Bulls ready to Rip and run... to a title?

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Bulls ready to Rip and run... to a title?

Based on his past few seasons in Detroit, if you're not excited about the Bulls' looming addition of Richard Hamilton, that can be excused. Conversely, if you're most vivid memories of "Rip" are from his heyday with the championship-contending Pistons, it's understandable if you're pretty fired up about the veteran shooting guard potentially coming to Chicago.

But as for Hamilton's actual impact in the Windy City, expect the Coatesville, Pa. native to be rejuvenated as he's on a title contender -- as opposed to the past couple of lottery-bound, turmoil-ridden campaigns in Motown -- although it's unlikely that at 33-years-old (34 in February), he can match his prior All-Star level production. Nor is that necessary.

The 14.1 points per game he averaged last season was his lowest total since his debut year in the league, but on a Bulls team desperate for perimeter firepower, even slightly lower scoring numbers would be welcome. Hamilton is no longer quite the efficient shooter he once was, but his 38.2 percent shooting from three-point range a year ago (above his career 34.7 percent mark) would significantly help a team with few consistent deep threats, though it should be noted that the University of Connecticut product is a more of a mid-range specialist.

The spindly wing isn't necessarily the shot creator the Bulls seemed to lack alongside Derrick Rose last season, but his perpetual motion without the ball in his hands, a la Reggie Miller, is almost as effective as any dribble-breakdown artist, not to mention a severe irritant to opposing defenders who grow tired of the chase. Think about how Kyle Korver runs off screens for three-pointers: Hamilton would likely do much of the same, but unlike Korver, he's much more of a threat to put the ball on the floor and capitalize when the defense closes out too aggressively.

While it can't be argued that Hamilton is a superior individual defender than swingman Ronnie Brewer or erstwhile starter Keith Bogans -- if, for whatever reason, Hamilton doesn't come to Chicago, could the Bulls, faced with an increasingly shallow free-agent pool, decide to exercise their team option on Bogans by the fast-approaching Dec. 19 deadline? -- he's a solid team defender, having been part of one of the league's best units in recent memory in Detroit. Additionally, his toughness, experience, winning credentials (as Rose noted Sunday, he won an NCAA title at UConn and had to be pretty good to be recruited there in the first place, but unfortunately came up short during his high school days, losing a Pennsylvania state final in a showdown with some guy named Kobe) and perhaps most importantly, the respect factor that he brings to the table should benefit the Bulls immensely.

The acquisition of Hamilton alone might not be the move to put the Bulls over the hump -- with the loss of Kurt Thomas (who provided similar experience and toughness, along with a reformed enforcer's mentality, physical low-post defense, valuable pick-and-pop shooting and bone-crushing screens that were often the only way to free up Rose, aside from his own scintillating dribble moves), the organization's under-the-radar search for a replacement defensive-minded veteran big man with a semblance of scoring ability shouldn't be overlooked -- but it at least addresses several needs.

Regardless, Hamilton, expected to be in Chicago this week, assuming he clears waivers Wednesday, doesn't need to be a savior; there's already one of those on the team. He just needs to be Rip.

Jimmy Butler, on his future with the Bulls: 'I don't think anything's for certain'

Jimmy Butler, on his future with the Bulls: 'I don't think anything's for certain'

The Summer of Jimmy Butler Answering Rumors added another chapter on Wednesday, with the Bulls' All-Star answering questions on ESPN's The Jump with Rachel Nichols.

Butler was asked a bevy of questions about his opinion on trade rumors involving himself, the trade that sent Derrick Rose to the Knicks and whether he believes he'll remain with the Bulls.

It's been a busy offseason for Butler's Bulls, which missed the playoffs last year for the first time in eight seasons. In addition to the Rose trade and drafting Michigan State's Denzel Valentine, the Bulls reportedly dangled Butler's name in trade discussions on draft night.

