The Top 5 2014 Free Agents Chicago Bulls Should Pursue

Andres MonteroContributor IApril 1, 2014

The Top 5 2014 Free Agents Chicago Bulls Should Pursue

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    What players does Chicago need to target this summer?
    What players does Chicago need to target this summer?Associated Press

    The summer is fast approaching, and the Chicago Bulls have a chance at bringing in some big names.

    Carmelo Anthony is the big free-agent story this offseason, and while the Bulls certainly have a shot, Anthony’s future is still very much up in the air.

    Chicago is primed to have a big offseason, and not just in free agency, either. They have two first-round picks in a draft loaded with talent, which could factor into what positions they choose to address during free agency.

    However, the Bulls' decision on Carlos Boozer will play a big role.

    If Chicago decides to amnesty the big man, it would save nearly $17 million in cap space, allowing it to sign just about anyone not named Carmelo or LeBron James (if he opts out and tests the market).

    Boozer staying on the books for one more year would actually put the Bulls above the projected $62.1 million cap by over $1 million, not including contracts for incoming rookies. Given Boozer's production this year and his big cap hit, though, it's safe to assume he will be amnestied.

    That being said, who are the five players the Bulls should target this offseason?

5. Emeka Okafor

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    Emeka Okafor is a physical presence, and the Bulls need that in their second unit.
    Emeka Okafor is a physical presence, and the Bulls need that in their second unit.Ned Dishman/Getty Images

    Chicago has lacked true frontcourt depth since they lost Omer Asik. Nazr Mohammed doesn't play enough minutes, and Taj Gibson does not have the size to play center against most teams.

    Emeka Okafor is coming off of injury, which has lowered his value. The Bulls might now be able to get him at the minimum, especially if teams are wary of his status after missing the 2013-14 season.

    Okafor would give Chicago solid rebounding, shot-blocking and rim protection while allowing Gibson to play at his natural power forward position.

    Over his 10-year career, Okafor has averaged 12 points and nearly 10 rebounds per game. He would be the primary backup at the 5 spot with the Bulls, giving him an opportunity to play consistent minutes on a contending team.

    The Bulls could also choose to draft a center, and Okafor could serve as great veteran presence and mentor for a young big.

4. Jodie Meeks

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    Jodie Meeks will need that kind of hustle to play in Chicago.
    Jodie Meeks will need that kind of hustle to play in Chicago.Mark J. Terrill

    Three-point shooting has been one of Chicago's biggest offensive weaknesses, ranking near the bottom of the league in both attempts and makes over the past two years.

    This year with the Los Angeles Lakers, Jodie Meeks has shot 40 percent from downtown, a feat only one Bulls player—D.J. Augustin—is currently meeting.

    Meeks is not just a shooter, though. He has become one of the better cutters in the league, averaging 1.45 points per play, according to Synergy. Off-ball movement is an important component of Tom Thibodeau’s offense, and Meeks can fill that role as well.

    The five-year guard could stay in L.A. if the Lakers are able to bring in some big names during free agency and contend in the near future.

    Chicago, however, is just one or two pieces away from being in title contention again, and that could be enough to persuade Meeks to sign a contract.

3. D.J. Augustin

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    In what has been an impressive season so far, Augustin has proven that he deserves a new contract.
    In what has been an impressive season so far, Augustin has proven that he deserves a new contract.Jesse D. Garrabrant/Getty Images

    D.J. Augustin was a surprise for everyone, and his performance thus far will likely make him a target for a couple of teams around the league. With his contract expiring this summer, the Bulls have to try to re-sign the six-year point guard.

    Kirk Hinrich's deal is also up this year, leaving the Bulls with Derrick Rose as the lone signal-caller under contract. Hinrich could also be re-signed—it would likely be for the minimum—but Augustin is entering his prime and should not be allowed to walk like some of the Bulls' past free agents.

