What should Bulls do this summer? Tread carefully
If the Bulls can just chop down those 136 games missed by last season's projected starting five, the rebuild will be fine.
At least, that was the basic message to fans delivered by vice president of basketball operations John Paxson on Thursday. Going from 22 wins to next year's playoffs seems like a giant leap, but this might have been a 30-win team without all the injuries. Does that make the jump slightly more manageable?
There's no guarantee the Bulls will be any healthier next season. But one thing they can control is building some better depth, so that injuries won't decimate the bottom line next time.
So what should the Bulls do this summer? That is, besides hope and pray for good luck in the draft lottery on May 14. Let's face it, luck is the most powerful force in the rebuild right now.
When it comes to free-agency, it doesn't make sense for the Bulls to try to make a big splash this summer, unless some unexpected treasure falls into their laps. They'll have about $20 million to spend, which is not enough to lure any of the top free agents. The mistake of Cristiano Felicio's four-year, $32-million extension in 2017 is starting to hurt.
What the Bulls need most this summer are some value-priced veterans who can help off the bench. Keep in mind, Denzel Valentine is coming back from a year off with ankle surgery and the Bulls paid $14 million for the draft pick they used to select Chandler Hutchison, so he's not going anywhere.
The Brooklyn Nets are a good role model for the Bulls, because they made the playoffs with a mix of young players and veterans, and in spite of trading their high draft picks to Boston for the previous three years.
Forwards DeMarre Carroll, Jared Dudley and Ed Davis were the Nets' primary vets and as luck would have it, all three are free agents this summer. While Brooklyn figures to chase bigger names, Carroll could be a nice fit as sixth man for the Bulls, while Davis might be a cost-effective alternative if Robin Lopez doesn't re-sign.
Some other free agents who could fit are Bulls-killer Jeremy Lamb in Charlotte, Portland's Rodney Hood and Al Farouq Aminu, the Morris twins, Indiana's Wesley Matthews, Orlando's Terrence Ross or maybe the Lakers' Kentavious Caldwell-Pope if they want a streaky 3-point shooter.
If the Bulls try to add a point guard in free-agency, starters on playoff teams such as Darren Collison, Patrick Beverley or Ricky Rubio will be expensive. A good value target would be Elfrid Payton, a former lottery pick who now has five years of experience and posted five straight triple-doubles last month when Jrue Holiday went out with an injury.
If the Bulls still love a good local angle -- and they probably do -- Derrick Rose, Frank Kaminsky and ex-Bull Nikola Mirotic should be available, and Rose mentioned back in December he'd like to return.
This will be an interesting summer in the NBA, since several teams have staked their futures on signing one of the top players. The Lakers, Clippers and Knicks cleared cap space, while the Raptors and Sixers made significant trades with the hope of re-signing their stars.
The list of free agents includes Kevin Durant, Kawhi Leonard, Kyrie Irving, Klay Thompson, Kemba Walker, Jimmy Butler, Tobias Harris, Nikola Vucevic, DeMarcus Cousins, Eric Bledsoe and Khris Middleton, not to mention Anthony Davis, still under contract in New Orleans but requester of a trade.
So this could also be a good time for the Bulls to do some bargain shopping and take on players from teams trying to clear cap space.
The Bulls' cap space doesn't figure to change much in 2020, but an ideal scenario for the rebuild is the Bulls showing the NBA they are, in fact, a team on the rise next season. Then they could conceivably add a good player or two who wants to jump on the bandwagon before it's time to give Lauri Markkanen a big extension in the fall of '20.
In other words, the Bulls need to add some pieces to push them toward the playoffs, but they can't do anything stupid that will limit their flexibility in the future.
Paxson was asked Thursday if he's been told by Jerry or Michael Reinsdorf that the rebuild better work or else.
"No, he's never said that. But I think we're all smart enough to know the reality of this business," Paxson said. "We convinced Jerry and Michael that this was the right way to go at that time. But we all know the realities. And Jerry, of course, he gets frustrated with losing. I do too. None of us want to lose."
Top of the line
Kevin Durant, Warriors
Kawhi Leonard, Raptors
Kyrie Irving, Celtics
Kemba Walker, Hornets
Jimmy Butler, Sixers
Klay Thompson, Warriors
Tobias Harris, Sixers
DeMarcus Cousins, Warriors
Nikola Vucevic, Magic
Eric Bledsoe, Bucks
Ricky Rubio, Jazz
Darren Collison, Pacers
Patrick Beverley, Clippers
Elfrid Payton, Pelicans
Derrick Rose, T-wolves
Goran Dragic, Heat
Rajon Rondo, Lakers
Jeremy Lamb, Hornets
DeMarre Carroll, Nets
Marcus Morris, Celtics
Markieff Morris, Thunder
Wes Matthews, Pacers
Terrence Ross, Magic
Al-Farouq Aminu, Blazers
Rodney Hood, Blazers
Kentavius Caldwell-Pope, Lakers
Jared Dudley, Nets
Iman Shumpert, Rockets
Frank Kaminsky, Hornets