What will Bulls do in free agency? Plenty of options, but not many open spots
Turning the rebuilding Bulls into a playoff contender will be a puzzle for sure.
Heading into free agency, there are a lot of pieces sitting on the table, but not many open spots at 1901 W. Madison St.
An obvious goal for the Bulls this summer is to add some experienced players to help push the rebuild forward. There are no examples in modern NBA history of a team drafting a bunch of players and turning into a championship squad. There has always been at least one significant addition.
The Bulls did make the trade last season to bring in Otto Porter Jr. from Washington. Bulls vice president of basketball operations John Paxson pointed out Porter is heading into his seventh NBA season, while Zach LaVine will be in his sixth. There are veterans on the roster.
The Bulls essentially have a two-deep of existing players at every position, and 11 under contract. There's Kris Dunn and rookie Coby White at point guard; LaVine and Antonio Blakeney at shooting guard; Porter, Chandler Hutchison and Denzel Valentine at small forward; then Lauri Markkanen, Wendell Carter Jr., Cristiano Felicio and second-round pick Daniel Gafford at center and power forward.
With about $20 million to spend, where do the Bulls begin? And will they make a trade to clear out some of the young players?
One pressing need is more size, which could be solved in part by re-signing Robin Lopez, the Bulls' only significant unrestricted free agent.
Last year, Lopez made $14.4 million. There's probably no chance he gets an offer in that range, considering he's getting older (31) and big men are being de-emphasized around the league. Last summer, twin brother Brook signed with Milwaukee for $3.4 million and turned out to be a huge bargain.
The Bulls would gladly take Robin Lopez at that price, but it's tough to predict how much interest there will be around the league. At the end of last season, Lopez said he'd like to return to the Bulls, but the chance to join a contending team would be tempting.
Some lower-priced, free agent big men are Ed Davis, Enes Kanter, Marcin Gortat, Nerlens Noel, JaVale McGee, Mike Muscala, Greg Monroe, Kyle O'Quinn, Jason Smith and some ex-Bulls, Taj Gibson, Tyson Chandler and Noah Vonleh.
If the Bulls plan to play some small lineups, they could opt for more of a combo forward. Brooklyn's DeMarre Carroll would make sense, as a versatile veteran who's been to the playoffs. The forward market is a little thin in free agency, but the Nets offer a couple more options in Jared Dudley and Rondae Hollis-Jefferson.
On the other hand, there are plenty of veteran point guards available this summer, with a list that includes Darren Collison, Patrick Beverley, Jeff Teague, Ricky Rubio, Derrick Rose, Rajon Rondo, Elfrid Payton and others.
The Bulls obviously just drafted a point guard and it seems unlikely they'd head into next season with White, Dunn and a veteran on the roster.
And since the Bulls aren't on top of the NBA food chain, they may have to wait to see how things play out when free agency begins Sunday. Beverley, a Chicago native, would make sense, but if the Clippers want him back, he's a starter on a playoff team out there.
One of the biggest questions to be answered in July is if Kyrie Irving signs with Brooklyn, what happens to Nets' restricted free agent D'Angelo Russell? This is the sort of situation the Bulls should want to monitor and stay prepared. But with White in hand, would they even pursue Russell?
The Bulls could make a trade to absorb salary from a team trying to clear cap space. A player-for-player trade would be hindered by the fact that the two Bulls with the most value, Markkanen and Carter, are guys they don't want to send away.
So what's the best-case scenario? Beverley, Carroll and the return of Robin Lopez sounds good in theory. Execution could prove difficult, though, with limited cap space and team success.