Examining Bulls' options with free agency starting

601516.png

Examining Bulls' options with free agency starting

Much is still up in the air when it comes to the NBA's delayed, truncated and almost-guaranteed-to-be-hectic free-agency period, which officially begins Friday afternoon, but that hasn't stopped speculation from abounding.

While the majority of the focus continues to be on two members of the 2012 free-agent class--superstars Dwight Howard and Chris Paul--behind the scenes, several of the NBA's middle class are being ardently pursued by teams around the league.

With reports of the Spurs' planning to amnesty Richard Jefferson and Tracy McGrady's next destination being Atlanta, as well as the Heat adding small forward Shane Battier (at least per the player's own Twitter feed Thursday), moves are already being made.

The Bulls have been no exception, as they continue to do their due diligence by contacting candidates in their search for a shooting guard. Only one free agent, Caron Butler, has visited Chicago, and incumbent starter Keith Bogans has been working out at the Berto Center--it would be no surprise if the veteran, popular among teammates and coaches (if not fans), returns to the Bulls--but on the eve of the madness beginning, here's a look at some of the organization's options:

--Arron Afflalo: A strong defender and capable outside shooter, Afflalo would be a great fit in a Bulls uniform, especially when it's considered that he's much younger than most of the other options. However, as a restricted free agent, the Nuggets would be able to match any offer for him--and likely will, given that J.R. Smith, no lock to be back in Denver anyway, is currently stuck in China--and in a shallow market, there's a chance he could command more than the mid-level exception the Bulls are poised to offer a free agent.

--Keith Bogans: While a faction of Bulls fans considered Bogans the weak link in last season's starting lineup, it should be noted that his minutes reflected those of a reserve, as he split playing time with Ronnie Brewer and Kyle Korver, and very rarely finished games. Although he's not a big scorer, Bogans is a solid outside shooter and tough defender who was a big part of the on and off-court chemistry that was a major reason the Bulls won 62 games a year ago, making it likely that he returns to Chicago, but perhaps in a reserve role this time around.
--Caron Butler: It's been reported that Butler privately considers the Bulls his front-runner (though sources say he was also very positive about meeting with the Clippers and Spurs, who jettisoned Richard Jefferson, possibly to add a natural small forward of Butler's caliber) and if the Racine, Wis., native did end up in Chicago, his toughness, offensive versatility, experience and hunger for a title would pay major dividends. Conversely, his surgically-repaired knees are a major concern, particularly if he needs the lateral quickness to defend shooting guards, and could also pose a problem if he's expected to beat opponents off the dribble as he did earlier in his career.

--Vince Carter: Carter isn't technically a free agent (the Suns are expected to waive him), but being that he's likely to be available, it's worth examining how he'd fit in Chicago. One thing he's always been able to do is score, though his shot selection, ongoing health issues, less-than-stellar defense and perceived selfishness have seemingly run their course, making him frequent trade bait (New Jersey, Orlando and Phoenix in the span of three years) as of late, and at least on paper, a player whose cons outweigh his pros for the Bulls.

--Jamal Crawford: The former Bulls draft pick is obviously familiar with the franchise and vice versa, and has built on his early-career potential by becoming one of the league's best instant-offense scorers, if somewhat of a hired gun. Crawford's ballhandling and playmaking abilities set him apart from most of the other prospective additions, but it comes at the cost of occasional ball-stopping offense and sometimes indifferent defense, not to mention his price tag could be beyond Chicago's desired range, although there's been talk of a sign-and-trade scenario with Atlanta involving Taj Gibson, a high premium to pay.

--Grant Hill: Alternately rumored to be either re-signing with the Suns or on the verge of taking his talents to the Big Apple, the league's second-oldest player (after veteran big man Kurt Thomas, another free agent the Bulls are in discussions with), Hill is now seen as a bit of long shot to relocate to the Windy City. His time spent at Phoenix's fountain of youth has rejuvenated his game in recent years, as he's morphed from one of the game's best all-around players, elite scorers and high-flying athletes into a defensive standout capable of guarding multiple positions, a reliable outside threat and solid secondary ballhandler.

--Josh Howard: Like the aforementioned Butler--ironically one of the players included in the trade that sent him to the Wizards from the Mavericks--Howard has also had knee problems and hasn't regained the form he showed as a promising young player. When healthy, however, Howard offers a nice slashing game, good defensive acumen, the ability to score without needing a lot of offensive touches and some versatility, though he was never known as knockdown three-point shooter.

