The Chicago Bulls, like every other team in the NBA, are currently investigating and exploring all potential free-agent targets and trade partners in an attempt to turn this shortened 2011 preseason into something special. The Chicago front office is looking to land the quality and kind of players necessary to finish building the most complete team possible and challenge for the 2012 NBA Championship.
Bulls management is doing its homework on and reaching out to representatives for potential free-agent targets like Caron Butler, Nick Young, Arron Afflalo or Jason Richardson. They, like the common fan, know that Chicago is in desperate need of a starting shooting guard to place next to the franchise's cornerstone, Derrick Rose, in order for Chicago to truly be considered part of and compete with the NBA's elite.
While it appears the Bulls' best-case scenario (referring to options that might actually be possible) is to try and lure one of the veterans like Butler or Richardson to join Chicago for the mid-level exception or even to pick up an amnesty cut on the cheap (like Brandon Roy or Rip Hamilton even though it seems more unlikely that Detroit will part with Hamilton or Portland will cut Roy), I believe Bulls management and ownership need to go big. I am talking Dwight Howard big, but in terms of something actually possible. I think the Bulls need to do a combination of things—make cuts, sign free agents, use the an amnesty allowance and make a solid trade to go big without nabbing Howard.
First, let me say that if I were totally optimistic and in dreamland, I would propose the no-brainer best-case scenario of offering any combination of Bulls players not named Derrick Rose and trading them to Orlando for Dwight Howard and any other Orlando players necessary to make the trade work. Dwight Howard is the ultimate prize, however, unlikely.
Now, after that dream scenario being stated and dismissed, I move on to an almost equally good overall outcome, which could actually happen. What is more likely is for the Bulls to trade for Arron Afflalo of the Denver Nuggets or O.J. Mayo of the Memphis Grizzlies. While it would be more likely for the Bulls to work out a deal with Denver than Memphis, based on the unwillingness of the Grizzlies' ownership to deal with the Bulls (think 2010 trade offer Memphis declined and what they would have accepted from Indiana for Mayo), either player would make the Chicago Bulls' starting five the best starting five in the NBA and vault the Bulls to championship favorite.
Keep: Carlos Boozer ($13.5M), Luol Deng ($12.34M), Joakim Noah ($10M), Derrick Rose ($6.99M), Ronnie Brewer ($4.71M) C.J. Watson ($3.4M), Omer Asik ($1.85M), Taj Gibson ($1.2M) and Jimmy Butler ($900k)
Cut: Keith Bogans ($1.7M), John Lucas ($950k) and Jannero Pargo ($1.26M)
Amnesty: Kyle Korver ($5M)
2011 Chicago Bulls Salary (after cuts to Bogans, Lucas, Pargo and Korver): $53M
2011 Salary Cap: $58M
Kurt Thomas: The Bulls need to re-up this reliable big man who has reportedly expressed interest in playing for Chicago again. Though he is not athletic and doesn't score points near the basket, Thomas brings the toughness, veteran savvy and a reliable mid-range jumper that Chicago needs. With Noah and Omer Asik being limited offensively, Thomas brings added floor spacing off the bench on the offensive side while knowing where to be defensively. Thomas needs to be signed to a veteran minimum contract for one (1) year at $1.6 million.
Michael Redd: The reason Chicago should amnesty Korver and his 2-year, $10 million contract is because Michael Redd can presumably be had very cheap and he and Korver possess the same skill set the Bulls need. Redd's history of injury might be a red flag, but bulls charge at red flags and management should act no differently. Korver is a sniper, but that is about all he provides offensively or defensively. Redd's injuries may have slowed him down some, but they will not prevent him from remaining a sniper.
Even at a step or two slower than when in his prime, Redd is still much better at creating his own shot than Korver and at being a better overall offensive player. Moreover, any lack of mobility on defense that Redd may experience will not be any worse than Korver and would be compensated for by the Bulls' stellar second-unit defense. Redd needs to be signed to a veteran minimum contract of $1.4 million per year for two (2) years with the second year being a team option.
Tracy McGrady: McGrady would be the final signing the Bulls need to make. There are reports that he has agreed to terms with Atlanta. However, there are also reports that he would rather sign with Chicago if the veteran minimum offer were matched. McGrady would be the third veteran free-agent signing, but he may be the most important piece of the puzzle. Last year in Detroit, McGrady showed that he can do an above-average job as a distributor running the point. That skill along with McGrady's ability to score and create his own shot combined with his overall size at 6'7" will make him a valuable reserve at the point guard, shooting guard and small forward spots.
