Can we all come to an agreement that the Bulls’ biggest need this offseason is an upgrade at shooting guard?
With respect to Keith Bogans, Ronnie Brewer and Kyle Korver, the Bulls need an impact player at two guard if they want to get to their goal — the NBA Finals, where the Miami Heat find themselves after a five-game series win over the Bulls on the Eastern Conference finals.
The Bulls are set in four of five positions in the starting lineup — Derrick Rose, Luol Deng, Carlos Boozer and Joakim Noah. The bench — self-proclaimed Bench Mob — played with high energy in the regular-season but the Bulls found out pretty quickly that talent wins you series, not bench play.
Still, if the current group of reserves — Brewer, Korver, Taj Gibson, Omer Asik and Kurt Thomas (we’ll see) — remains, the Bulls are in solid shape.
Don’t expect any earthshaking moves — yes, that means no Dwight Howard — but there is still room for improvement for the Bulls heading into next season.
It was evident that they need a two guard, one that will impact the game and play high minutes (30 plus).
Let’s take a look at some options for the Bulls this offseason.
Top notch: Orlando Magic guard Jason Richardson (unrestricted free agent), Atlanta Hawks guard Jamal Crawford (unrestricted), Denver Nuggets guard J.R. Smith.
Out of all the restricted free agents, these three seem like the likely targets for the Bulls.
The question is: Who fits best with the Bulls’ regime?
Richardson, without doubt, would be the best fit for the Bulls. He doesn’t require the ball to make a difference, as he’s a very good stand-still jumpshooter — especially on three-pointers.
Although Richardson didn’t shoot as well as he wanted in the playoffs this season with the Magic (32 percent), he’s a career 37 percent three-point shooter and hit 39 percent during the regular-season.
That’s exactly what the Bulls — and Derrick Rose’s penetration ability — need. They shot just 33 percent on three’s during the playoffs — combined 12-for-38 (31 percent) from Bogans, Korver and Brewer.
Crawford and Smith, two former Bulls, though Smith was one for a matter of moments, are lesser options out of the group. Crawford fits better simply because he can create more consistently and has been around the block (10-year veteran). But both are similar players, whose games are predicated on high-volume shooting.
Smith slightly outshot Crawford on three’s this season (39 percent to 34 percent), but both love to get them up and lack the shot discipline you’d want to see on a championship contending team.
We all know Smith has the upside, though. He can jump out of the gym, shoot from three feet behind the three-point line and hit shots that make you believe stardom is written all over the 25-year-old.
Sure, Bulls’ coach Tom Thibodeau may be able to get to Smith, an immature player on both teams he’s played with (New Orleans Hornets, Nuggets), but he’s a juggernaut. You’ll never know what he’ll bring to the table on any given night, week, month, series and, hopefully for the Bulls, title game.
We’ll see how much Richardson, 30, and Crawford, 31, demand in free agency, as they’ll be more expensive than Smith. But all three have tasted playoff success, and you’d assume that Richardson and Crawford would take less money in order to join a championship contender in the Bulls.
Rank them: Richardson, Crawford, Smith.
Fallback: Dallas Mavericks guard Caron Butler (unrestricted), Washington Wizards guard Josh Howard (unrestricted), Milwaukee Bucks guard Michael Redd (unrestricted), Indiana Pacers guard Mike Dunleavy (unrestricted).
Besides Butler, would you really want any of the others manning the backcourt with Rose?
Howard had his moments with the Mavericks a few years ago (20 points per game in 2007-08), though he’s never been the same. Redd could emerge as a cheap option, but his knees are a tweak away from breaking down completely (if they aren’t already). And the Bulls saw Dunleavy in the first round — they know he can’t hit a shot (30 percent from three in the series).
Butler is coming off a major knee injury but if healthy, he clearly represents the best option among the four.
Still, neither is a player that fits well with the Bulls’ scheme.
Rank them: Butler, Dunleavy, Howard, Redd.
Bulls’ best bet: Nuggets guard Arron Afflalo, a restricted free agent, would look awfully good in a Bulls uniform. And at 25 years old, he still has some room for growth. But the chances the Denver Nuggets let him go are slim-to-none. They love him in Denver, and will probably pick him over Smith. Rightfully so: He can shoot well (42 percent on three’s) and has already garnered a reputation as a good defender. Don’t think the Nuggets let this one get away.
The Bulls could also attempt to acquire Memphis’ O.J. Mayo, 23, though his price should be sky high the way he ended the season (11 points, 43 percent on three’s during the playoffs). Could Portland’s Rudy Fernandez emerge as an option?
Both are long shots.
So, let’s focus on the players we know will be available.
With the uncertainty surrounding the Collective Bargaining Agreement, we won’t really know what the Bulls will be able to give until the air is cleared.
As constructed, the Bulls will have a mid-level exception to offer a free agent, but will there even be a mid-level exception under the new CBA?
Only time will tell.
But we do know this: The Bulls need a two guard that can play well alongside Rose, shoot the three at a good clip, play big minutes and provide size.
Looking at you, Jason Richardson.