Best Bargain-Bin NBA 2014 Free-Agency Options for Chicago Bulls

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Best Bargain-Bin NBA 2014 Free-Agency Options for Chicago Bulls
Nam Y. Huh/Associated Press

Once all the Carmelo Anthony dust settles and the Chicago Bulls sign their major free agent(s), the Bulls will still need to flesh out their roster, and they won't have a ton of money to do it. Who are some of the players who could be on the end of the bench?

With massive pieces like Anthony still not in place, that might not seem important. But last season, depth was the Bulls' undoing. After losing Derrick Rose to a season-ending meniscus injury and trading away Luol Deng, they were left with a thin roster.

They essentially fell into an eight-man rotation because the rest of the players weren't cutting the mustard. The heavy minutes caught up to the drained team in the postseason. Whether that's the fault of head coach Tom Thibodeau or not is somewhat moot—he's still the coach, and he won't give time to underperformers.  

Ergo, if the Bulls want to avoid going to a short rotation, they need to have a deep bench. The answer to heavy minutes is giving Thibodeau a roster where everyone can play.

Therefore, let's look at what they have then determine what they need.

 

What the Bulls Have

Let's take a look at what we do know regarding who is on the Bulls roster now:

Bulls Present Roster
Point Guard Shooting Guard Small Forward Power Forward Center
Derrick Rose Jimmy Butler Mike Dunleavy Jr. Carlos Boozer Joakim Noah
Mike James Tony Snell Doug McDermott Taj Gibson Greg Smith
Ronnie Brewer Anthony Randolph Cameron Bairstow
Louis Amundson

ESPN.com

Several of these players aren't expected to be around on opening night.

Mike James, Ronnie Brewer and Louis Amundson all have nonguaranteed contracts for the 2014-15 season totaling to $4,069,042. They are essentially trade ballast to add money for a potential trade.  If the Bulls don't make a trade, the trio will be cut before the preseason. 

Carlos Boozer probably won't be on the roster, whether that's through trade or amnesty, per Brian Windhorst of ESPN:

Anthony Randolph was part of the cost of trading up for the rights to Doug McDermott on draft night. He, too, should be gone before opening night, per Jon Greenberg of ESPN Chicago:

But with that in mind, it was curious that well-traveled forward Anthony Randolph was included in the deal. He's owed $1.825 million next season. Forman said that was the price for trading up. The Bulls will likely look to use his salary in a trade, though they can't package him in a deal for 60 days, according to league rules. They can trade him straight-up immediately.

While those are subtractions, the Bulls are also looking at signing their draft-and-stash European star, Nikola Mirotic, once Anthony makes up his mind. Aggrey Sam of CSN Chicago reports:

According to a league source, a deal with the 23-year-old Spanish forward is "almost done" and because Mirotic's $3-million buyout to Spain's Real Madrid (of which the Bulls can contribute $600,000) can be paid over time, his annual salary might not significantly affect the franchise's salary cap.

So once you make all those adjustments, this is what the Bulls roster looks like:

Probable Bulls on Opening Night
Point Guard Shooting Guard Small Forward Power Forward Center
Derrick Rose Jimmy Butler Mike Dunleavy Jr. Taj Gibson Joakim Noah
Tony Snell Doug McDermott Nikola Mirotic Greg Smith
Cameron Bairstow

ESPN.com

Depending on what else happens, the Bulls could have need at all five positions, but some will be more pressing than others. Here's the breakdown by position and who they might find at bargain prices.

 

Point Guards

The most pressing need is obviously point guard. The Bulls need a backup for Rose, who has played just 10 games over the last two seasons and 49 over the last three. That needs to be a player who can generate offense off the bench and be able to step in and start if Rose needs to miss any games.

In fact, they probably need to add two point guards, and they need to both be cheap. The good news is that with the success of John Lucas III, Nate Robinson and D.J. Augustin in the past, Thibodeau has shown he can get more out of his point guards than other coaches have.

This is the position where the Bulls are most likely to use their bi-annual exception if they stay over the cap or the room exception if they aren't able to. Bringing back Augustin would be the preference here. Augustin told Adam Fluck of Bulls.com that the interest is mutual:

The meetings were good. We had a chance to talk and look back on the season. They told me that they wanted me back. And I really want to be back so we'll see how everything works out. They gave me an opportunity, and I definitely owe them a lot. It's not always about the money. It's where you feel comfortable or where you fit in. I definitely want to be here, and hopefully everything works out.

It's helpful that to date, only the Dallas Mavericks have shown interest in Augustin, per Tim MacMahon of ESPN Dallas.  And he seems down on their list of priorities. The lack of competition means his price might not be driven up as much as feared. Of course, as more players sign, more teams could be calling him.

Fluck's report also reveals the possibility of Kirk Hinrich coming back, but if there is a choice between the two, Gar Forman seems to be leaning toward Augustin.

D.J.'s a fit. He's been a fit as far as his makeup and character, how he fit with our other guys, and I think his game is a fit because of his ability to create and to score. We're hopeful we'll be in a position that D.J. will consider coming back and that we're in a position to have him back.

We value Kirk and Kirk's been a big part of what we've done over the last nine or 10 years. So it would be our goal that we have Kirk back, also.

The Charlotte Hornets, though, are in the competition for Kirk Hinrich, according to Adrian Wojnarowski of Yahoo Sports:

And with the salary restrictions the Bulls are under, they aren't going to get into a bidding war for a third-string point guard. 

