Chicago Bulls

Should the Chicago Bulls Pursue Chris Bosh in the Offseason?

Miami Heat's Chris Bosh reacts after LeBron James scored a three point shot during the second half of an NBA  basketball game in Miami, Monday, March 10, 2014 against the Washington Wizards. The Heat won 99-90. (AP Photo/J Pat Carter)
J Pat Carter/Associated Press
Micky ShakedContributor IIIMarch 15, 2014

Evidence is razor thin, but there are whispers going 'round from B/R's Rich Bucher that the Chicago Bulls have put Chris Bosh on their short list of free agent targets this summer.

The idea that Carmelo Anthony will be the next superstar to ply his trade at the Madhouse on Madison has had much heavier petting.

Sources: Carmelo Anthony will be the Chicago Bulls top priority this upcoming Free Agency

— NBA Courtside (@NBACourtside_) February 12, 2014

They get Carmelo and pair him with a healthy Rose, Noah and Thibs. RT @chillacy: best case scenario for bulls this offseason?

— Nick Friedell (@NickFriedell) March 4, 2014

Joakim Noah's recruitment efforts might have something to do with that.

Joakim tells Melo "if you want to win a ring, come to Chicago" http://t.co/uHYh296UKg

— Chris Broussard (@Chris_Broussard) March 6, 2014

Free agency is still months away. Nobody except the Bulls' brain trust knows what their offseason strategy will be. They probably don't know it themselves as Chicago's impending playoff run and its effect are impossible to predict.

And Chris Bosh may not even be available.

That shouldn't stop us from imagining a world in which Chicago finally reels in another big time scorer to play alongside Derrick Rose and Noah. But is Bosh the right man for the job?

 

The obvious

Bringing Bosh to the Bulls improves them on a number of fronts.

His newfound perimeter stroke spreads the floor for guys like LeBron James and Dwyane Wade to attack the basket. He's hitting 38.6 percent from deep on nearly three attempts per game. According to ESPN.com, that's good for 47th in the NBA among qualified players!

In 2014, you trust Bosh to hit an open 3 over Ray Allen

— Ethan Strauss (@SherwoodStrauss) March 11, 2014

For a team like Chicago that struggles mightily with perimeter shooting, Bosh's touch from the outside would allow Rose to penetrate without consistently meeting seven-footers in the lane.

Bosh is also an incredibly efficient scorer despite being Miami's third option. His .617 true shooting percentage ranks fifth in the Association, per Basketball-reference.com.

Unlike the Dwight Howards and LaMarcus Aldridges of the NBA, Bosh excels without the ball. According to NBA.com, his 22.7 percent usage rate is 15th among centers, yet he's eighth in scoring, fourth in offensive rating and has the highest percent (.810) of field goals assisted for his position

The Georgia Tech product's biggest on-court asset on offense is his versatility.

Bosh is the Iguodala of big men. He’d be awesome in pretty much any system.

— Sean Highkin (@highkin) March 7, 2014

He recorded PERs of at least 22.0 in five consecutive seasons with the Raptors and has adapted to life as third fiddle in Miami. Though Bosh has spent most of his career as a center, Basketball-reference.com says he's spent over a third of his career minutes as a four.

This would allow Bulls coach Tom Thibodeau to go big with Bosh and Noah together, or always have one of them on the floor.

Any addition to Thibodeau's system needs to be at least average as a defender. Luckily, part of Bosh's underratedness is his defense. Among centers facing at least 10 restricted-area attempts per game, he's right behind some of the best rim protectors in opponents' field goal percentage this season:

Opponents' Field Goal Percentage in Restricted Area, Centers
NameOpp. FGAOpp. FG%
13. Joakim Noah17.0.575
14. Andrew Bogut13.1.588
15. Chris Bosh16.9.589
NBA.com

Miami's defensive rating jumps from 105.6 with Bosh on the floor to 110.5 without him. In December, David Thorpe detailed for ESPN Insider what makes Bosh such an effective defender:

When Bosh's man sets a ball screen, Bosh normally steps up aggressively and shows, trying to prevent the ball handler from turning the corner and getting to the paint. This is the more classic way of guarding ball screens, with the big showing and recovering while the other three defenders not involved help on the screener before recovering to their men.

Bosh's quickness allows for his help and recover action to be effective, and his long arms and quick hands are thrown into the passing lanes to possibly get a deflection or steal. It's likely that Bosh gets more deflections in ball screen defense than any other forward or center in the league.

That sounds like someone up Thibodeau's alley.

More than any statistic or skill set, Bosh possesses certain intangibles every contender looks for. He understands sacrifice, and as a result has garnered championship pedigree. He's made game-winning plays in the NBA Finals and hoisted the Larry O'Brien trophy twice despite his PER dropping to pre-All Star levels.

In short, there is a whole lot to like.

But...

 

How would it happen?

In order for Chicago to make any significant signings this summer, Carlos Boozer would have to get the amnesty axe. Boozer's departure is a bloody yet ceremonious end to a failed 2010 free agency that saw the Bulls miss out on each of Miami's Big Three. He was the last remaining signing from that fateful summer.

