything too well to cost too much. The Celtics made the 26-year-old a $1.05 million qualifying offer, which Chicago could double and still not overpay.
At around $2 million annually, Chicago could obtain his services to replace Asik as Noah's primary backup and not break the bank. Stiemsma could team with either Carlos Boozer or Gibson on the second unit and log around 15 minutes per game. He is a low-risk option if Chicago can make it happen.
Overall, Chicago does not need to do much to remain competitive and in the championship hunt, but it has to do something considering all the moves made by other top teams. Management cannot look back on the 2012-13 offseason and wonder what if.
Chicago must pull the trigger and find ways to land Young, Hinrich and Stiemsma to ensure the winning tradition remains in the Second City both next season and beyond.