Before the Chicago Bulls can begin chasing free-agent shooting guards such as Jason Richardson and Jamal Crawford or possible trade targets like O.J. Mayo or Courtney Lee, they will have several decisions to make on the current roster.
As it stands now, the roster features nine players under guaranteed contracts -- 10 once draft pick Jimmy Butler is on board -- for the upcoming season, team options on starting shooting guard Keith Bogans and Jannero Pargo, unrestricted free-agent reserves in Kurt Thomas and Rasual Butler and John Lucas III on a fully non-guaranteed deal. Meanwhile, free agent Brian Scalabrine, a favorite among coaches and teammates, is currently playing in Italy, where he has said he plans on playing the entire season.
It's doubtful the Bulls will re-sign Butler, who, it appears, would like to return next season. Bulls general manager Gar Forman and Co. would love to bring back Thomas, but they will face stiff competition. The New York Knicks, among other teams, are believed to have interest in the veteran center. Many followers assume the Bulls won't keep Lucas, whose non-guanrateed contract is worth $947,907, according to HoopsHype.com, although he had a good relationship with teammates last season and is well-liked by coach Tom Thibodeau from their time spent together in Houston.
Although Pargo's option won't be picked up, Bulls management will face a tough decision to make regarding whether or not Bogans' option should be exercised. Plenty of Bulls fans want to see change at the position. If the Bulls bring Bogans back, you would assume they will stand pat and head into the upcoming season with the same trio of guards as last season to pair with Derrick Rose in the backcourt. However, the Bulls may choose to part ways with Bogans, chase after Richardson or Crawford and elect to sign a cheap veteran guard, like Tracy McGrady or Anthony Parker, should Richardson and Crawford sign elsewhere.
Among the unrestricted free agents, Richardson is probably the best fit for Chicago. Last season, the Orlando Magic free agent averaged 15.6 points and shot 44.7 percent from the field and 39.5 percent from three-point range. He can shoot, is a willing defender and remains an athletic two guard, although he isn't quite the leaper he once was.
The problem for the Bulls is that they will only be able to offer the mid-level exception -- which, along with other components in the new collective bargaining agreement, will affect the Bulls in the immediate future. Is that enough to sign Richardson? It is worth noting that Richardson said earlier in the summer that his first priority is winning because he already has made a lot of money in his career. The Bulls would gladly take him if he's willing to take a discount. Crawford, while a high-volume, streaky shooter, can create his own shot and has had his moments as a go-to guy. Like Richardson, Crawford coming to Chicago depends on if he would take less money than he can receive in other places.
Another player who may be able to fit the bill for the Bulls is Denver Nuggets free-agent guard J.R. Smith, who is currently playing in the Chinese Basketball Association, which had declared it would not provide players with opt-out clauses to return to the NBA when the lockout is lifted.
But in talking to a player agent who has experience dealing with Chinese clubs, I would not be surprised to see Smith -- along with his teammate, Wilson Chandler, who also signed in China -- return to the U.S. in time for the condensed free-agency period, scheduled to start on Dec. 9. I have a hard time believing a player as talented as Smith, in the prime of his career, would practically waste a year overseas. Plus, the Chinese league has been sketchy in recent years. There's no question that Smith is talented and can shoot from beyond the arc with ease, but his attitude and commitment towards the team goal has been doubted throughout his seven-year career. The Bulls were a tight-knit group last season and that was a major reason why they won a league-high 62 games. Smith's price tag will not be as high as Richardson or Crawford, but he would likely bring more questions than answers -- not to mention he isn't exactly known for his defense, although he has the skill set to thrive on that end with the proper mindset and under the guidance of Thibodeau, a defensive guru.
The Nuggets' Arron Afflalo is another two guard who would fit right into the Bulls' defensive-minded culture and is coming off a season in which he averaged 12.6 points and shot 42.3 percent from three-point land. However, Denver GM Masai Ujiri has repeatedly said he wants to re-sign Afflalo, a restricted free agent. The Bulls will have only the mid-level exception to offer him. Unfortunately for them, that won't be enough to pry Afflalo away from the Nuggets, who have a plethora of free agents and the 6-foot-5 Afflalo at the top of the priority list.
While the Bulls are not looking to use the amnesty clause this offseason, they might look to see which players become available due to the provision. Portland Trail Blazers guard Brandon Roy, whose knee injuries have hampered his athleticism, is somebody the Bulls researched during the 2006 draft, but passed him up knowing his health concerns. If the Blazers choose to use the amnesty clause on Roy, who is owed $82 million through 2014-15, the Bulls could get a chance at him again. They wouldn't need him to be a star. Assuming Roy, 27, has used the prolonged offseason to train hard and recuperate, he would provide another ball handler, scorer and playmaker to take some pressure off Rose.
In Detroit, the Pistons will contemplate whether it makes sense to waive Rip Hamilton or Ben Gordon. Bulls fans are familiar with what Gordon can do playing alongside Rose, and Hamilton can shoot, would bring size at two guard (6-foot-7) and has experience defending Miami Heat star Dwyane Wade from their many Pistons-Heat matchups during the regular season and playoffs. Hamilton dealt with off-the-court issues last season, including a reported revolt against former coach John Kuester, but you'd have to give him a pass because of the tough, losing environment in Detroit, which has had a losing record in three straight seasons. Should Hamilton or Gordon be able to shake free from that less-than-ideal situation, either player makes sense for the Bulls.
As for trade overtures, O.J. Mayo, Courtney Lee and Monta Ellis all have been been linked to the Bulls in the recent past. But last season the Bulls let other teams know they didn't want to give up Taj Gibson or Omer Asik in a trade. Unless the mindset changes in the Bulls front office, it's unlikely they deal Gibson or Asik, the two players who opposing squads find appealing in trade scenarios.
Filed under: Bulls Offseason Options
Tags: Arron Afflalo, Ben Gordon, Chicago Bulls, Courtney Lee, Derrick Rose, Gar Forman, J.R. Smith, Jamal Crawford, Jason Richardson, Jimmy Butler, John Lucas III, Keith Bogans, Kurt Thomas, Monta Ellis, O.J. Mayo, Omer Asik, Rasual Butler, Rip Hamilton, Taj Gibson, Tom Thibodeau