Ever since the Chicago Bulls were eliminated in the Eastern Conference finals, fans have brainstormed scenarios in which the Bulls can land an upgrade at shooting guard. It has been a difficult task, though, due to the uncertainty of what the new collective bargaining agreement will look like.
One name that's been brought up as a possibility for Derrick Rose's Bulls is Denver Nuggets free-agent guard Arron Afflalo, who averaged 12.6 points and shot 49.8 percent from the field and 42.3 percent from three-point range in 69 games last season. In a free-agent class that will include veterans such as Jason Richardson and Jamal Crawford, the belief here is that Afflalo would be the best fit for the Bulls due to his youth, upside, size and a commitment to defense, a trait that would make Bulls coach Tom Thibodeau proud. The 6-foot-5 Afflalo admittedly hasn't proved he can create his own shot consistently at the NBA level, but has made his mark on the league as a knock-down three-point shooter and an aggressive, lockdown defender.
His agent, Sam Goldfeder, said in August he has "confidence that we can get a deal done" with the Nuggets. Still, that hasn't stopped Afflalo from picturing himself suiting up for another franchise.
"Oh yeah, my agent [Sam Goldfeder] brought that up to me before the lockout. He definitely mentioned the Bulls as a dream that would be great for me based on fit," Afflalo told SI.com's Zach Lowe when asked about how he would fit with the Bulls.
Throughout the prolonged offseason, Bulls fans have been clamoring for change at two guard. Yes, the Bulls were three wins away from reaching the NBA Finals with a shooting guard trio of Keith Bogans, Ronnie Brewer and Kyle Korver, but can the team, as currently constructed, get by the Miami Heat? Most followers don't think so.
After June's NBA draft, Bulls GM Gar Forman told reporters "we need to get as many guys as we can to space the floor because we have such a special guard in Rose." Afflalo would certainly fit the bill and give fans the upgrade they desire.
The problem for the Bulls is that Afflalo is a restricted free agent, meaning the Nuggets have the right to match any offer sheet the four-year veteran signs with another team. Yes, they can re-sign him even if he agrees to a contract elsewhere -- similar to last summer when the Bulls signed J.J. Redick to a deal but were spurned when the Orlando Magic matched it.
Denver GM Masai Ujiri has told various media outlets in recent months that he wants to keep Afflalo along with the rest of the young core. If he stays true to his word, the Nuggets should have no problem retaining Afflalo.
In addition, the Bulls won't have much financial flexibility. At 26 years old and coming off a career season, you'd think Afflalo will certainly be looking for more than the mid-level exception -- which will reportedly be in the new labor deal and likely the best offer he would receive from the Bulls -- but he stated priority No. 1 is winning.
"The way I moved forward at first was that I just planned on returning to Denver. That was just my feel, because my role had grown so much last season from a leadership standpoint. I felt it was almost my team. I felt a sense of responsibility," Afflalo said. "But obviously as the offseason goes on and changes are made, you have to weigh your options. My gut at the end of the season was that I’d be back in Denver, but you have to keep your options open. And for me, it’s all about winning."
When asked if he thinks he's worth more than the mid-level exception, he said: "Do I feel I’m worth more than the mid-level? Of course. I know I’m going to continue to improve, and contracts don’t change once you sign them. So from that standpoint, of course you want to say you’re worth $8 million or $9 million, but as you said, when you look at where the contenders are sitting, you have to place a certain value on winning and the situation."
Afflalo appears to have the type of mindset that would fit right into the Bulls locker room, but Forman and Co. won't have much of a shot at him. The Bulls just don't have the money to lure him out of Denver, not to mention his restricted status the Nuggets plan to capitalize on.
For Afflalo, signing with the Bulls once the league-imposed lockout ends is just like he envisions it -- a dream.
NBA labor update: After negotiations between the NBA owners and players' union broke off last Friday, the two sides will reportedly return to the bargaining table on Saturday afternoon.
Both sides met for three straight days last week, giving fans optimism that a condensed 82-game season can be salvaged if the two sides can continue making progress. But on Friday, commissioner David Stern said a full season isn't possible "under any circumstances."
So, how close to a deal are the two sides?
The New York Times reported over the weekend that a new collective bargaining agreement is 95 percent complete. However, when it comes to basketball-related income, both sides aren't budging from their respective positions. According to Stern, the owners offered a 50-50 split of BRI to the union, which rejected the offer and proposed they get a 52.5 percent share of BRI.
"The NBA owners were willing to go to 50 percent in the percentage split of BRI," Stern said last week. "Billy Hunter said that he was not willing to go a penny below 52 (percent), that he had been getting many calls from agent, and he closed up his book and walked out of the room. And that's where we are."
Considering the concessions and progress both sides have made, it's shocking the two sides didn't meet earlier this week. With the entire season hanging in the balance, fans potentially set to dwindle away and arena workers affected by having no professional basketball, the billionaires and millionaires will resume labor talks more than a week after Friday's breakup.