Top Targets to Improve Chicago Bulls This Offseason

Kelly ScalettaFeatured ColumnistJanuary 24, 2014

Top Targets to Improve Chicago Bulls This Offseason

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    Associated Press

    This summer should be the most eventful for the Chicago Bulls since the summer of 2010. Who are the top targets, via free agency, trade or draft that the team should target?

    When the Chicago Bulls traded Luol Deng, John Paxson claimed that one of the things the team benefitted from was increased flexibility. That statement has a lot of truth to it.

    Between the cap space the Bulls have, the potential amnesty of Carlos Boozer and the draft picks they’ve acquired, there are a number of things they can do.

    They can use their draft pick(s) and free-agency money to acquire players directly, or they can combine them to either move up in the draft or land a bigger-name player through trade. Plus, there’s the possibility of their draft-and-stash sensation, Nikola Mirotic, coming over to further complicate things.

    Finally, what if they could just use all their cap space to ink a superstar?

    In fact, there are so many things the Bulls can do this summer, we’re going to have to break it up into categories:

    1. Players they can draft with their pick(s).
    2. Players they can trade up for.
    3. Players they need to avoid.
    4. Players they can sign in free agency if Mirotic comes over.
    5. Players they can sign in free agency or acquire through trade if Mirotic doesn’t come over.

Players They Can Draft with Their Picks

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    JOE RAYMOND/Associated Press

    The Chicago Bulls have anywhere from one to three picks this upcoming draft, depending on what happens with the protected ones they own. They could have the Charlotte Bobcats' selection if it’s not a top-10 pick and the Sacramento Kings' if it’s worse than 12th.

    On the subject of the Kings' pick in particular, it’s worth pausing for a moment to discuss. It is top-12 protected this year, then top-10 protected through 2017, when it turns into a second-round pick. That means if it falls outside of the protected range in 2017, the Bulls would have the rights to the first-rounder. If it doesn’t the Bulls get the Kings' second-rounder that year.

    Many have dismissed this pick as inevitably becoming a second-rounder, which is a heavily pessimistic view. No team since the merger has had its pick fall in the top 10 nine consecutive years, which is what would have to happen for the Kings to not have to give the Bulls a first-round pick.  

    In fact, you could argue that there’s a better chance of the Bulls getting it this year than not getting it all. The Kings are 7-8 over their last 15 and have played the hardest schedule in the NBA thus far, per PlayoffStatus.com, yet currently they are tied with the Los Angles Lakers for the eighth-worst record in the NBA.

    They also have the easiest schedule in the Western Conference over the remainder of the season.

    They are currently just five games out of the 10th spot in the West, and if they hit that marker, they would land the 13th pick in the draft unless they win the lottery. Making up five games isn’t a given, but it’s not historically unprecedented either.

    Considering their improved play since the Rudy Gay trade and the easier schedule, it’s not even implausible.

    So it’s possible that the Bulls could have three first-round picks this summer, ranging from the 11th pick (the best possible scenario for the Bobcats pick) to the 20th pick (the Bulls' pick), or they could have just one—their own.

    Looking at Chad Ford’s Top 100, nbadraft.net and the Draft Express' Top 100 Prospects, there are some interesting players that could fall in that range.

    Willie Caulie-Stein is a long, athletic center with good shot-blocking tendencies and an underdeveloped offense. That sounds like Joakim Noah Jr.

    Rodney Hood would be a great get for the Bulls if he falls to them. He’s just as good of a shot as his distant ancestor, Robin, and the Bulls could use more sharpshooters.

    NBAdraft.net has two intriguing players, Noah Vonleh and T.J. Warren going to the Bulls in their mock.

    Vonleh has been inconsistent, dropping his stock, but he seems to have everything the Bulls love to draft, including character, energy and length. He also shoots 55.6 percent from three, so he’d give the Bulls a stretch 4 who can play defense.

    Warren is a bit reminiscent of Paul Pierce (but not the “next Pierce”). He has a lot of that subtle offensive ability to create shots and score without tremendous athleticism. It wouldn’t be hard to see the Bulls fitting him into their system, and he has the potential to be a tremendous secondary scorer off Derrick Rose.

