The Chicago Bulls could make a major splash during the 2014 offseason. Who's their ideal free-agent target?
Speculation about what the Bulls might do over the summer is building. By trading Luol Deng and likely using the amnesty clause on Carlos Boozer come the summer, Chicago could be poised to add a significant new piece to its core.
Now, before delving into potential free-agent options for the Bulls, it must be said that while LeBron James is more than an "ideal" target, his relocation to Chicago is highly unlikely. While you never know what could occur, this is a scenario that's doubtful to happen so it's not explored here.
There are other big names that are actual possibilities, though. Carmelo Anthony and Chris Bosh rise to the top of that list.
While Anthony and Bosh possess the star power the Bulls crave, neither of them are Chicago's best option. They have initial appeal because of their offensive prowess, but under closer examination, they may only marginally improve the Bulls.
It's worth noting that landing 'Melo would not be a bad maneuver. The dude can score, and the Bulls need scoring. Plus, a threesome of Anthony, Derrick Rose and Joakim Noah is intriguing. They could thrive together and contend for a championship.
However, chasing 'Melo comes with downsides, mainly in the financial department. He would be expensive and likely force the Bulls to trade Taj Gibson to free up space.
Plus, Chicago could also potentially lack room to bring over foreign stud Nikola Mirotic or sign their draft picks.
What's more, Chicago would be placing a hefty investment in a player who will be 30 years old in May.
If 'Melo wants to come to the Windy City at a bargain, in which the Bulls could retain Gibson and still be able to assemble a roster with depth, then he's most definitely their ideal target. Unfortunately, the likelihood of this is slim.
The bottom line is that either the Bulls or 'Melo will have to give to make this work, and because of that, Chicago should examine other players on the open market.
Bosh is another marquee figure who could test free agency at the season's conclusion.
The thought of him and Noah working together is a compelling one. They boast completely opposite skill sets which should effectively complement each other. Noah would especially excel at dishing to Bosh for open jumpers.
Bosh is the third option with the Miami Heat, but he would become the secondary one after a healthy D-Rose in Chicago. There's reason to believe he could average 20-plus points per game playing with the Bulls.
Yet, once again, while adding Bosh wouldn't be a horrible move, it wouldn't function in Chicago's best interest. Money would also be an issue with Bosh. While he may not be as expensive as Anthony, he should still limit their financial flexibility in other areas.
More importantly, the Bulls have a greater need on the wing than at the power forward slot. With Gibson emerging throughout 2013-14 and the potential of luring Mirotic (another power forward), Chicago's not in dire need of Bosh's services.
They would simply be wiser to invest the money elsewhere.
There could even be less-profiled figures that the Bulls could consider, such as Gordon Hayward or Paul Pierce. They could even ponder reuniting forces with Luol Deng.
But courting these individuals also does not possess conclusive logic. Hayward likely has inflated numbers playing for the lowly Utah Jazz, and Pierce and Deng are past their best years and wouldn't make the Bulls that much better.
This analysis narrows things down, enforcing the notion the Bulls should acutely discern every little intangible to each target. The premier studs of free agency flash some appeal, and some lesser names could provide some value, but the ideal free-agent target is 23-year-old Lance Stephenson.
This is the case for numerous reasons.
For one, Stephenson's young and is just now hitting the front side of his prime, unlike Anthony, Bosh and Deng who are on the back side of their elite years.
Secondly, Stephenson should not be nearly as expensive as Anthony or Bosh. While his price tag could ascend if a bad team throws heavy money at him, the likelihood is that his contract will be reasonable, potentially less than $10 million a year.
Bleacher Report's Kelly Scaletta recently outlined the financial depths to pursuing Stephenson, and he specifically touches on how Stephenson's a signing that features complete financial sense.
This is namely because the Bulls could likely keep Gibson in the fold while also potentially bringing over Mirotic.
This would supply the Bulls with a roster full of youth and depth with Rose, Noah, Stephenson, Gibson, Mirotic and Jimmy Butler compiling a well-rounded nucleus. While chasing Anthony and going after the "superstar" model is alluring, it does not infuse the Bulls with youth or depth such as this.
Lastly, Stephenson can flat-out play. While he's not nearly as potent of a scorer as Anthony, he showcases a well-rounded skill set, evidenced by his averages of 14.5 PPG, 7.2 rebounds per game and 5.0 assists per game.
The video below displays some of his offensive highlights from the season.
He can create off the dribble for himself and others, and he's an above average defender with a high motor. His tenacity and grit would fit extremely well in Chicago's rigorous defensive system.
He may also only be scratching the surface of his potential. He has made substantial strides in the past couple campaigns, and he could soon find himself garnering All-Star honors.
These reasons carry convincing evidence that Stephenson is Chicago's ideal free-agent target. He may not be deemed a "superstar" like 'Melo, but he's younger, less expensive and enables the Bulls to keep their current assets intact.
What's more, he could be on the brink of becoming a legitimate superstar in the near future.
The 2014 offseason will be an interesting one for Bulls fans. There will be much debate in regards to who the Bulls should pursue, but they must keep everything (age, finances, etc.) in mind.
With this in view, it's hard to argue against Stephenson, because he makes complete sense in every aspect.
Haddon Anderson is a Chicago Bulls Featured Columnist for Bleacher Report. You can follow him on Twitter here.
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