With the Chicago Bulls expected to make pricey, high-profile runs at Kevin Love and Carmelo Anthony this summer, the front office will have its hands full filling out the rest of the roster on a budget.
Pulling off a trade for either superstar will effectively gut the team's depth while giving it one of the strongest starting units in the league. As Basketball Insiders' Nate Duncan and Eric Pincus note, there are a number of scenarios in which some combination of Taj Gibson, Mike Dunleavy, Jimmy Butler and Tony Snell join Carlos Boozer as part of a package in order to match salaries. Chicago would also say goodbye to their two first-round draft picks this year (Nos. 16 and 19) and Sacramento's top-10 protected pick and/or a future first-rounder of their own.
While the picture won't become clearer until we get closer to the draft, the Bulls' roster has holes even without taking into account the assets that could soon get their walking papers.
It's reasonable to assume that one way (trade) or another (amnesty), Boozer has played his last home game in the Windy City.
With that, Gibson—assuming he's still on the roster—becomes the de facto starter at power forward, leaving nobody remotely resembling a 4 or 5 on the bench to spell him and Joakim Noah.
Ditto with Derrick Rose and Jimmy Butler at both guard positions.
Rose's season-ending injuries notwithstanding, Chicago's brass has done an admirable job filling in around the edges the past few years. Though it's difficult to pin down how many of the team's successful "value" signings boiled down to luck (D.J. Augustin?) or increased opportunity (Dunleavy this year, Nate Robinson the previous one), Gar Forman and John Paxson will need to be shrewd in handing out precious cap space and exception dollars.
Let's look at a few places they should consider.
If the team is looking to keep costs down, why not start in house with a guy who probably wouldn't be employed if they hadn't signed him?
After getting kicked to the curb by the Toronto Raptors after just 10 games, Augustin shocked the league by resurrecting his career a quarter through the season. He provided Chicago with two key skills they sorely lacked: outside shooting (Augustin shot 41.1 percent from downtown) and instant offense (17.6 points per 36 minutes). He led the team in scoring and was second in assists on a $650,215 salary, prorated to $592,279.
Tom Thibodeau, not one to kick around compliments for the sake of it, gave Augustin the highest praise back in April:
#Bulls coach Tom Thibodeau was effusive in his praise of D.J. Augustin (23 points): “He was terrific,” he said. “He’s saved our season."— Mark Potash (@MarkPotash) April 3, 2014
It's Augustin's duty to cash in on the past season's success, and some fear that he priced himself out of staying with Chicago despite an admitted desire to stay.
DJ Augustin: "I definitely want to be here"— Nick Friedell (@NickFriedell) April 30, 2014
But Chicago's system seems to have an effect on backup scoring guards that only temporarily inflates a player's value while they're actually in town. From Bleacher Report's Kelly Scaletta:
Augustin has had a nice season with the Bulls, but so have other point guards filling in for Rose. John Lucas III, C.J. Watson and Nate Robinson all shined at times but failed to play to the same standard with their new teams.
None of these Chicago castoffs got big paydays as a result of their increased play the year before:
Scaletta suggests that Augustin can be had for either the Bi-Annual Exception or Room Exception (depending on the team's other moves) at somewhere between $2.0 and $2.7 million.
Backing that up, ESPN Insider Amin Elhassan ranked the 30 top free agents by expected monetary value. The lowest salary was $3 million and Augustin didn't make the list.
The logic makes sense. It's unrealistic to expect any other team to give Augustin the 30 minutes per game he had to play in Chicago, and pay him a few million more accordingly. If they do, consider it well deserved, but expect the Bulls to provide him the best combination of money, fit and championship contention.
Even if Augustin returns, the Bulls will still be in need of a three-point specialist on the wing.
The team was 24th in shooting percentage from behind the arc, and only two other teams relied on the long ball less.