But what happens if one of those two doesn't work out? The Bulls will still need another backup point guard. A perfect fit for the Thibodeau magic is Aaron Brooks, who is still only 29 and was the 2009-10 Most Improved Player.

Mark J. Terrill/Associated Press

Since winning the award, though, he's been bounced around from team to team, including the Phoenix Suns, Sacramento Kings, Houston Rockets and Denver Nuggets. In spite of all that, he has career averages of 17.0 points and 5.1 assists per 36 minutes.

Brooks fits the mold of destitute journeyman Thibodeau has resuscitated in the past and would fit well as an emergency, third-string point guard for the Bulls this year.

Another player who has breakout, Patty Mills-type potential is Bo McCalebb, who has been tearing apart Europe for the last six years. Per Shams Charania of RealGM:

Unlike past seasons, McCalebb has a complete contract buyout in his deal, no future guaranteed money beyond one season and a less cost prohibitive escape clause to settle, sources said. McCalebb has played six professional seasons overseas, where his stardom soared with Montepaschi Siena. The San Antonio Spurs had pitched an offer to the six-foot guard in 2012 and a deal wasn't reached, but they could need depth in the backcourt this offseason given the possible departure of Patty Mills.

 

Wing

The nice thing about the Bulls' wing situation is that they have multiple players who can fill in at either shooting guard or small forward, including Jimmy Butler, Mike Dunleavy Jr. and Tony Snell.

It's possible they could be light on minutes, though. Doug McDermott is a rookie playing for a coach who has been reluctant to give freshmen meaningful time. Snell is a sophomore who fell out of the rotation as the season progressed last year.

On the other hand, Joe Cowley of the Chicago Sun-Times reports Snell has put on muscle and worked on his handles.

And McDermott is more NBA-ready than the previous rookies Thibodeau has inherited, particularly on offense. So both those players could see regular rotation minutes in spite of their youth.

If Anthony comes to Chicago, that will help tremendously. Small forward is the weakest spot right now. But he may cost the Bulls Butler or Snell if it's through a sign-and-trade, or the Bulls will have to send Dunleavy Jr. somewhere to free up salary if he comes through free agency. 

Either way, they will need at least one more veteran wing to soak up minutes. 

The Bulls have an interest in Jordan Crawford, per Marc Spears of Yahoo Sports:

Being that Crawford is an inefficient volume scorer (.496 career true shooting percentage!) who offers little else, one would hope that doesn't pan out. Of course, when you're scraping the bottom of the barrel, you're not going to find players without deficiencies, so Crawford might be the best they can get at the price.

If the Bulls can get him to rein in his shooting a bit and use his handles—which are commendable—to help create shots for shooters like Mirotic and McDermott, he could be useful.

An alternative would be Anthony Morrow, who is a superior shooter with excellent three-point range (42.8 percent career, 45.1 percent in 2013-14). The Bulls have reached out to him, but Morrow is receiving more interest and might cost in excess of the minimum, according to Alex Kennedy of Basketball Insiders:

Yes, I believe the Bulls have reached out to Anthony Morrow, as have a number of other playoff teams. He's going to receive a lot of interest over the next few weeks because he's a three-point specialist who is a great locker room guy. He'll have to wait for some of the bigger dominoes to fall before he inks a deal, but there has already been significant interest in Morrow and I believe Chicago is one team that’s pursuing him (which makes sense since they need three-point shooting so badly).

Still, if it's playoff teams looking to him, most might only have the minimum to offer, in which case the chance to win could be the deciding factor. If the Bulls land Anthony, they could be the most attractive option. 

Another possibility is Mike Miller, who seems healthier than he's been for a while. He's a sniper with an underrated all-around skill set with championship experience. He'd fit well with the Bulls' mentality of hard work, too. Although, the Cleveland Cavaliers may be pursuing him, too, per Sam Amick of USA Today

 

Bigs

At present, it appears the Bulls are trying to work out a sign-and-trade with the Los Angeles Lakers for Pau Gasol. Per David Aldridge of NBA.com:

If that happens, they will have Gasol and Joakim Noah as their starting bigs, with Taj Gibson, Nikola Mirotic, Greg Smith and Cameron Bairstow all coming off the bench. That would be plenty. 

On the other hand, if they have to send Mirotic and/or Mirotic over to New York in a sign-and-trade to land Anthony, they'll need another power forward. Yes, Anthony and McDermott could play some small-ball power forward, and Anthony does that exceptionally well, but they'll need another true power forward with experience if they're matching up against a big team in the playoffs. 

One possibility is just keeping Anthony Randolph around if the Bulls can't find a taker for his contract. That would not be the preferable option, but it could pan out. His career per-36 numbers aren't that bad, either: 16.8 points, 10.1 rebounds and 2.1 blocks. Maybe Thibodeau can fix him.

That said, the Denver Nuggets have been one of the better teams at developing players over the last several years, so if they couldn't get him to realize his potential, it might be a fruitless effort.

Matt Slocum/Associated Press

The better alternative would be Anthony Tolliver, who is a decent defensive player, yielding a respectable 14.0 opponent's player efficiency rating last year, per 82games.com. He can stretch the court a bit, too, hitting shooting 41.3 percent from deep last season on a career-high 3.9 attempts.


 

The Bulls are a ways off from applying the finishing touches to the roster, and the players they tap may not see a lot of time in the postseason. That doesn't mean they won't have an impact in the playoffs, though. 

If they can log meaningful minutes in the regular season, the Bulls will be able to tighten their rotation to eight or nine players in the playoffs and have it play fresher. The little names don't get the huge headlines, but they do make a big impact. 

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