Clock is ticking, Bulls need some bold moves

                                                                                                                                                                                                   
  • Bulls guard Coby White, center, passes the ball to Nikola Vucevic while pressured by Boston Celtics forward Jayson Tatum, right, and center Tristan Thompson during an April game. The NBA's free-agent negotiating period begins Monday. There are plenty of potential paths for the Bulls, including creating some cap space and pursuing a third star to go with Zach LaVine and Vucevic.

    Bulls guard Coby White, center, passes the ball to Nikola Vucevic while pressured by Boston Celtics forward Jayson Tatum, right, and center Tristan Thompson during an April game. The NBA's free-agent negotiating period begins Monday. There are plenty of potential paths for the Bulls, including creating some cap space and pursuing a third star to go with Zach LaVine and Vucevic.

  • Bulls GM Marc Eversley needs to find a third star to help out Zach LaVine and Nikola Vucevic.

    Bulls GM Marc Eversley needs to find a third star to help out Zach LaVine and Nikola Vucevic.

  • Bulls executive vice president Arturas Karnisovas needs to find a third star to help out Zach LaVine and Nikola Vucevic.

    Bulls executive vice president Arturas Karnisovas needs to find a third star to help out Zach LaVine and Nikola Vucevic.

 
 
Updated 7/31/2021 5:01 PM

This might sound silly, but the clock is ticking on the Bulls rebuild.

Ownership decided in 2017 subjecting fans to years of losing basketball was not a problem and that attitude might stand.

 

But when it comes to the current roster, Nikola Vucevic will be 31 when the season begins, while Zach LaVine is headed into the final year of his contract and has already said he expects a raise.

So one of the Bulls' main players won't be in his prime much longer and their cap space will dry up.

In other words, this summer is vital if the Bulls plan to improve and NBA free-agency begins Monday at 5 p.m. Central time.

The Bulls have some decisions to make on Lauri Markkanen, Thad Young, Tomas Satoransky, Daniel Theis and others, but none of that really matters right now.

They can create cap space and need a big splash addition. Forget role players for now. Having two all-stars in LaVine and Vucevic is nice, but those guys aren't going to turn the Bulls into Finals contenders by themselves.

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The Bulls need a third star, preferably someone who can teach the younger Bulls what it takes to win in the NBA. Chris Paul leading Phoenix to the NBA Finals was a perfect example of how the right veteran can lift a team.

One problem here: Established players with options don't usually join losing teams. Assuming Paul returns to the Suns, the ideal addition for the Bulls would be Toronto point guard Kyle Lowry.

Every other team in the league took notice of Paul's value and as a result, Lowry will be one of the most sought-after free agents. Miami, New Orleans, Dallas, Philadelphia have been mentioned as teams that will aggressively pursue Lowry. The Bulls might have to leave a message if they call at 5:01 p.m.

So what's realistic for the Bulls? They need a point guard upgrade and figure to focus on three players -- New Orleans' Lonzo Ball, Brooklyn's Spencer Dinwiddie and the Lakers' Dennis Schroder.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                       
 

Each one of these guys has different strengths. Schroder has the most winning experience, with 52 playoff games under his belt. Dinwiddie has six, Ball zero. Dinwiddie and Schroder are bad 3-point shooters, while Ball is the best of the group at 38% from 3.

Dinwiddie, once waived by the Bulls, missed most of last season with a partial ACL tear, but made huge improvements during his years in Brooklyn, averaging 20.6 points and 6.8 assists in 2019-20.

Dinwiddie and Schroder will be 28 when the season begins, while Ball will be 24. In his four seasons in the NBA, Ball has never played for a team with a winning record.

If New Orleans couldn't make the playoffs with Ball, Brandon Ingram and Zion Williamson, would the Bulls excel with Ball, LaVine and Vucevic?

Another concern is both Dinwiddie and Schroder are unrestricted. Ball is restricted, which means the Pelicans could match an offer sheet.

There's been talk that New Orleans will go all-out for Lowry, looking for a boost that will convince Williamson to sign an extension. If the Pelicans succeed in landing Lowry, then they'll pull Ball's qualifying offer and he'd be free to sign anywhere. If Lowry goes to Miami to join his buddy Jimmy Butler, then New Orleans will still need a point guard.

Maybe the Pelicans would be interested in trading Ball for Satoransky, but who really knows? If Ball is in their sights, the Bulls need a backup plan.

As far as adding winning experience at other positions, San Antonio's DeMar DeRozan is a free agent likely to move. He'll be looking for a team with better title chances, but the Bulls could pitch Lowry and DeRozan on a Raptors reunion.

Portland's Norman Powell, who won a ring in Toronto and played with LaVine at UCLA, would be a good target for the Bulls. So would Sacramento big man Richaun Holmes, a rapidly-improving Lockport native. There's been talk of mutual interest in a reunion with Derrick Rose.

Beyond that, the Bulls might consider Miami's Goran Dragic, Boston's Evan Fournier, Dallas' Tim Hardaway Jr., Miami's Victor Oladipo, Houston's Kelly Olynyk. The free agent class of 2021 isn't particularly deep.

So another path is arranging a sign-and-trade for Markkanen. The Finnisher is not a great fit next to Vucevic, so he's probably ready to move on. But if the Bulls can't land their desired free agents, they should push to find a mutually beneficial spot for Markkanen.

Could Markkanen's exit bring back San Antonio point guard Dejounte Murray or Atlanta forward John Collins via a trade? Is there any combination of Bulls besides LaVine that could land Philadelphia's Ben Simmons? Probably no on that last one.

If Markkanen does sign an offer sheet, it's possible the Bulls could match with the idea of trading him later. The Bulls are expected to sign last year's second-round draft pick Marko Simonovic, another 6-11 stretch-four, so there are a lot of moving parts here.

The Bulls could create as much as $36.9 million in cap space if they renounce Markkanen's qualifying offer, waive and stretch Young, Satoransky, and Al-Farouq Aminu and decline an option on Ryan Arcidiacono.

So there are plenty of paths the Bulls could take. The advice here is clear out all the cap room, then target Dinwiddie, Powell and Holmes.

Reaching the No. 7 or 8 playoff seed and getting swept in the first round is easy. Becoming a Finals contender will be really hard for the Bulls, and it will take some bold moves, starting in the next week or so.

Twitter: @McGrawDHSports

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