With a big free-agency period coming for the Chicago Bulls, the front office will have to decide the fate of four of the team's free agents.
Just about everyone in the world believes the Bulls will pursue Carmelo Anthony this summer. That would mean clearing as much cap space as possible, since Melo will command a big-time contract.
However, the decision might not be as easy as just releasing everyone.
D.J. Augustin was a saving grace in 2013-14, serving as Chicago's best scoring option doing his best Derrick Rose impersonation for a majority of the season. Jimmer Fredette, on the other hand, while he didn't receive any playing time, has a skill the Bulls desperately need going forward.
Then you have the veteran players in Nazr Mohammed and Kirk Hinrich. Not only is the latter, who was thrust into the starting lineup for a second consecutive year, a longtime Bull, but his veteran leadership and defense have been key in Tom Thibodeau's roster.
Let's take a closer look at the players and whether they should remain on the roster for 2014-15.
After a 16-year career, the Chicago native believes he still has some gas left in the tank as he stated via Twitter.
16 NBA seasons in the books... At least 2yrs more to go. Not retiring yet!!! As motivated as I have ever been. #StartedSummerProgramLastWeek— Nazr Mohammed (@NazrMohammed) May 4, 2014
Mohammed won't be super effective on the court, but he can be a leader in the locker room and serve as a mentor to young players.
But do the Bulls need to keep him?
Not really. Chicago played this past season with Taj Gibson as the backup 5 because Carlos Boozer was there to fill the other spot. With a possible amnesty looming over Boozer's head this offseason, though, the Bulls won’t have that luxury anymore.
While there is a value in having a veteran leader in the locker room, a 36-year-old Mohammed simply won't cut it as a primary backup option, especially if he's only able to play seven minutes per game. The Bulls will surely draft or sign a couple of bigs to avoid that situation, though.
That being said, it's not imperative that Chicago releases Mohammed. But considering it has a dire need for perimeter guys, it makes more sense to part ways.
Speaking of outside shooters, few are better and more efficient shooters than Jimmer Fredette.
Although Tom Thibodeau gave him next to no playing time, Fredette has an impressive track record and a reputation as a marksman from beyond the arc.
The decision to keep Fredette will probably rest on what Thibodeau saw during practices throughout the short period of time the 25-year-old was with the team.
Despite a clear need for shooters during the 2014 postseason, Thibodeau elected to leave his best shooter on the bench, perhaps not trusting him to perform well in the team’s defensive scheme.
If there’s one thing Thibodeau is known for, though, it's is his ability to bring the best out of his backcourt. From Nate Robinson to Marco Belinelli to D.J. Augustin, Bulls guards have exceeded expectations these last two years in Rose’s absence.
Fredette addresses one of Chicago’s biggest needs: perimeter shooting. He is undersized, and his defense is still a question mark, but can a shooter of this caliber be allowed to walk? K.C. Johnson of the Chicago Tribune believes so.
It would be a surprise if Fredette returned. I suppose him returning on a minimum deal is possible, as the Bulls need shooting. But the Bulls needed shooting last season and it was pretty clear Thibodeau didn’t trust him enough to alter his rotation that late in the season. My sense is Fredette wants an opportunity where he can be a rotation player. Given the changes the Bulls hope to make this summer, that opportunity probably isn't here.
It's not clear whether Fredette will find a team willing to make him a rotation player, though. In his three years, the former BYU star has yet to make a name for himself and could be in danger of fizzling out.
As it stands, Chicago has one point guard under contract: former league MVP Derrick Rose. With two better in-house options available in Hinrich and Augustin, Fredette is kind of the odd man out.
Coming off a two-year $8 million deal, veteran point man Kirk Hinrich would have to take a drastic pay cut in order for the Bulls to keep him around.
This goes back to the notion that Chicago will pursue Carmelo Anthony. There's no way the Bulls would be able to make space for him if Hinrich isn't willing to accept a minimum-salary contract.
The market for Hinrich is up in the air a bit. His offense has certainly declined over the years, and he shot 35.1 percent from downtown in 2013-14, the third-worst output of his career.