--Tayshaun Prince: The longtime Pistons veteran is probably in need of a change of scenery after a few tumultuous years in Motown, and his versatility on both ends of the court--the ability to guard a variety of players, an effective post-up game, spot duty as a primary ballhandler, long-range shooting--would be an intriguing addition to the Bulls. Prince, however, has suffered a multitude of injuries as of late after being extremely durable earlier in his career, the stink of last year's mutiny of ousted Detroit head coach John Kuester clings to him and other veterans (such as Rip Hamilton, though Prince's "buffoonery" comment was the highlight of that saga) and he isn't a natural shooting guard.

--Jason Richardson: When it comes to pure shooting guards, Richardson might be the best fit on paper who's actually available, as the veteran has hinted at being willing to take less money (like Chicago's mid-level exception) in exchange for an opportunity to compete for a championship. His perimeter shooting and athleticism would seem to be a good match for the Bulls' roster and style of play, and while he can't be considered an elite defender, he's at least adequate and could thrive under Tom Thibodeau.

--Nick Young: In terms of scorers, Young has the most potential going forward on anyone on the market, and with his youth and athleticism, he could surpass even optimistic expectations. Problem is, he has the classic "good scorer on a bad team" syndrome, where he put up big numbers in a losing situation and neglected other parts of his game, such as defense and passing, although comments he's made indicate he's ready to mature as a player and do what it takes to round out his game, if in a winning environment.

Fast Break Morning Update: Bulls trade Gibson, McDermott; Blackhawks beat Coyotes

Fast Break Morning Update: Bulls trade Gibson, McDermott; Blackhawks beat Coyotes

CSN to carry live coverage of Class 1A-4A IHSA Girls Basketball State Championships

CSN Chicago expands regional broadcast plans for Fire

Patrick Kane nets hat trick as Blackhawks cruise past Coyotes

NBA Trade Deadline: Bulls deal Taj Gibson, Doug McDermott to Thunder

White Sox will retire Mark Buehrle's number in June

Why Joe Maddon sees Kyle Schwarber as the leadoff guy in Cubs lineup

Quick Hits from Blackhawks-Coyotes: Nick Schmaltz shines on 21st birthday

NBA Buzz: In wake of trade deadline, Bulls again caught in the middle

Braves Way: How Cubs are still focused on next wave of young talent

What the Bulls are getting in point guard Cameron Payne

NBA Buzz: In wake of trade deadline, Bulls again caught in the middle

NBA Buzz: In wake of trade deadline, Bulls again caught in the middle

Thursday's trade with Oklahoma City points out the problem with trying to stay in playoff contention while also rebuilding the roster with more young and athletic players.

The Bulls obviously hurt their postseason chances by dealing locker-room leader and rock-solid pro Taj Gibson and their best 3-point shooter in Doug McDermott. And, at first glance, the players they got back don't look very impressive.

Bulls executive vice president of basketball operations John Paxson made it clear that one of the objectives in Thursday's deal was to free up playing time for his last two first-round draft picks, Denzel Valentine and Bobby Portis. He also made it clear that newly acquired point guard Cameron Payne would play a lot over the final 25 games of the season.

So, how does Fred Hoiberg now deal with an unwieldy number of players expecting to get minutes? If Payne is going to play, that probably means Rajon Rondo is out of the rotation. But will Rondo sit by quietly so the Bulls can preserve his $14 million salary slot for possible trades this summer? Or will the front office be forced to offer him a contract buyout?

And what about the other two players acquired in the Oklahoma City deal? Long-range specialist Anthony Morrow is suffering through one of the worst seasons of his career, hitting just 29 percent of his attempts from 3-point range. Will he get the minutes previously given to McDermott, or is he a candidate for a buyout? Paxson cryptically said Morrow's role is "still to be defined."

Joffrey Lauvergne, a 6-foot-11 center, has some ability, but he's a restricted free agent at season's end and it's hard to project him getting any meaningful playing time behind Robin Lopez and Cristiano Felicio.

So let's add it all up. Hoiberg now has four point guards — five if you count Isaiah Canaan — and three centers to juggle, plus he'll have to find minutes for Valentine, Morrow and Paul Zipser at the wing spots behind Jimmy Butler and Dwyane Wade.

How will Portis fare as the new starting power forward? And what to do with Nikola Mirotic? His fading confidence is probably at a new low after the team's failed efforts to find him a new home before the deadline.

It will be fascinating to see if this team can manage to hold onto a playoff spot after losing Gibson and McDermott, to say nothing of the maddening inconsistency we've witnessed over the first 57 games of the season.

Good health will be critical, with the team's two best players, Butler and Wade, each enduring some bumps and bruises in the final weeks leading up to the All-Star break. We've seen what the Bulls look like without Butler, and it's not pretty. They're 1-5 in the games Butler missed because of illness and a right heel contusion.

