The option to amnesty Carlos Boozer coupled with the possibility that the NBA may raise the salary cap and luxury-tax threshold for the 2014-15 season (per Marc Stein of ESPN.com) give the Chicago Bulls a chance to seriously pursue any free agent of their choosing.
There’s no mystery as to the void they wish to fill. This squad struggled to score during the regular season, and that inability to put the ball through the hoop cost them dearly in the playoffs.
Adding an offensively dynamic player who can create for himself would be the acquisition that puts this team back on the path of championship contention.
Fortunately for the Bulls, this summer’s crop of available talent has the cure for their ills.
Surely Chicago won’t be the only team vying for a particular person’s services, but they have a lot of positives that make them one of the top free-agent destinations.
The following is a list of some prime basketball targets that includes how each competitor could help this team and the biggest hurdles in signing them.
Status: Restricted Free Agent
How he can help the Bulls: Gordon Hayward has the potential to be one of the best all-around players in the NBA. He was one of the few bright spots for the Utah Jazz during the 2013-14 run, averaging 16.2 points and 5.2 assists.
If that’s not impressive enough, the four-year veteran also gets it done on the defensive side of the ball. Hayward’s 5.1 rebounds and 1.4 steals per game show that he knows how to use his 6’8” frame to his advantage. The fact that he only committed two personal fouls per contest demonstrates that he is smart when guarding the ball.
A player like Hayward would be most useful to Bulls head coach Tom Thibodeau. The former Butler Bulldog would give the team a legitimate two-way player who can create for himself and his teammates, and there would be no need to hide him on the opposite side of the floor.
Why the Bulls might not land him: The biggest hurdle in landing Hayward is his restricted status. Since the Jazz have the right to match any deal that is extended, the Bulls could feel compelled to offer more than they are comfortable with to lure him away.
General manager Gar Forman and vice president John Paxson will have to find the elusive sweet spot that puts the old team in a pinch without breaking their own bank.
Status: Unrestricted Free Agent
How he can help the Bulls: Lance Stephenson is an efficient offensive player. He posted a 49.1 field-goal percentage over the course of this season while averaging 13.8 points and has a budding three-point shot.
What’s even better about his game is that he is pretty good at creating in the half-court set, as demonstrated by him averaging 4.6 assists. That would help remedy the stagnation that has plagued this offense in Derrick Rose’s absence.
Considering the current crop of players taking turns playing shooting guard, Stephenson would be an upgrade on skill set alone.
Why the Bulls might not land him: The reasons for the Bulls not landing the second-round steal would be twofold.
First, there is bound to be quite a few organizations clamoring to sign the breakout guard. Since Stephenson is an unrestricted free agent, he gets to entertain as many offers as he can and choose freely. Teams know that they would be just one of many clubs contending for his services, and one is bound to overreach with an outlandish offer.
Business aside, character issues may persuade the Bulls to forego courting Stephenson altogether.
Chicago would have to think long and hard about whether or not their culture could absorb and correct Stephenson’s misdirected energy. It wouldn’t be too far-fetched to assume that the team might just completely avoid the risk.
Status: Unrestricted Free Agent (Early Termination Option)
How he can help the Bulls: In short, the Bulls need a scorer; Carmelo Anthony can score. He’s not just a capable offensive player. He can get whatever shot he wants whenever he wants.
Melo is an 11-year veteran whose lowest points-per-game average in any of his seasons was 20.8. If the lack of another contributor is what has truly kept Chicago from being legitimate contenders, then his signing would all but guarantee another Larry O’Brien Trophy for the Windy City.
With the exception of the Dallas Mavericks back in 2011, the model of an NBA championship team has been based on having multiple stars carry the load. A Rose/Anthony/Noah core would be as formidable as any big-name tandem from any other team.
Why the Bulls might not land him: The Bulls would have some stiff competition for landing this prize. While the potential salary-cap increase does help Chicago with being able to offer Anthony a fair deal, it also helps the New York Knicks retain him.
According to Adrian Wojnarowski of Yahoo! Sports, the Houston Rockets are also big players in this sweepstakes. A team that can offer more money in the long run (New York) and a team with better talent already in place (Houston) are huge hurdles for Forman and company.
There is reason to believe that Anthony is open to relocating. Although he is on record saying he’d like to stay in New York, Peter Botte of the New York Daily News quotes the seven-time All-Star expressing that at this point in his career, winning trumps salary:
If I was to go with another team, I’d be taking less money anyway. . . . Let’s be quite frank. At this point in my career, I’m not concerned about the money. The contract will be the contract regardless…Without a doubt, at this point in my career it’s about winning. Nothing else even matters. That’s not going to change. That’s still going to be my mind-set, it is my mind-set. You know, that’s going to be my No. 1 thing.
I don’t know if I can afford to wait another season of losing. I really can’t see that picture right now. As far as other teams out there, which quote-unquote team will be the best situation? You never know. Sometimes the grass isn’t always greener on the other side. This is stuff that I’m going to have to sit down with my family and really figure things out. This is not a decision that’s going to happen overnight. It’s going to take some time.
Knicks president Phil Jackson has to do a pretty good job of laying out a winning vision for the capable, but aging superstar. While presenting their own version of a bright future for Chicago may be a little easier for Paxson and Forman, their challenge comes in testing the validity of Anthony’s cavalier attitude about money.
If any of this seems familiar it’s because the Bulls were in a similar situation back in 2010. The team had a lot of money, the free-agency pool was loaded and Chicago struck out.
Back then, the franchise was not thought of as a potential contender. Since Thibodeau has taken the reins, he’s proven that he can get maximum results from minimum talent. For that reason, soon-to-be unaffiliated players looking to change their luck are bound to give serious consideration if the Bulls come calling.
This 2014 free-agency period can significantly alter the team’s future for years to come. With Rose gearing up for another return, the pieces have to be in place in order to insure a playoff club can be floored as soon as he sets foot back onto Berto Center hardwood.
It’s a given that the former MVP will play with whomever is suited up with him when the 2014-15 season kicks off, but it would be nice if those other players included someone who could be the cog that completes the championship machine.