Players They Can Trade Up for

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    Danny Moloshok/Associated Press

    The 2014 draft, initially touted as one of the best in recent history, may be less amazing than originally thought. Some of the sought-after picks, most notably Jabari Parker, per Sam Smith of Bulls.com and Joel Embiid, per Dana O’Neil of ESPN, could be sticking around for another year of college.

    That could actually diminish the value of high draft picks this year and thereby increase the chances of the Bulls moving up. One player who could be tremendously interesting to the Bulls is Gary Harris of Michigan State. He has a well-rounded game with efficient scoring (53.8 percent from two and 33.3 percent from deep) and excellent perimeter defense.

    With his slashing ability, he has the potential to be a future all-star, particularly if he continues to improve his three-point shooting.

    His stock has been dropping a bit lately, though, so the Bulls could package two first-round picks together and move up to grab him.

    Another player they could target to move up in the five to 10 range for is Zach LaVine, whom nbadraft.net compares to Russell Westbrook because of his athleticism. The site's scouting report says, “His verticality and explosiveness are off the charts and he uses them to finish around the rim with powerful dunks but also to jump stop and elevate in (sic) a dime.”

    It’s hard to not get a little giddy about the idea of a player like that running alongside Rose—unless of course you’re not a Bulls fan. Imagine those two and Jimmy Butler on a fast break together. Are you giggling yet?

Players to Avoid in Free Agency

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    John Raoux/Associated Press

    There are two names that I’ve seen floated about by fans for the Bulls in free agency which should be avoided: Greg Monroe and Gordon Hayward.

    Monroe is just not a very good fit. Imagine four more years of Carlos Boozer but with even worse defense. Here’s Grantland’s Zach Lowe’s analysis:

    Monroe is a very good offensive player, but he’s a glaring liability on defense in a league getting smaller and quicker. He’s a turnstile trying to contain the pick-and-roll out on the floor — a mess of bad footwork, poor timing, lazy reaches, and bad choices. When Detroit has him hang back at the foul line, ball handlers can zip around him with an easy crossover or launch wide-open jumpers as Monroe, petrified at giving up a rim run, retreats a step farther than most bigs would dare — often with his arms down.

    The words “glaring liability on defense” should be setting off alarms. Words like “turnstile,” “mess,” “lazy” and “petrified” should seal it. Monroe would be a horrible fit with Tom Thibodeau’s Bulls, and within a season he would reach Boozer-like vilification from Bulls fans.

    Hayward, on the other hand, is a nice player, but he should be avoided for a different set of reasons. Per Adrian Wojnarowski of Yahoo! Sports, he is looking for a deal in the neighborhood of four years, $50 million. He already turned down a four-year $47 million deal, suggesting there’s not much flexibility in that.

    Even at the $47 million rate, it’s more than what the Bulls could afford, and we know that the Utah Jazz would match it anyway because they’ve already shown they’re willing to pay it.

    The last thing the Bulls need to do is have a repeat of 2011 when they signed J.J. Redick to an offer, only to have the Orlando Magic match it on the final day. All of that was time the Bulls could not bid on other players because the cap space was tied up in the Redick offer.

    The Bulls should only pursue players they might land, and in Hayward’s case, they aren’t going to get him.

Players They Can Sign in Free Agency If Nikola Mirotic Comes

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    Lefteris Pitarakis/Associated Press

    Probably the biggest uncertainty facing the Bulls this offseason is the future of Nikola Mirotic. He is averaging 12.3 points in 23 minutes with Real Madrid right now, shooting 57 percent from two, 43.9 percent from three and 91.8 percent from the charity stripe.

    Whether this happens or not is completely unknown at present. There are reasons to believe he will (it’s the first year it would actually be profitable because he’s no longer bound by a rookie contract). And there are reasons to believe he won’t (he’d have to buy out his contract, and he’s a pretty mercurial star in Europe right now).

    Between trading Luol Deng, and potentially amnestying Carlos Boozer, the Bulls would have $16 million next year, per ShamSports.com, with between $3 million and $4 million of that going to cap holds, leaving them $13-14 million to spend on Mirotic and one other player.

    If they trade Mike Dunleavy Jr.’s contract in a salary dump, that would give them an additional $3.3 million.

