The Chicago Bulls are stuck between a rock and a hard place, and even that age-old aphorism is putting it mildly.
The Miami Heat, the Boston Celtics and the Brooklyn Nets have all taken dramatic steps this summer to improve their respective rosters in an attempt to leapfrog Chicago in the Eastern Conference standings. The Indiana Pacers still have the financial flexibility to make another move or two as well, though their stingy ownership may well stymie those efforts.
Meanwhile, the Bulls are expected to spend about half the season without Derrick Rose, as he recovers from a torn ACL, and all of it without Omer Asik, who's set to sign a "poison pill" offer sheet from the Houston Rockets. If the Bulls decide to match Asik's three-year, $24.2 million deal, they'll likely find themselves pushed into luxury tax territory for the first time in franchise history without having seriously addressed their glaring need for a perimeter scorer.
Chicago did well to snatch up Marquis Teague with the 29th pick in the 2012 NBA Draft, but what else can and should the Bulls do to patch up the holes in their roster and keep pace in the ever-improving East?
According to KC Johnson of The Chicago Tribune, the Bulls have already moved to fortify their backcourt, securing a verbal agreement from Kirk Hinrich to return to the team that drafted him out of Kansas in 2003. Hinrich will reportedly sign for two years and $6 million, thereby soaking up Chicago's mini mid-level exception.
Hinrich has struggled with injuries in recent seasons and, at 31, has lost a step or two. But he's still capable of playing and defending either backcourt position along with shooting a reliable percentage from deep.
With Hinrich on board, the Bulls can comfortably cut ties with CJ Watson, who has a $3.2 million team option for next season, while ensuring that Tom Thibodeau has both a temporary replacement and longer-term perimeter partner for D-Rose.
Unfortunately, signing Hinrich puts the Bulls' payroll for 2012-13 at around $67.3 million for just nine players (per KC Johnson) and leaves them with only the most modest means for filling out the rest of their roster, sign-and-trade creativity aside.
One option for Chicago, as Johnson notes near the end of his report, is to go out and sign Gerald Green. According to long-time basketball writer Peter Vecsey, Green was scheduled to meet with the Bulls on Saturday, between dates with the Pacers on Friday and the Nets on Sunday.
The former high-school-prodigy-gone-bust enjoyed an eye-opening renaissance in New Jersey last season, averaging 12.9 points per game and showing off a more disciplined and focused approach, both on and off the court.
Not to mention flashes of the athleticism that got him into the NBA in the first place (see video above).
Green would give the Bulls a bouncy attacker off the wing to add to their largely defensive-minded arsenal. The greater difficulty, though, may well lie in getting Green to sign for the slim salary that Chicago can offer, lest the team entertain trade talks with Brooklyn.
Speaking of young talent on the verge of breaking out, Jerryd Bayless is on the market after the Toronto Raptors pulled their qualifying offer. And, as KC Johnson reported on Friday, the Bulls are interested.
Or were, anyway. The Hinrich signing likely puts Bayless out of reach, unless Bulls brass can come up with a creative way to acquire him (i.e. sign-and-trade).
Doing so would certainly be worth the hassle. Like Hinrich, Bayless is something of a combo guard with a solid outside shot.
Unlike Hinrich, however, Bayless will turn 24 next month and—with his playing time in Portland, New Orleans and Toronto having been so infrequent—has only begun to scratch the surface of what many believe to be a formidable talent.
Injuries are something of a concern for Bayless, especially after missing 35 games last season. But if the Bulls can somehow bring Bayless into the fold, they may finally have the young, scoring swingman they've long been looking to pair with Derrick Rose.
As long as sign-and-trades are on the table, Courtney Lee will be a possibility for the Bulls. The well-traveled shooting guard is on the lookout for his fourth home in five NBA seasons after the Houston Rockets rescinded their qualifying offer to him.
Houston could still play a part in deciding Lee's next destination, particularly if it happens to be Chicago. The Bulls could potentially pull off a sign-and-trade with the Rockets, sending Omer Asik to Houston in exchange for Lee.
As it happens, Chicago has shown interest in Lee (per Steve Kyler of Hoopsworld), though there's no word yet as to whether that's changed since Hinrich pledged his fealty to the franchise. The Bulls wouldn't necessarily have to worry about redundancy with Hinrich signed, since Lee is more of a swingman, with the ability to man either the "two" or the "three."
However, Lee would likely come with a significantly scarier price tag attached, given his size (6'5''), talent and durability, though the cost of doing business would be well worth it for the Bulls.
Realistically, though, the Bulls might have to go hunting for help in the bargain bin, where Michael Redd currently resides.
According to KC Johnson, Redd is already on Chicago's radar, as well he should be. After three injury-plagued campaigns with the Milwaukee Bucks, the 32-year-old former All-Star showed that he can still shoot and contribute when healthy during a 51-game stint with the Phoenix Suns last season.
Not that the Bulls necessarily need another aging sniper in their midst—they already have Rip Hamilton to fill that role—though it can't hurt to have another scorer on board, especially one willing to sign for the veteran's minimum.