What's next for Bulls? Conley, Barnes could be top targets
There is a gold mine of opportunity in the NBA this summer.
With the salary cap rising from $70 million to an expected $94 million, just about every team in the league will have a ton of money to spend. The Bulls will have roughly $24 million to use on free agents.
We knew this would be a summer of change for the Bulls after they missed the playoffs for the first time in eight years. Now the roster retooling -- as GM Gar Forman called it -- is starting to take shape.
Derrick Rose's Chicago Story is over after being traded to New York. Joakim Noah and Pau Gasol will likely follow Rose out the door as free agents.
Jimmy Butler seems likely to stay. Newcomer Robin Lopez figures to step in as the starting center. The Bulls went with versatile swingman Denzel Valentine in the first round of the draft.
Now what? Can the Bulls take advantage of their cap room or the trade market to create a team capable of reaching the playoffs?
Maybe not, but here's a list of things they could try. Before we start, let's just assume the Bulls are not on the wish list of Kevin Durant or LeBron James, the top two free agents.
Sign Memphis PG Mike Conley
Conley probably makes more sense than any other free agent, since the Bulls have an opening at point guard. Conley has been one of the more underappreciated guards for years.
The Grizzlies' nucleus of Conley, Zach Randolph, Marc Gasol and Tony Allen has been loyal and successful. But a championship window never really opened in Memphis. By jumping to the Bulls, Conley could raise his personal profile in a major market and he'd also be leaving the more competitive Western Conference.
The key for the Bulls is to convince Conley they can deliver a fast-paced, high-scoring offense he would enjoy. Would Butler jump in as lead recruiter? Probably, and maybe Butler pal Mark Wahlberg can promise a cameo in Transformers 5.
The bidding for Conley probably starts at $20 million per season and that might be low. The new max salary for a player with seven to nine years of experience (Conley has eight) is $26.6 million.
After Conley, the best point guards on the market are lower-priced guys like Jeremy Lin, Mario Chalmers, Brandon Jennings, Garrett Temple and Norris Cole, among others.
The Bulls will probably use ex-Knick Jose Calderon on the court only if they have to. They could actually increase their cap space by about $5 million by waiving Calderon and using the "stretch" provision in the CBA to spread his remaining salary over three years.
Make an offer to Harrison Barnes
Barnes isn't the best restricted free agent in the league. That honor probably belongs to Detroit center Andre Drummond.
But Drummond is a franchise centerpiece and there's no way the Pistons will let him go. Barnes is the fifth wheel in an already high-priced lineup, so there's a chance a big offer might pry him loose from the Warriors.
The obvious question is whether Barnes is worth a huge offer. He was really bad in the last three games of the Finals, to the tune of 5-for-32 shooting. Any team that chases Barnes is making the assumption he's a budding star who will increase his production if he becomes a featured player.
This is an expensive proposition. A max offer sheet would be in the neighborhood of $95 million over four years and it's possible the Warriors would match if they strike out with Kevin Durant. Maybe his Finals fade will lower the price.
A Barnes plan might be in line with a vision of a fast-paced, high-scoring Bulls lineup. Some combination of Butler, Barnes, Valentine, Doug McDermott and Nikola Mirotic, with maybe Taj Gibson and Robin Lopez splitting time at center. No true point guard. Size at every position. Plenty of questions defensively. It's something to think about.
Remember, Barnes has Bulls connections. He was McDermott's classmate and teammate at Ames (Iowa) High School. It's not clear if Barnes has any connection with Bulls coach Fred Hoiberg, but obviously, Hoiberg's longtime nickname, "The Mayor," is short for Mayor of Ames.
Go all in on a big man
A couple of big guys are hitting the market at the perfect time -- Miami's Hassan Whiteside and Toronto's Bismack Biyombo.
Whiteside was originally a draft bust who didn't play in the NBA from 2012-14. But since returning with Miami, he's been one of the league's best centers -- averaging 14.2 points, 11.8 rebounds and 3.7 blocks last season. Some team is going to make him an offer of $20 million-plus. The Bulls could do it if they want.
Biyombo posted meager numbers during five NBA seasons, but he's still just 23 years old and displayed some big potential with 26 rebounds in a playoff game against Cleveland. He might not get $20-million offers, but will be in demand.
The best big man on the market is Atlanta's Al Horford. He might have been in the Bulls' plans if they were able to keep college teammate Joakim Noah. Now his connections to Noah are more likely to hurt the Bulls' chances.
Even though they expect to lose Noah and Pau Gasol, the Bulls really aren't low on big men, considering they have Gibson, Lopez, Mirotic, Bobby Portis and Cristiano Felicio on the roster.
Trade for Ricky Rubio
Rubio was thought to be on his way out of Minnesota before the Timberwolves drafted Kris Dunn, so he's probably available. The Bulls are light on trade assets right now, but this might be a good summer to make deals with so many teams able to absorb contracts.
During five NBA seasons, Rubio, 25, has been strong on assists (8.3 per game in his career), but a bad shooter (career 36.8 percent).
Go bargain shopping
This may not be a great strategy, because so many teams have money to spend. Do the Bulls really want to get into a bidding war for, say, Charlotte forward Nicholas Batum?
But there are some interesting guys available who might fit the Bulls' desired style: New Orleans' Ryan Anderson, Dallas' Chandler Parsons, Atlanta's Kent Bazemore, Boston's Evan Turner, Portland's Gerald Henderson are among the wing players who could help.
Considering the salary cap is supposed to go up another $20 million next year, expect the Bulls to try to lock up a top-line player this summer and go from there. The way it looks now, Conley and Barnes figure to be the main targets (there's not enough money for both), but there are surprises all over the league each July.
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