    They also have the Deng and Marquis Teague trade exceptions they can use, as well as the mini-mid-level exception available to teams below the cap. They could sign players to non-guaranteed contracts, then utilize the trade exceptions to acquire better players so that the quality of the minimum players shouldn’t be of great concern.

    That doesn’t affect them in terms of how much they can spend in free agency, but it gives them a kind of “depth-buffer.” They can use the mid-level exception on D.J. Augustin and use the trade exceptions and rookies to solidify the roster.

    Per Sean Deveney of Sporting News, a three-year, $16 million offer to Mirotic would be enough to make it profitable for Mirotic to sign. But, to be safe, let’s project a four-year, $25.6 million contract, which would be a deal starting with $6 million and giving him the maximum pay raise each season.

    That would leave the Bulls with $10 million to sign another free agent.

    Joe Cowley, of the Chicago Sun Times reports that Lance Stephenson would be the Bulls’ “Plan B” if they're are unable to land superstars Carmelo Anthony or LeBron James. They could offer Stephenson a four-year, $42.7 million deal.

    Matching that deal would put the Indiana Pacers over $75 million, per ShamSports.com, which would be well into the tax range, so there’s no guarantee that they would do so.

    What if the Bulls don’t trade Dunleavy? A couple of lower-stature players they could look into are Rodney Stuckey and Trevor Ariza.

    Ariza is averaging 13.7 points, 6.0 rebounds and 2.8 assists, while shooting a 54.3 effective field-goal percentage. He’s also an excellent defender.

    Stuckey has been a fantastic sixth man for the Detroit Pistons this year, averaging 14.5 points per game off the bench.

Players They Can Sign in Free Agency If Mirotic Doesn’t Come

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    Frank Franklin II/Associated Press

    So, what if Mirotic doesn’t come? What can the Bulls do then? If the cap is $63 million, that would put the max contract for a new signing at $18.9. That’s a little over what the Bulls would have to offer in an outright contract for a new deal. The most they’d be able to offer anyone is a four-year, $68 million deal starting at $16 million.

    Obviously, if LeBron James agrees to play for that, you fall down on your knees, take it as the basketball gods repaying the Bulls for four years of trials and then do a jig, all while cackling to yourself like a crazy person.

    That’s probably not going to happen,though.

    If Carmelo Anthony agrees to take the cut, it’s very interesting. He’s been anything but a franchise player for the New York Knicks, scoring title or not. With only one trip past the first round, and a 105-83 record since being traded there, it’s not like he screams “rings.”

    Yes, the Knicks have been restricted in what they can do because of salary, but part of the reason for that is the contracts he and Amar’e Stoudemire have. Additionally, his forcing a trade so he could get that contract, costing the Knicks all their depth, plays into things.

    But let’s say he’s learned his lesson and Marc Berman of the New York Post is correct in his report, per a source, that Thibodeau is part of the appeal of the Bulls for Anthony. Let’s say he really wants to win more than get paid. Wouldn’t taking less money, ala 2011 James make that statement?

    And if he did that and was willing to take coaching, and it cost the Bulls nothing but salary, it could be very interesting. If Thibodeau could resuscitate D.J. Augustin’s career, what could he do for Anthony’s?

    Certainly, with Rose and Anthony being two of the most dynamic offensive players in the game today, the days of offensive struggles in Chicago would be over. The question is: Would Anthony commit to defense? And that’s a very legitimate one. He has shown in brief spans, when he does commit, he can be a solid defender. He just doesn’t commit.

    Now, there's always the possibility he won't take a cut, but if he doesn't, he's not wroth it. The only way that Anthony is going to convince me he's willing to sacrifice numbers to win a title is if he shows he's willing to sacrifice dollars to win a title. 

    Plans that revolve around a player taking a pay cut aren’t always going to work, so is there anyone just below that max-level value the Bulls could go after?

    Chris Bosh, makes sense, and a four-year, $68 million offer might be in his ballpark.

    Bosh has seen his value decline in his time with the Miami Heat, as he’s gone from first option to third option, but that could benefit the Bulls if they inked him. Lower usage means his price tag might have dropped. It also means he’s not as worn down as he might have been. There could be four solid years left in him.

    Of course if the Bulls do sign him, though, it might be a while before he’s not afraid of Jimmy Butler anymore.

    Whatever the Bulls do, it will be the most interesting offseason in four years.