The story is different when Wade has been out. The Bulls are 5-4 in the games he's missed because of illness, injury or just plain rest. Still, the 12-time All Star has shown the ability to raise the level of his play when the games matter most, and you can expect he'll be a big factor for the Bulls down the stretch. Don't forget, Wade almost single-handedly took an undermanned Miami team to within a win of the Eastern Conference Finals last season with a turn-back-the-clock playoff performance.

Hard to gain much from looking at the remaining schedule. Only 11 of the remaining 25 opponents have winning records, but we've all seen how that's gone in the past. If the Bulls can head into April around .500, they should be in position to make a strong closing run with a pair of matchups against the NBA's worst team, Brooklyn, along with games against the Pelicans, Knicks, 76ers and Magic to close out the regular season.

Of course, since Hoiberg has been told to give significant minutes to Portis, Valentine and Payne the rest of the way, it's possible making the playoffs isn't quite as important as it was at the start of the season. Questions about Butler's future will start up again as we approach the NBA Draft in June since Paxson wouldn't commit to trying to build around the three-time All Star, and if Butler goes, it's a pretty safe bet that Wade follows him out the door.

Life's never easy in the NBA when you're stuck in the middle. Maybe the trade with Oklahoma City is the signal we've been waiting for that a full rebuild is on the horizon.

[MORE BULLS: What the Bulls are getting in point guard Cameron Payne]

Here are a few stories from around the Association that have caught my attention.

Off to see the Wizards

The Wizards have been on fire since Dec. 12, putting together a 25-12 record. In case you haven't noticed, fourth-year forward Otto Porter is among the league leaders in 3-point percentage, shooting 46.5 percent to go along with 14.6 points and 6.7 rebounds per game. It's going to cost the Wizards a small fortune to sign the restricted free agent this summer.

Washington's backcourt of John Wall and Bradley Beal is finally starting to reach the potential everyone saw when the Wizards upset the Bulls in the first round of the 2014 playoffs. The two are combining for an average of 45 points and 14 assists per game, with Wall now a perennial All Star capable of taking over games with his scoring and playmaking. Beal probably should have made the Eastern Conference All-Star team as well with his 22.2 points per game scoring average, shooting 47.3 percent from the field and 40.2 percent from behind the 3-point line.

The Wizards also made an under-the-radar pick-up, getting Bojan Bogdanovic from Brooklyn for a first-round pick in this summer's draft. You probably haven't watched a lot of Brooklyn Nets basketball over the last couple years, but Bogdanovic is a good 3-point shooter who can also score off the dribble, averaging 14 points a game this season, while shooting 44 percent from the field and 35.7 percent from 3-point range. Bogdanovic will be a major upgrade for a Wizards bench that's struggled this season.

Moving to Canada

Toronto made two good moves before the deadline, acquiring a starting power forward in Serge Ibaka and a backup small forward in P.J. Tucker. Ibaka's ability to block shots and stretch the floor from the 3-point line should help the Raptors on both ends, while Tucker gives them another strong perimeter defender to go along with DeMarre Carroll in a possible playoff series against LeBron James and the Cavs.

LeBron loading up

Speaking of the Cavs, they're expected to add former Illini star Deron Williams to their bench once he clears waivers and completes a buyout with Dallas. Williams gives Cleveland the additional playmaker James has been demanding for the last couple months and sets up a potentially epic Finals matchup against Golden State. Williams gets a chance to compete for a championship late in his career, and he's still capable of being a difference maker in big games, averaging 13 points and seven assists per game. Cleveland is now loaded in the backcourt with Kyrie Irving, Williams, J.R. Smith, Iman Shumpert and swingman Kyle Korver.

No luck for the Celtics

The one contending team that didn't make a move at the deadline is Boston. Danny Ainge talked trade with the Bulls about Butler and with Indiana about Paul George, but in the end he wasn't willing to give up those precious Brooklyn first-round draft picks he's been hoarding for years. Keep in mind the Celtics reportedly love University of Washington guard Markelle Fultz, who's expected to be the No. 1 pick in this year's draft, and they'll have enough cap room to make a run at free-agent swingman Gordon Hayward, who played for Brad Stevens at Butler.

Even with the addition of Butler or George, the Celtics might not have been able to take down King James and the Cavs in this year's playoffs, but they are still lurking as the rising power in the East. Now, we'll all have to wait to see what Ainge does in the days leading up to the draft.

Quote of the week

Gibson gave the Chicago media one last lengthy session before boarding a private jet with McDermott to their new home in Oklahoma City.

On his time in Chicago: "Every day I came to the locker room just seeing my name on the back of a Bulls jersey was a dream come true."

So what will it be like to join a new team after eight and a half seasons in Chicago? "I'm like a kid going to a new school. I don't know where to sit on the bus."

Something tells me Russell Westbrook and the Thunder will let Gibson have any seat he wants.

Good luck in Oklahoma City, Taj (and Doug). You will be missed by Bulls fans and media.