He will add size to both backcourt positions, can handle the ball and free up Rose or could play off Rose and can play the small forward position behind Deng. McGrady would be a utility tool while Rose is on the court and would operate as the offensive catalyst when Rose is off the court as either a distributor or scorer. This signing would also allow the Bulls to save money next year by declining the team option for $3.7 million for C.J. Watson and making McGrady the primary backup point guard. McGrady needs to be signed to a $1.5 million per year veteran minimum contract for two (2) years with the second year being a team option.
Trades That Must be Made
After the cuts are made to Korver, Bogans, Pargo and Lucas and the front-office signings of Thomas, Redd and McGrady, the final step of this dream scenario is to make a trade for a cornerstone starting shooting guard. I believe the best options would be Arron Afflalo of Denver or O.J. Mayo of Memphis. Both are well-rounded talents and both are just entering the prime of their careers.
Afflalo is a restricted free agent, so Chicago's best course of action would be for a sign and trade with Denver. Mayo is in the final year of his rookie deal and Memphis is unlikely to have cap room to sign him to an extension at the end of the year considering the bloated contracts of Rudy Gay, Mike Conley, Zach Randolph and the contract they are going to need to give Marc Gasol soon. Memphis is unlikely to deal with the Bulls since Grizzlies owner Michael Heisley is reported to have a strong dislike for the Chicago Bulls organization.
In either situation, the Bulls would offer Ronnie Brewer (owed $4.71 million this year and $4.37 million next year) along with Charlotte's future first-round pick and Chicago's 2012 and 2013 second-round picks. The Bulls would sell Memphis and Denver on the fact that Brewer only has one year left on his contract after this year and could be trade chip next year when he has an expiring deal.
Brewer's salary of $4.7 million will be less than the amount Afflalo will command from Denver and less than the $5.6 million owned to Mayo by Memphis, so both teams would end up saving cap space this year.
For Memphis, Brewer would replace Mayo as backup shooting guard. Memphis would save almost $1 million this year and $3 million next year, which Memphis could use to resign Marc Gasol, the team's top priority. Memphis would also be picking up a future first-round and two future second-round picks that it can use to fill out its top heavy payroll with inexpensive players over the next two years.
For Denver, it will only let Afflalo walk and not resign him if management thinks he will cost too much going forward or if the Bulls' offer is too sweet to turn down. Denver is already without J.R. Smith, Wilson Chandler and Kenyon Martin because those players signed contracts in China.
A swap of Brewer for Afflalo will give Denver a player they can plug into their system right away to play both the shooting guard spot and the small forward spot. I think to make it work, the Bulls may have to throw in Jimmy Butler to sweeten the deal for Denver since the team is so short-handed. The future first-round and two future second-round picks will give Denver the assets to continue rebuilding through the draft or alternatively it will give them multiple picks to package along with an expiring contract like Andre Miller or a bad contract like Al Harrington for a player in Denver's long-term plans.
Partnering up with either Denver or Memphis to make a trade happen to acquire Afflalo or Mayo would be a huge move by Chicago and would be one of the biggest game-changing moves of this NBA offseason. The all-around skill sets of either Afflalo and Mayo would immediately give Chicago the scorer and complete player to spread the floor for and take pressure off Derrick Rose. Either Afflalo or Mayo would vault Chicago into elite status and create arguably the best starting five from top to bottom in the NBA.
Couple the move to get Afflalo or Mayo with the signings of Thomas, Redd and McGrady and the cutting of Bogans, Kover, Pargo and Lucas and you have the strongest complete roster in the NBA along with the best starting five.
The dream scenario would end up with a Bulls team that is built to compete and succeed in various different styles of games and against any type of lineup—small and quick units, big and long units, defensive units, scoring units, etc.
Results of the Bulls' Maneuvering
The final 12-man roster would look like this:
PG: Rose, Watson, McGrady
SG: Mayo/Afflalo, Redd, McGrady
SF: Deng, Butler, McGrady
PF: Boozer, Gibson
C: Noah, Asik, Thomas
With the right cuts, signings and a big-time trade, the Chicago Bulls could position themselves to not only be a championship contender and favorite this year, but for the next three to five years. The signings of McGrady and Thomas should happen regardless of whether the Bulls use an amnesty cut, make a trade or are able to convince a seasoned veteran like Caron Butler or Jason Richardson to take the mid-level exemption to be the Bulls' starting shooting guard because they help the Bulls get into better position to win this year.
No matter what, Chicago must be willing to go big in order to be a winner in 2011 free agency and a powerhouse in 2011-12 and for years to come.
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