Per Hoopshype.com, clearing Boozer's $16.8 million salary would drop their 2014-15 payroll from $63.4 million to $46.6 million. That figure is tied up in just six players. With an expected $62.9 million salary cap, the Bulls won't have a ton of wiggle room to fill out the roster without heading towards the expected $76.7 million tax threshold—not to mention money tied up in two first-round and one second-round draft picks Chicago will likely have.

According to B/R's Dan Favale, without any other moves, that would only allow Chicago to offer "a contract starting somewhere around $16 million annually." Much like the situation with Carmelo, but not nearly to the same degree, Bosh would be taking a pay cut from the $20.6 million and $22.1 million he's scheduled to earn in Miami should he opt in.

Sadly, it won't end with Boozer. But beyond his fat cap hit, the only remaining salary to shed comes from important pieces on favorable deals. As starters and key contributors, Jimmy Butler and Mike Dunleavy cost just $2.1 million and $3 million, respectively. Not much doing salary-wise there, and you'll be hard-pressed to find cheaper replacements who can do what they do.

As in the theoretical signing of Carmelo, Bosh won't be coming to town unless Sixth Man of the Year candidate Taj Gibson leaves (or, of course, Jerry Reinsdorf is willing to go exploring over the tax limit).

No. Not unless they wanted to trade Noah. They don't want to do that. RT @yakekim: can bulls add melo without subtracting taj?

— Nick Friedell (@NickFriedell) March 4, 2014

He stands to make roughly $8.5 million a year for the next three seasons, another reasonable contract for a guy who leads the NBA in fourth quarter minutes.

A hypothetical lineup of Rose-Butler-Dunleavy-Bosh-Noah leaves Tony Snell as the only bench player under contract and likely prices Chicago out of valuable back-up D.J. Augustin. (He's actually the one pricing them out with his solid play, but that's another matter.)

Needless to say, Bulls management would have to get creative in order to field a full team that doesn't rely solely on its starters like the Portland Trailblazers. To be fair, they've done a decent job piecing together effective benches the past few years.

 

The Alternative

If not a superstar like Bosh, Carmelo or (I don't know why I'm mentioning him) LeBron, Chicago has the makings of a Plan B.

Nikola Mirotic, the Montenegrin stud plying his trade in Spain, appears ready to make the jump overseas.

Real Madrid believes Nikola Mirotic is ready to join the Chicago Bulls next year. Madrid now looking for replacements. (Source: David Arcas)

— Chicago Bulls Rumors (@chicagobullsbot) November 13, 2013

While that's pure speculation, there's talk that the Bulls are.

Chicago Bulls are ready to offer Nikola Mirotic a 4 year MLE deal speculates a source - (Article: Rigas Dardalis) - http://t.co/QD8G2RcX1a

— Chicago Bulls Rumors (@chicagobullsbot) February 22, 2014

And Mirotic has done nothing but ball out in the Spanish league and European competitions. He's won six league championships and tournaments for club and country and two MVP awards, the most recent coming this year.

Mirotic dropped 17 + 11 today and won tournament MVP. I'm going to complain so much if they can't get him over next year. This is a warning.

— Ricky O'Donnell (@SBN_Ricky) February 9, 2014

Including the buyout Chicago would have to pay to his team, Real Madrid, Mirotic could cost a pretty penny. Blog-a-Bull's Ricky O'Donnell believes the MLE (three years and $15 million) won't be enough. "If Mirotic wants more than the mid-level exception—and why wouldn't he?—it's looking like he would have to be the Bulls' lone major offseason addition," O'Donnell says.

It also means Chicago has less pressure to move Gibson.

If that fails because Mirotic decides he enjoys making $4.4 million while living in Madrid, the Bulls have some options in free agency, but not many. Beyond Lance Stephenson and Rudy Gay, the pool of impact free agents doesn't fit what they need.

 

What's at stake?

Either way, this imaginary world boils down to two scenarios. On one hand you sign a max guy in Bosh/Carmelo, on the other you hold on to Gibson and bring in Mirotic/Stephenson/Player X.

Do the Bulls want to lose a budding defensive star whose offense is also evolving to the point where he can replace Boozer's production? B/R's Kelly Scalletta did some in-depth research into his development, and found out how rare it is that Gibson leads the team in points scored this season:

Using the Basketball-Reference Play Index and a whole lot of clicking, I can only find four previous incidents where a team’s leading scorer was a reserve: Ryan Anderson with last year’s New Orleans Hornets, Louis Williams for the Philadelphia 76ers in 2011-12, Clifford Robinson with the Portland Trail Blazers in 1992-93 and Ricky Pierce with the Milwaukee Bucks in 1989-90.

Scalletta backs up his claim that Gibson is a bonafide two-way player, pointing out that only he and Nene among all power forwards have a PER and opponents' PER one point above the average.

 

If it were my money...

Were Chicago to follow the alternate route, they'd be getting two starting-caliber players for the price of one, and at the same position to boot. All the while it leaves them a bit more room to negotiate with Augustin and fill out the remaining roster slots.

Then again, Bosh gives the Bulls a guaranteed third All-Star caliber player whose game is expanding at 29 years old. There's no telling whether Gibson will make the All-Star leap or Mirotic will even pan out in the NBA.

Depth or Big Three?

Both routes are appealing for different reasons, let's just hope it doesn't come down to a Plan D or E.

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