And though general manager Gar Forman vehemently denied the Bulls were shopping the 26-year-old Butler, the constant rumors appear to have taken a toll on Butler's belief about his future in Chicago.

"I don't think anything's for certain, I really don't," Butler responded when asked if he believed he'd be with the Bulls next season. "I love the city of Chicago, Chicago basketball, I think everybody knows that. They drafted me, I've been here my entire career, but nothing's for certain."

Butler also admitted that the Bulls' inconsistent play that resulted in a 42-40 record - their worst since 2010 - magnified the reported rift between him and Rose.

"I can't say I was surprised by (the Rose trade). I knew it had to be one of us, to tell you the truth. Obviously I enjoyed playing with him. I came into the league when he was the MVP, I got so much respect for the guy. I have no bad things to say about him and I wish him the best moving forward," Butler said.

"Because we didn't win I think everything comes up. I think if we win there's nothing to say, we're fine, we get along together, we'd probably still be teammates to tell you the truth."

Despite the rumors, and the front office's refusal to commit to Butler, the Marquette product says his relationship with Forman and the rest is "good."

"I can't say we talk about everything because we don't but I think most of the imporant things, I get a phone call or a text message and we'll talk," Butler said. "They'll take my opinion on some things, but I'm a player."

 

Bulls headed to Parts Unknown as free agency begins

Bulls headed to Parts Unknown as free agency begins

Derrick Rose will suit up for the perpetually-woeful New York Knicks, Jimmy Butler is headed to a country that has legitimate Zika virus concerns for the Olympic Games, and neither of them has as much uncertainty as the Chicago Bulls as the franchise approaches free agency in a few days.

When the clock strikes midnight Friday, it’ll open up business around the NBA but also cement a sea change for the Bulls as far as their league-wide hierarchy. Two summers ago, the Bulls were getting ready to be the welcoming committee for free agent Carmelo Anthony, believing he was the missing piece to a championship puzzle.

Anthony chose to stay in New York, in large part due to the $50 million disparity between the Knicks and Bulls, thanks to the collective bargaining agreement giving players a greater incentive for staying at home as opposed to bolting to other teams.

The Bulls wound up with a big fish anyway, signing Pau Gasol to a three-year contract he officially opted out of a few days ago, as he and Joakim Noah will depart Chicago for Parts Unknown.

Ironically, that’s the address the Bulls are headed to. Although they have over $23 million in cap space—an amount that’s enough for one max player—they won’t be grocery shopping with the big boys this time around.

They’ll be going bargain hunting, the epitome of what general manger Gar Forman calls “retooling” instead of that other dreaded “R” word: rebuilding.

Taking a couple steps back for the sake of taking a few forward sooner rather than later isn’t the easiest route. But when they decided not to trade Jimmy Butler on draft night or any other recent evening, it was the course of action the franchise decided to take.

“We’re still trying to get a sense of what the market is going to be,” Forman said the night of the NBA Draft, after the Bulls selected Denzel Valentine with the 14th pick. “I don’t think anybody knows what’s gonna happen come July 1 because there’s never been anything like this where there’s such a spike in the cap. So we’re still evaluating that. My guess is opposed to one guy we’ll look to fill some holes and guys who fit the plan moving forward.”

Butler and new addition Robin Lopez are the only starters who can say they’re in the top half in the league at their position, with Butler being in the conversation for best shooting guard.

So if the Bulls are to overachieve and find themselves back in the thick of the playoff race, thus showing the competency in the front office and the sidelines to make themselves a destination in free agency this time next summer, they’ll have to be a team whose sum is greater than its individual parts, unless they snag a top-line wing player like Nicolas Batum (Charlotte) or Chandler Parsons (Dallas)—traditional 3-and-D guys but nowhere near superstars and not even All-Stars.

Even still, the proposition the Bulls are facing isn’t enviable but there’s opportunity for Forman to show he’s ahead of the curve and for Fred Hoiberg to rebound from his very shaky rookie season as coach.

