Ideal Potential Free Agent for Chicago Bulls at Every Position
Predicting free-agent movement in May is digging for fool's gold, and we're out to get stupid rich.
Kevin Love may have a new home and 60 shiny rookies enter the league before the NBA's calendar year turns and the Chicago Bulls can add new pieces to the roster. Come July 1 all 30 teams will have completely different strategies than they do now.
But the discussion starts with two moves to which Chicago has been linked, but feel out of character for the franchise. ESPN Insider Amin Elhassan wrote this week that the Windy City offers both Minnesota and its disgruntled star the most attractive business partner. The team's core, coach and competition should entice Love to a winning situation, while it also has the assets to help offset the Wolves' big loss.
A deal for the three-time All-Star seems like a real long shot, especially with another trade rumor that's been circulating most of the season. Buzz surrounding Carmelo Anthony possibly spurning the New York Knicks' max offer to join a ready-now roster began floating in January, with Chicago listed as one of his preferred destinations.
While amnestying Carlos Boozer would pave the way to sign Anthony as a free agent, the Bulls would rather work him into a trade to avoid paying $16 million worth of dead money.
And then there's the three draft picks Chicago owns—one or more of which could end up going elsewhere in one of the above scenarios—in the deepest draft class in years. Picks No. 16, 19 and 49 will help address some of the team's most glaring needs, namely perimeter shooting, on-ball scoring and frontcourt spacing. The Bulls have been linked to everyone from Adreian Payne to Tyler Ennis, from Doug McDermott to James Young.
All of this goes to say just how much can change before the July moratorium lifts and free agents are truly free. Should that stop us from dreaming about which players will look best in red? There's nothing wrong with a little Christmas window shopping in November.
I've made my own wish list of one ideal free agent Chicago should sign at each position. Bulls general manager Gar Forman won't have the cap space to sign more than a few players, and he definitely can't afford more than one impact guy. As such, each entrant on the list is considered in a vacuum as the roster currently exists.
But there's one caveat. This slideshow will work on the assumption that Boozer will not be around next season. We don't know how or when it will happen, but I firmly believe Tom Thibodeau will spiral into depression if Boozer finishes out his contract with the team.
While this is largely a practice of fantasy, the criteria take root in reality. Otherwise, LeBron James would be on every slide. If a starting spot is concrete, like Joakim Noah at center, you're not going to look at a Marcin Gortat. So the bench is in play.
Without further ado, one ideal potential free agent for the Chicago Bulls at every position...
Point Guard: Shaun Livingston
In an injury-plagued season, Shaun Livingston of all people was Brooklyn's rock. He topped 70 games for just the second time in nine years and went from injury replacement starter to one of Jason Kidd's favorite players.
Brooklyn's disastrous cap situation will make it difficult to significantly improve on Livingston's $1.27 million salary. According to Newsday reporter Roderick Boone, the taxpayer's mid-level exception of three years and $10 million is the best deal the Nets can offer. The 28-year-old journeyman isn't exactly in a position to give out hometown discounts and will rightfully look to get his after resurrecting a career derailed by a disastrous knee injury in 2007.
Though Livingston started 54 games this year—in large part due to Deron Williams' health and Alan Anderson's ineffectiveness—he might only be an upgrade at point guard for a handful of teams. Livingston's value is highest off the bench as a guy who can come in and run the offense confidently without needing to fill a shot quota.
And while his 8.3 points per game (9.1 as a starter) won't blow anyone away, Livingstone is expected to address that need in other ways. Though Nate Robinson and D.J. Augustin experienced unique circumstances as backups, we saw an already anemic offense lose its flow with those score-first guys running the show.
At 6'7", the Peoria, Ill. native has unusual size for a ball-handler, enough to guard the LeBrons and Durants of the world. This sounds like a luxury with Butler and Gibson already giving Chicago versatile defenders, but then you realize Derrick Rose and Kirk Hinrich are liabilities on that end.
Chicago becomes an attractive option over Brooklyn, because Livingston doesn't have to sacrifice money for winning. He gets both.
Shooting Guard: Lance Stephenson
Lance Stephenson does not own the distinct honor of being the most polarizing player in the playoffs. That belongs to Russell Westbrook.
But the 23-year-old will certainly be this summer's most scrutinized commodity. Mr. Born Ready made a big leap in his fourth season, leading the NBA with five triple-doubles. He's often the most explosive player on the floor, but it comes at a price.
Stephenson's frenetic pace gets him into hairy situations at a pretty high rate. His 13.8 turnovers per 100 possessions ranked ninth highest among starters who played at least 50 games this season, according to NBA.com. Then again, he's dropped that number to 12.3 in the playoffs, where he's been option 2A next to David West for the Pacers and led the team in scoring twice in 15 contests.
Chicago lacks what Stephenson's got when he's focused. But that's not always the case.
Lance Stephenson is like a more condensed isotope of DeMarcus Cousins.— Kevin McElroy (@knickerbacker) May 21, 2014
The Cincinnati product has the ability to create opportunities for himself and his teammates. According to NBA.com, he posted a better assist ratio (assists per 100 possessions) than LeBron James, Kyrie Irving and Kemba Walker. As a secondary ball handler, he minimizes the need to upgrade Kirk Hinrich or pay up in a D.J. Augustin bidding war. Thibodeau could stagger his minutes with Derrick Rose and let the offense flow through Stephenson when Rose sits.
Bringing in a starting caliber two-guard would allow Mike Dunleavy to come off the bench—as was originally intended for him—and slide Jimmy Butler up to the three. Pairing Lance with Butler would make on of the best lockdown wing defender tandems in the Association.
