The Chicago Bulls are already one of the best teams in the Eastern Conference when healthy. If the team were to acquire free agent O.J. Mayo without parting with any piece of its core, the acquisition would make the Bulls the best team in the East—the Miami Heat included.
Sam Amick of USA Today named the Bulls as a possible suitor for Mayo's services. With Dwyane Wade aging and the Heat with limited options to improve their roster, the Bulls' best chance to beat them is next season:
The Indiana Pacers will obviously be a huge test, but the Bulls aren't as small on the frontcourt as the Heat. Roy Hibbert and David West (assuming he re-signs) won't wreak havoc against Joakim Noah, Carlos Boozer, Taj Gibson and the second center the team is expected to sign.
Chicago's need for a shooting guard is one of the most widely known in the NBA. Jimmy Butler's play last season and during the playoffs makes some believe he can fill the role long term.
While that isn't a crazy thought, there is no doubt the Bulls could benefit from having both Mayo and Butler. Mayo is the more talented player, but his proven scoring ability may be a better fit for a sixth-man role.
He averaged 15 points per game and made 40 percent of his threes last season with the Mavericks. No matter how the two players' roles were to be approached, the result would be a talented, young and effective rotation of shooting guards.
That's something the Bulls haven't had throughout Derrick Rose's tenure with the team.
Even if the Bulls trade Luol Deng this offseason, as was rumored before the NBA draft, per ESPN's Marc Stein, the Bulls could slide Butler to small forward and play Mayo at 2-guard.
Chicago would miss Deng's versatility, but Butler proved during the series against the Heat that he can play at a high level. He averaged 15.6 points, 6.4 rebounds, 1.6 steals and 2.2 assists per game matched against LeBron James and the Heat.
The competition doesn't get much stiffer than that.
Butler and Mayo would give the Bulls solid wing options. Rookie Tony Snell would add even more depth.
Mayo's game is so attractive and compatible with the Bulls' current lineup because he can excel as a catch-and-shoot player or off the dribble.
That versatility will allow him to be effective playing with Rose and as the primary perimeter scoring option with Rose resting.
Mayo also showed during his time with the Memphis Grizzlies that he is capable and willing to defend. That is of course a prerequisite if you're playing for Tom Thibodeau.
Acquiring Mayo comes down to deciding just how far into the luxury tax the Bulls are willing to go.
Chicago has eight players currently under contract for the 2013-14 season. Per Hoops Hype (via USA Today), the Bulls have $73.2 million committed to those players. The team will sign Snell and possibly their second-round pick, Erik Murphy.
That would leave just two spots available on the active roster. Ideally the team would would sign a player like Mayo and a backup center.
Per K.C. Johnson of the Chicago Tribune, Nazr Mohammed is likely returning to the role he played last season. Mohammed told Johnson the following: "They want me back. I want to be back. Now it's the technicality of getting (the contract) done."
In the same article, Johnson also reports that the Bulls are likely to fill their roster spots with veteran-minimum deals like the one Mohammed is likely to sign.
That probably won't get Mayo in a Bulls uniform, so what gives?
With conflicting reports about the Bulls' intentions in free agency, the final roster spot(s) is still up in the air, but Mayo to the Bulls would be one of the most significant free-agent signings of the summer.
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