Trading Rose was a start, and teams will be interested in Taj Gibson (as they always are), but it’ll be fascinating to see how the Bulls navigate the territory of employing enough veterans to help the young pieces grow while not wasting the valuable time of a respected player like Gibson.

The prudent decisions, the tough ones the good franchises make are usually through trades—players with existing contracts and not the inflated ones the market will bear.

Athleticism is a need, along with a point guard considering the Bulls are inheriting one who had the lowest-scoring point-per-game average in the league last season in Jose Calderon (7.6 points).

While Calderon’s on-floor leadership and ability to spread the floor from the top (41 percent from 3 last season) will be highly valued should he stick around, the Bulls would be better served looking to upgrade the position, despite a class that won’t initially inspire observers at first glance.

Memphis point guard Mike Conley will certainly be the apple of many teams’ eye, but at 29 he’s at the precious age where not only is this the last big long-term contract he’ll likely sign. But he’ll likely want to do it on a team with a clear trajectory upward as opposed to a slow slope down.

Brandon Jennings is a full year removed from Achilles’ recovery, and could take a short deal to rejuvenate his value on the open market, similar to what Gasol did two years ago but on a different level. Jeremy Lin will command a lot of attention, as will Rajon Rondo.

The athletic wings are a bit deeper, but with the league putting a premium on versatile players who can defend the perimeter, run the floor and shoot, the competition will be stiff and it appears as if the Bulls will have to overpay for quality.

Knicks free agent guard Arron Afflalo could be an intriguing, if not understated option as a wing who can defend and be credible as an outside shooter, able to alleviate pressure on Butler to play 40 minutes on the opposing team’s best scorer.

The Bulls’ interest in Golden State’s Harrison Barnes has been an open secret, given his ties with Doug McDermott, Hoiberg and now-Olympic teammate Butler. But as a restricted free agent it leaves any suitor in limbo for three days while the Warriors decide if they want to match—or if Kevin Durant decides to join the juggernaut.

And given Barnes’ underwhelming performance in the postseason, teams should be wary of Barnes not being able to play above the level he’s been at in Golden State, where he was a fourth option.

Hawks swingman Kent Bazemore is an example as a quality player who’ll be in high demand, but his ceiling isn’t too much higher than his reality.

The Bulls would be wise to resist making a splash in multiple areas, as more than a few teams will commit big money to players who can’t change their stripes no matter what the price tag is.

But if the Bulls are able to resist the trends, they can emerge from Parts Unknown and find themselves in a few years on a road marked “May”—and if they’re geniuses, “June.”

Why the 2016 free agency period could be a quiet one for Bulls

Why the 2016 free agency period could be a quiet one for Bulls

With the start of NBA free agency coming at 11:01 Central time on Thursday, prepare to be bombarded with news about meetings and potential signings.

But when the dust clears sometime in mid-July, don't be surprised if the only free agent transaction involving the Bulls is the re-signing of veteran guard E'Twaun Moore.

The reason for this is two-fold. First, the Bulls really like Moore. General manager Gar Forman praised the former Purdue star during the news conference to introduce top draft pick Denzel Valentine, and head coach Fred Hoiberg is also a big fan of Moore's versatility and toughness. Second, with just about every team in the league having significant cap room, the bidding war for second- and third-tier players could get out of the Bulls’ comfort zone and they might choose to keep their powder dry for a much deeper free agent class next year.

If the Bulls are able to re-sign Moore at a starting salary of somewhere between $8-10 million, don't be surprised if he begins the season as the starting point guard. Moore would definitely be the best defensive option at the position, and his size would allow the Bulls to switch on ball screens, with both guards (Moore and Jimmy Butler) able to defend taller players.

The Bulls do like the potential of former Notre Dame guard Jerian Grant, but at this point in his development a reserve role is probably best for the second year pro. Grant also has the ability to play off the ball at 6-foot-4, giving the Bulls another big guard with Butler and Valentine when Hoiberg wants to go to a small-ball line-up.

