What the Chicago Bulls Can Get In Free Agency if the Max Contracts Fail
With all the hullaballoo about the Chicago Bulls having enough cap space to sign 2 max contract free agents, it’s time to take a look at the Bulls roster with a bit less spin.
Who’s actually under contract? In 1-5 position order: Derrick Rose, Luol Deng, James Johnson, Taj Gisbson and Joakim Noah.
Let’s go worst case scenario (signing Ron Mercer instead of Tracy McGrady, back in 2000). Right now, it’s questionable if you can field a starting 5 with the players currently on contract. There have been pre-season attempts to move Deng to the shooting guard positions in the past, but that was never very fruitful.
Assessing what’s on contract:
Derrick Rose: All-Star point guard. Young. Not a great defender, but with his offensive package, you don’t care so much.
Luol Deng: Under-rated small forward. Deng’s reputation is getting a raw deal in Chicago. He had some injury problems after signing a big contract and coach Vinny Del Negro didn’t quite seem to know how to utilize Deng, particularly in Vinny’s first year. Deng is very fundamentally sound, a good mid-range scorer and has quietly developed a 3-point shot (.364, .400, .386 for the last three years). He’s not a particularly strong finisher in traffic and that’s a lot of what’s been giving him the bad rap. Nobody wants to admit it, but Deng is capable of being a 20 points/game scorer in the right system. Last year he averaged 17.6 and frequently wasn’t the clear second option.
James Johnson: A big question mark. Is he a small forward or a power forward? Is he going to be backing up both? This year, we’re going to find out. Baptism by fire, anyone?
Taj Gibson: Instant journeyman power forward. Gibson was surprisingly competent as a rookie. He was very much like that veteran power forward you sign because, while he probably isn’t going to win you any games, he’s not going to do something stupid. How much progress he makes in the off-season is key, but he’s not somebody that _has_ to be replaced.
Joakim Noah. Your highly unorthodox center. Noah finally came into his own last season. He finished 7th in the league for rebounds/game, but was also leading the league in rebounding in stretches before getting injured. He also ranked 16th in blocked shots. The traditional problem with Noah has been his scoring. This season, particularly towards the end, Noah stopped being a garbage man on offense and started scoring with… let’s call it an idiosyncratic style. If Noah can develop one or two go-to post moves, he’s got some All-Star games in his future and that’s the developmental question.
That’s the Bulls. If you go by need assessment for your two max contract slots, you have a glaring hole at shooting guard and power forward is the next most upgrade to make.
If my some miracle, the Bulls sign LeBron James, Deng is on the first plane out of town being traded for a shooting guard or a power forward.
However, let’s look at who’s available for shooting guards, in terms of unrestricted free agents:
Allen Iverson (technically, he’s there)
This isn’t exactly a deep year for shooting guards. If you assume Dwayne Wade is staying in Miami (and with his killer instinct, I’d take Wade over LeBron any day of the week), the Bulls need to rush Joe Johnson hard and fast. This is not a particularly young or deep group, but also not a particularly expensive group, should push come to shove. (A lot of people think Joe Johnson shouldn’t get max money after his most recent play-off performance, but if you look at who’s, he’s benefitting from a scarcity at his position.) Another option, if you think he can slide over from small forward, is to throw money at restricted free agent Rudy Gay and see if the Grizzlies match.
Let’s look at unrestricted power forwards:
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