Anything more than the veteran's minimum is hard to justify considering the situation Chicago finds itself in.
However, it's his defensive versatility that has so much value. He can guard 1s through 3s, and it has been crucial for the Bulls over the last two seasons as Nate Robinson and D.J. Augustin have been defensive liabilities.
Nick Friedell of ESPN Chicago reported that Hinrich wanted to remain with the team past the 2013-14 season. The 11-year vet had this to say:
"I grew up a Bull in this league. I will always think of myself as a Chicago Bull no matter what happens. Just moving forward, I have a great relationship with a lot of my teammates here who are coming back. The organization—there's definitely a lot of history there."
Friedell also made the point that Hinrich would be an attractive signing if he accepted the veteran's minimum. For Thibodeau and the Bulls, Hinrich is the perfect kind of player. He has the all the necessary intangibles, and most importantly, he has the defense.
Decision: Keep (only if for the minimum)
Chicago's most valued free agent is breakout point guard D.J. Augustin. In 61 regular-season games, Augustin posted the third-highest scoring output of his career, and his per-game average was the best.
Although Hinrich remained the starter, Augustin was the true Rose replacement, scoring in just about every way imaginable, sometimes reminiscent of the superstar point guard. It would seem like making the decision on the former Longhorn is an easy one based on his performance.
The issue here is choosing between a savvy vet in Hinrich and a young dynamic scorer in Augustin. On paper, it may seem like a clear choice, but Chicago's front office values both players.
Bulls general manger Gar Forman has expressed interest in retaining both guards, per K.C. Johnson of the Chicago Tribune, saying he wouldn't "rule out" signing both guards if the organization has the cap flexibility.
Forman also said re-signing Hinrich was a goal this offseason but also went on to praise Augustin's scoring ability and how he fit well within the roster.
It should excite the Bulls that the 26-year-old point guard wants to remain with the team as well:
"They definitely gave me an opportunity, and I owe them a lot. It's not always about the money. It's where you feel comfortable or where you fit. They told me they wanted me back. I definitely want to be here, and hopefully everything works out."
Both players bring something different to the table, and keeping them both works offensively, although Hinrich needs to become a more reliable three-point shooter. Augustin would be a great sixth man. He can create off the dribble and finish at the rim. His three-point shot is a big weapon as well, evident by his 41 percent mark this past season.
Which of the four free agents should Chicago keep?
The problem with playing both guards comes in the defensive end.
When paired with Hinrich during the postseason, Augustin couldn't defend John Wall or Bradley Beal because of the size differential. The Washington Wizards exploited that mismatch and forced the Bulls to decide between offense and defense at their point guard spot.
Outside of these problems, there will surely be a substantial market for Augustin. Other teams can lure him away with more money and a larger role on their squad. With the Bulls, Rose will be a starter, leaving Augustin with a backup role that could be further reduced if Hinrich stays.
Ultimately, there's no denying Augustin was a great player for Chicago last season. And while there could be lineup issues with Hinrich at the 2 and Augustin at the 1, the Bulls need insurance for Rose until he can prove he's healthy enough to play a full season.
The Bulls will likely wait for the Carmelo Anthony situation to play out before deciding to keep or cut their own free agents. It will also likely affect whom Chicago re-signs.
With Melo, Augustin may not be as necessary since Chicago will have the other scorer it has needed for so many years. This would make Hinrich and the defensive efforts he brings more lucrative as the Bulls look to remain among the league's elite defenses.
Bringing Anthony in might also make Fredette a more attractive option as he could be one of the main shooters to surround the perimeter while Rose or Anthony draws double-teams.
Assuming the Melo sweepstakes don't pan out, though, it makes the most sense to keep Hinrich and Augustin. Not only do they have a year of playing together under their belt, but they're great insurance in case Rose is forced to miss some time.
This July will be one of the most important summers for the Bulls in recent history. With just a few pieces away from being back in title contention, there is no room for error in signing new players or bringing back old ones.
As free agency approaches, the big story is whether Carmelo Anthony will be sporting a red jersey next season. Just as important, though, are the guys surrounding the Bulls' stars, and a couple could be right under Chicago's nose.