C.J. Miles hit 39.3 percent of his attempts from downtown this season, 36th among qualified players and better than any Chicago Bull player not named D.J. He also did this:
C.J. Miles tied a single-game high for this season by hitting 10 threes against the 76ers: http://t.co/E8iATo5Gpx— SB Nation NBA (@SBNationNBA) January 8, 2014
Like a certain former Bulls' sharpshooter plying his trade in Atlanta, Miles is a catch-and-shoot specialist. As Bleacher Report's Greg Swartz notes, 89 percent of Miles' baskets came on assists and 83 percent of his shot attempts were jumpers.
The preps-to-pros player has terrific size for a wing, measuring in at 6'6", 231 pounds. With Jimmy Butler's significant regression on the offensive end, Miles could be the perfect offensive-minded backup who can play the 2 or the 3.
But Miles doesn't actually give up a ton on the other end.
He had the third-best on/off net rating on the team at plus-6.9, according to Basketball-Reference.com.
After nine seasons, and without any crazy spikes in performance, Miles' value has essentially peaked. He made $2.2 million in 2013-14, and missed over two-thirds of the season. And that's not an aberration; Miles has only topped 70 games twice in his career.
Cleveland has a full plate this summer. They want to bring back Spencer Hawes, figure out the Kyrie Irving situation and figure out what to do with the No. 1 overall pick in the draft, meaning Miles could slip through the cracks.
This paragraph from Jason Lloyd of the Akron Beacon Journal doesn't sound very optimistic about Miles returning as a Bull next year:
He is open to returning next season, but hasn’t had any formal talks yet and doesn’t believe the injury will affect summer negotiations with the Cavs or any other team. 'We haven’t had any conversations [about returning], but I don’t feel like they’re kicking me out the door at all. I know what that feels like. I definitely don’t get that vibe.'
The longtime Jazz player and jazz man will likely command a raise on the open market over his current two-year, $4.45 deal, and the Bulls could tempt him with part of the mid-level exception starting somewhere around $3 million per year.
Few players in the NBA are as difficult to figure out as DeJuan Blair.
He played just over 14 minutes a game off the bench but started 13 times this past season. He contributed 6.4 points and 4.7 rebounds a game, but his minutes decreased in the playoffs despite Dallas having no front court depth. He became one of the team's catalysts in taking the No. 1-seeded Spurs to seven games.
Once again, Mavs' bench giving life. If not for Vince Carter and DeJuan Blair, this series might already be over.— Jeff McDonald (@JMcDonald_SAEN) May 4, 2014
while also getting some "what if?" blame for the Mavericks losing that series.
Dallas’ DeJuan Blair suspended for Game 5 due to kick to Tiago Splitter’s head http://t.co/EO1HvrjVmG— Kurt Helin (@basketballtalk) April 29, 2014
A severely undersized center at 6'7", the wide-bodied Blair fits the mold of a Tom Thibodeau-type grinder. Put him in a rotation with Gibson and Noah, and Chicago will increase it's already significant physical edge over just about every team in the NBA.
At 25 years old, the former Pittsburgh Panther still has plenty of basketball ahead of him. As a true energy guy who often appears to leave it on the bench, Blair might find that Thibs is just the guy to coax some consistency out of him.
Like Carl Landry, Blair rebounds with a chip on his shoulder. As the NBA Finals approach, Blair still leads this postseason with most rebounds per 48 minutes among guys who played at least 10 minutes per game, per ESPN.com. His rim protecting skills aren't anything to write home about—finishing this season with a 55.0 percent opponents' field-goal percentage allowed at the hoop—but he'd be joining one of the best interior defensive units and would have the chance to still develop his game on that end of the court.
Who should the Chicago Bulls pursue in free agency?
According to HoopsHype.com, Blair has made a just over $4.75 million over his five-year career, culminating in this past year's $941K salary. Despite the flash of hustle-based dominance in a few playoff games, he hasn't done enough to have teams lining up for his signature. It's certainly a risk due to the uncertainty behind his play, but the investment would be so minimal that the Bulls won't be flailing for depth if the signing were to go belly up.
Use the comments section below to weigh in, espectially if you respond "Other" to the poll question. Let us know who you've got in mind.