So, which external players might the Bulls be targeting in free agency? Remember, if they re-sign Moore at a starting salary of $8 million, that leaves them only about $16 million left to spend in what could turn out to be a crazy marketplace.

The Bulls could be looking to upgrade the small forward position, where Mike Dunleavy and Doug McDermott are the likely starting options. Kent Bazemore is an intriguing possibility, coming off his best season in Atlanta where he averaged 11.6 points and 5.1 rebounds while shooting 44 percent from the field. He’s also a tenacious defender with plenty of potential for growth at 27 years old.

But with every team looking to spend big dollars this summer, Bazemore's contract could approach the $20 million mark in Year 1, which might be too rich for the Bulls' taste.

Forman talked about a process of trying to make the roster younger and more athletic, which means the Bulls are unlikely to pursue free agents over the age of 30, unless they come on one year deals.

Several restricted free agent wings could be on the Bulls' radar, including Golden State's Harrison Barnes, who reportedly was seen visiting Chicago on Tuesday. Under normal circumstances, the Warriors would automatically match any offer for their talented young forward, but if Kevin Durant indicates he wants to team up with Steph Curry and Klay Thompson, the front office would willingly sacrifice Barnes and fellow restricted free agent Festus Ezeli, and trade away a veteran contract like Andrew Bogut or Andre Iguodala to create the cap room to make it happen.

You've probably heard about Barnes' connection with the Bulls. He was a high school teammate of Doug McDermott on a state championship team in Ames, Iowa. That's the same high school where Hoiberg starred, eventually picking up the nickname of the "Mayor" after an outstanding college career at Iowa State.

So, even though the Bulls are in the "re-tooling" process, Barnes has to sign an offer sheet somewhere to start the restricted free agent time clock. Why not Chicago?

As a Tier 1 free agent, a max offer to Barnes would start at $22.2 million, meaning the Bulls would have to move another contract (most likely Taj Gibson or Mike Dunleavy), or use the "stretch" provision to release Jose Calderon from the final year on his deal, which would save them about $5 million on next year's cap.

Golden State will have three days to match the offer sheet Barnes signs, which they will most certainly do if Durant stays in Oklahoma City or signs with a different team. But with none of the other contending teams expected to make a play for Barnes, it might be worth the Bulls tying up their cap room for a few days for a chance to acquire a 24-year-old who would fit perfectly in the offense Hoiberg wants to run. And yes, Barnes played poorly in the Finals, but his inclusion on the 12-man Team USA Olympic squad says a lot about what talent evaluators around the league think of his ability.

If not Barnes, keep an eye on a pair of Portland restricted free agents. 23-year-old Mo Harkless and 24-year-old Allen Crabbe both fit the profile of players Forman discussed - young and athletic with 3-point range. Portland made a big move in the standings to reach the playoffs last season, and their front office is looking at some of the top centers on the market such as Hassan Whiteside and Al Horford. The Blazers might not be willing to match a significant offer for one of their young wing players.

Other names to watch for the Bulls include restricted free agents Terrence Jones, Dion Waiters, Dwight Powell and Jared Sullinger, along with unrestricted wings like Evan Turner, Eric Gordon, Lance Stephenson, Jeff Green, Wesley Johnson, Solomon Hill, Brandon Bass, O.J. Mayo, P.J. Hairston and Derrick Williams.

The Bulls front office could also decide to just re-sign Moore and save the rest of their cap room for 2017, when the list of free agents includes Curry, Russell Westbrook, Kyle Lowry and Blake Griffin. Forman made it clear the "re-tooling" effort is likely a two-year process, with the Bulls hoping to add a pair of first-round picks next summer and also have enough cap room to be a significant player in free agency.

So, enjoy the whirlwind of information and rumors that will be flooding social media over the next couple weeks. Just don't expect any franchise-transforming moves from the Bulls this summer.