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Here’s what isn’t in question: the Chicago Bulls need an upgrade at the two guard position. Nothing against Keith Bogans, Kyle Korver, and/or Ronnie Brewer, but not a single one of those guys is a player you’d expect to be the starting shooting guard on a championship team.
What is in question is what player would fit best with this team, and also what player Chicago can most realistically acquire. There are a few free agents on this list, but the Bulls don’t have any cap space, and who knows if the sign-and-trade option will be a possibility under the new CBA? The rest of the guys are already under contract, so Chicago will have to work out a deal to bring them in.
They’ve got some tradeable assets, but not many. Taj Gibson and Omer Asik both make under $2 million next season and have considerable upside, and the team does hold what could eventually be a lottery pick from the Tyrus Thomas trade with Charlotte. It’s lottery protected in 2012, but loses more and more protection each year for four years. Charlotte projects to fall short of the postseason for the foreseeable future, so that could be something they toss into a deal, but beyond that pick, Asik, and Gibson, what does Chicago have that other teams would really want?
That’s the question at hand, and as we look at a handful of potential two guards today, we’ll also explore what the team would have to do (or could do) in order to bring in that particular player. One way or another, though, the Bulls have some work to get done. Here are a few suggestions as to what that work should entail.
Monta Ellis, Golden State Warriors – I discussed Ellis in length in yesterday’s NBA Sunday, but the gist is that if the Warriors really want Luol Deng as reported, a deal isn’t going to get done here. Trading Deng for Ellis depletes Chicago at the three just as badly as they’re currently depleted at the two. Ellis is the hot name right now, but unless a third team gets involved, it doesn’t seem particularly likely.
Richard Hamilton, Detroit Pistons – There is nothing better that could happen to the Chicago Bulls than to have Detroit buy out the last two years and $25+ million of Hamilton’s contract, but the likelihood of that still remains pretty negligible. Pistons’ GM Joe Dumars has been very loyal to Hamilton, and it would seem likely he would rather give a new head coach a go with that overloaded backcourt before doing something as drastic as paying $25 million for a guy to start for a division rival.
But what about a trade? Back in 2009, before Detroit blew all their free agent money on Ben Gordon and Charlie Villanueva, that cash seemed earmarked for Carlos Boozer, who surprisingly picked up his player option for one more year in Utah.
So there was interest in Boozer once upon a time, and some sort of trade focused on Boozer-for-Hamilton wouldn’t be the most ridiculous proposition. Chicago has Taj Gibson capable of starting at four, and Rip puts them into immediate contention. For Detroit, they clear up their backcourt and bring a healed Jonas Jerebko (likely restricted free agent) off the bench behind Boozer at the power forward.
Arron Afflalo, Denver Nuggets – Afflalo, a restricted free agent, might not be the sexiest name on the list, but he’s absolutely an upgrade over Bogans and Korver and would fit Chicago’s system nicely. He started all 69 games he played for Denver last year and averaged a career-high 12.6 ppg. He shoots the ball well from three-point range (41% career), plays defense, and is young enough to remain a key piece of the Bulls’ core for several years.
His restricted free agency is a roadblock, for certain, because many experts would agree Denver would be crazy to let him walk. However, it’s eventually going to come down to Afflalo or fellow free agent J. R. Smith; the Nuggets simply don’t have the money to pay both. Should the team opt to stick with Smith, or even go in a different direction at the two, Afflalo could become available. Without any free agency money to spend, however, the Bulls would have to get creative in creating some cap space to make Afflalo happen for them.
For the record, few players would be a better fit. He’s a perfect combination of offense, defense, experience, and potential, and he reputation is such that he’d fit well in a Tom Thibodeau system. If only he were a free agent a year ago.
Kevin Martin, Houston Rockets – As far as I can tell, Houston isn’t averse to trading Martin, but they feel like he’s their best player (or at least pretty close—Scola is pretty good, too), which means they’re going to want marquee talent in return for him. They’re not going to get that from Chicago, who seems bent on adding a high-quality two without moving any of their other starters. There absolutely is interest in Omer Asik (there was talk of a Courtney Lee-for-Asik deal last season), but going from Courtney Lee to Kevin Martin for the Turkish center is a big step. I’m not sure Houston would have much interest for what Chicago would throw out there.
Stephen Jackson, Charlotte Bobcats – Jackson might have a bit of a rap sheet, but he works his butt off, brings toughness to his team, and scores the heck out of the ball. There’s no way he’s looking forward to another season in Charlotte, which as we’ve already discussed seems like a team headed for perennial mediocrity, and being given the opportunity to spend his last handful of productive years for a competitor like Chicago could be the best thing possible for his career.
Unfortunately, Jackson is just about the only thing Charlotte’s got going for them right now, which means they’re probably going to be a little reticent to ship him out, at least not without returning something seriously valuable in return. Yes, he’d add a whole new dimension to the Chicago Bulls, but one has to think Charlotte would want more out of him than they got out of Gerald Wallace.
Or, they won’t, and for the right combination of picks (like, maybe getting their own pick back?), young talent (Asik?) and expiring contracts (Bogans is pretty much it) would get something done. It’s hard to tell with Charlotte, but there’s no denying Jackson could be an interesting piece for Chicago, if something were able to get done.
DeMar DeRozan, Toronto Raptors – Nobody on the Raptors’ roster is safe from trade talk, and DeRozan may be one of the most desirable trading chips that they’ve got. Not a lot has gone well for Toronto over the course of the last year, so the amount of risks GM Bryan Colangelo takes are going to be minimal. He’s got to be looking at the surest moves possible, and I’m not sure Chicago has many sure-thing offers to make them for the up-and-coming DeRozan.
Jamal Crawford, Atlanta Hawks – Once upon a time, Jamal Crawford started his career as a Chicago Bull, but at the time they were force-feeding him the point guard role, which clearly wasn’t for him. Now, he’s a veteran scorer—one of the best in the league—and just about exactly what Chicago needs to make a serious run at a championship.
The problem is Crawford’s unrestricted free agency, and if what he asks for is anything like what he asked for via extension last year, he’ll be looking for a contract in the $10 million-a-year range. We’ve already established how little money the Bulls have to spend in free agency, so to think that they could blow that much is borderline ludicrous. It’d be great to see Crawford come back to where he started his career, but it’s about as far from realistic as any player on this list.
O.J. Mayo, Memphis Grizzlies – Had Memphis not had the postseason they did, they might have been more inclined to make some changes in the offseason, but their mentality has to be, “We got that far without Rudy Gay—how good can we be with him?” Not that Mayo was necessarily a huge reason that Memphis won their first playoff series this year, just that they’re less likely to trade him now than they were at the deadline, when they almost shipped him to Indiana straight up for Josh McRoberts.
Depending on what happens with Marc Gasol’s free agency, however, they may find themselves in the market for some depth at center, and Omer Asik would be precisely that. Without question he’s at least a better prospect than McRoberts, and with the addition of Bogans’s expiring deal and a draft pick, it might not be the worst thing the Grizzlies could do. The one thing we can count on is they’ll be looking for more for Mayo now than they were back in February.
This list of players is the best Chicago can expect to do, unless there’s a huge change in philosophy for some team that suddenly decides to peddle an All-Star shooting guard for forty cents on the dollar.
Short of that happening, however, the Bulls will need to look long and hard at this list and start making some phone calls to see what they can do. Chicago must upgrade at shooting guard. They have to. It’s just a matter of who they go after, and what they give up to get him.