He won't come cheap. Sporting News' Sean Deveney reported in late April that while Stephenson will look for an eight-figure yearly salary, one league executive put him in the $7-8 million range after Indiana's late-season collapse.
Then the playoffs happened. Per Basketball-Reference.com, only seven players have averaged at least 14 points, seven rebounds and four assists this postseason: LeBron, Paul George, Kevin Durant, Russell Westbrook, Nicolas Batum, Marc Gasol and Lance.
Signing Lance only becomes possible if Jerry Reinsdorf is willing to pay the luxury tax or Boozer packs his bags. No matter how it happens, this move would eat up all of Chicago's cap space for other free agents, making it their one big move of the summer.
Center: Spencer Hawes
The market for reliable big men is razor thin. After Gortat and Greg Monroe the barrel gets empty quickly, which is why its incredible there's one center who can help address two of Chicago's needs.
While I'd like to say Pau Gasol should be the one on Chicago's radar, he'll probably be looking for something within range of his $19 million price tag this year. As great as Gasol once was, overpaying a 34-year-old injury-prone center to come off the bench feels like bad business.
Instead, it starts with the Bulls' 24th-best team three-point percentage this season. Spencer Hawes happened to hit 41.6 percent from downtown this campaign and he did it from up there at 7'1".
He averaged 13.2 points and 8.3 rebounds in Philadelphia and Cleveland this season, and despite being just 26, Hawes already has seven seasons under his belt. The picture of good health, he's only played less than 70 games once.
That durability comes at a price. Hawes, like predecessor Brad Miller, isn't the fleetest of foot. He lumbers around and isn't much of a defensive upgrade on Boozer. What he lacks in speed, though, Hawes makes up for in craftiness. The former Husky has a deft passing touch like a certain seven-footer already on the team.
Leaders in total assists among centers this season in the NBA: J. Noah: 431 Spencer Hawes: 240 Marc Gasol: 215 D. Cousins: 207— Across The Court™ (@AcrossTheCourt_) April 21, 2014
Combine Hawes' quality as a shooter and passer and you've got a guy who can stretch the floor for Rose to work his lanes.
The question is whether he's willing to sign at a slight discount. To date, Hawes has started nearly 70 percent of games in his career and over 80 percent in the last four years. He made $6.5 million in 2013-14 and will likely look for something in the $8-10 million range this time around, though he certainly shouldn't command the same price tag as Stephenson this summer.
Power Forward: Nikola Mirotic
Like Spencer Hawes, Mirotic complements Chicago's frontcourt perfectly. The Euroleague stud just happens to have a ton more athleticism, a knack for scoring and a ceiling that has yet to be discovered.
So really, he's like Hawes only in that they both have range and height.
Now this isn't exactly a typical "free agent" signing, since the Bulls own Mirotic's draft rights, but bringing him to the NBA this summer will actually be more difficult than standard contract negotiations. His rich buyout with Real Madrid complicates the matter and a deal would eat up most of Chicago's cap space, as detailed by BasketballInsiders.com's Nate Duncan.
As the video shows, Mirotic possesses a diverse game. He has a great release and at 6'10" can shoot over defenders, even with a hand in his face. But the Real Madrid star keeps his love affair with perimeter shooting in perspective, often passing up contested looks with a pump fake to attack the rim.
Like Noah, Mirotic has the awareness to hustle for easy transition buckets, and he puts himself in good positions in terms of team defense. But with a thin frame he is a liability defending the low block, susceptible to getting bullied in the paint much like a bald current Chicago player with a fat contract.
Bringing Mirotic over from Spain likely prices Chicago out of another marquee addition unless he's so anxious to play in the NBA that he signs for the mid-level exception. The guy has said himself that he's willing to maintain his cushy life in Spain for another season so there's no leverage there.
Chicago fans are in for a treat if Mirotic and his beard come to the Windy City this summer.
Small Forward: Carmelo Anthony
Nobody has to regale you with tales of Carmelo Anthony's prowess on the hardwood. He's a top-five scorer in the NBA. End of discussion.
Ignoring how he comes to Chicago, the big basketball question remains whether a player who requires such a high shot volume and has to be convinced to play defense fits well with Derrick Rose. The reality is that the Bulls weren't even a great offensive team with Rose—their 96.8 points per game in 2011-12 ranked 18th. His (fingers crossed) return only begins to solve the team's scoring issues.
If the Thunder can get to three WESTERN Conference Finals in four years with Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook (and James Harden the first two times) sharing shots, Thibs can certainly find a way for Rose and Anthony to coexist.
Anthony's presence takes some pressure off Butler, whose offensive game regressed in terms of efficiency in his third year. Jimmy Buckets got more buckets and assists in increased minutes, but his field-goal percentage dropped seven points. His three-pointer has gone from solid (.381) in 2012-13 to bad (.283) and in 2013-14 he attempted 240 of them!
Chicago probably prefers adding the one-time college national champion via trade, and hopes the Knicks can find it in themselves to take one for the team in assuming Boozer's $16 million contract. But signing Anthony as a free agent is within the realm of possibilities.
B/R's Grant Hughes outlines one way the Bulls can make it happen:
No matter what Chicago does, it can't offer 'Melo the fifth year or extra cash the New York Knicks can. But by amnestying Carlos Boozer and trimming salary elsewhere, the Bulls can make a very competitive pitch in the neighborhood of $16 million-$18 million per year.
More aggressive moves involving trades or buyouts could push that figure to nearly $20 million.
ESPN.com's Marc Stein hinted that New York might want its trade partner to take back J.R. Smith to even out the salary burden in a swap, which could discourage Chicago from a making a deal.