    Augustin has proven to be a great role player and has easily been Chicago's best and most dynamic scorer this season. He has the ability to shoot the ball from long range, and his speed, quickness and ball-handling allow him to get in the paint and finish around defenders.

    On March 30, Augustin set a career-high 33 points on 71 percent shooting against the Boston Celtics, a game in which he was on fire the moment he checked in.

    Rose is set to be the starter for the 2014-15 season, but having Augustin as a backup is a valuable asset and could also give the Bulls some major insurance if Rose gets hurt again.

2. Carmelo Anthony

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    Carmelo Anthony is a once-in-a-generation player, and that's enough to pursue him.
    Carmelo Anthony is a once-in-a-generation player, and that's enough to pursue him.Rocky Widner/Getty Images

    Carmelo Anthony is one of the best players and scorers in the league, but he should not be the Bulls' No. 1 target.

    The cost to get Carmelo in a Bulls uniform could prove to be too high. Even if they amnesty Carlos Boozer, they can only offer Melo about $15 million per year, a drastic pay cut from what the New York Knicks could offer.

    This would lead to Chicago possibly having to let go of some assets—primarily Taj Gibson—so they could offer Anthony more money. Gibson has had a breakout season this year, and trading him for little in return could be a big loss.

    New York has the bargaining edge over Chicago, but it will all depend on whether Anthony wants to compete for a championship now, the key edge Chicago has over New York.

    Yahoo! Sports’ Adrian Wojnarowski wrote about Anthony's options this summer:

    Anthony has free-agent options, and two have risen above everything else: Chicago and Houston, sources with direct knowledge of his plans told Yahoo Sports. The Bulls have an easier path to clear the necessary salary-cap space to sign Anthony... 'He'll give New York every option,' one source with knowledge of Anthony's plans told Yahoo Sports on Tuesday. 'But he has options—and he's going to explore them all.

    The Bulls have a core that has been together for years now. The one thing they have missed the past couple of years—aside from Rose—is another big-time scorer.

    Anthony is arguably the league's best pure scorer; he can shoot from anywhere on the court and also has a solid post game the Bulls can utilize in half-court sets. There is no question he's the kind of boost Chicago's offense needs.

    A player of Anthony's caliber does not present himself very often, and Chicago should definitely pursue him; it just shouldn't break up the band to get him.

1. Lance Stephenson

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    Stephenson is no Carmelo Anthony, but he's still a game changer.
    Stephenson is no Carmelo Anthony, but he's still a game changer.Associated Press

    The better fit for Chicago? Lance Stephenson.

    No, he can't score like Carmelo, but he's a better fit in the sense that he’s a great two-way player and would give the Bulls enough flexibility to sign additional players.

    ESPN Chicago’s Jon Greenberg thinks Stephenson would be the ideal "Plan B" signing for the Bulls:

    In some ways, he's a better Plan A, because he could fit in the salary slot vacated by the amnesty of Boozer. Stephenson is a rare find, a future unrestricted free agent at age 23… He's a defensive hound and an athletic offensive player. He's 6-foot-5 and 230 pounds and is averaging in the neighborhood of 14 points, seven rebounds and five assists while shooting 50 percent.  The Bulls need someone who can create his own shot. Would Stephenson fit in with the Bulls? Absolutely...

    Stephenson has become a really solid scorer; he can shoot the ball from behind the arc (35 percent this year), he can attack the rim, and he is a really good passer from the 2-guard spot.

    Just as important, he's also a tenacious defender. The four-year guard has held opponents to 36.7 percent shooting this season, per Synergy, and has a defensive rating of 100, a career best.

    Stephenson is a borderline All-Star who would certainly improve Chicago's chances at winning a championship. He's not going to score 40 or 50 on any given night like Carmelo can, but he's an efficient scorer with a very high ceiling.

    Also, how great would it be to pry him away from a division rival?

     

    Note: Stats gathered from basketball-reference.com unless otherwise stated.