After Ricky's thoroughly depressing run-down of past Bulls misses in star acquisition, I asked myself: what happens when we don't get Melo or Love? Immediately I think of Mirotic, but I realized that I didn't actually know what other options were out there in addition to the Great European Hope. Turns out this free-agent class is full of intriguing non-stars we could pair with Mirotic to salve our star-forsaken wounds. The idea would be to emulate the Spurs, with Noah playing the Duncan role (not ridiculous considering the age disparity), Rose emulating Parker, somebody filling in the Leonard and Ginobili roles (Jimmy? Mirotic? A lucky draft pick? A free agent with Thibs Dust sprinkled liberally in their Gatorade?), and others filling in the Splitter/Green/Neal/Belinelli roles.
As a disclaimer, I should say that I fully expect the Miami trio, if they do opt out, to either stick together or not come to the Bulls. Is there a universe where we end up with Chris Bosh? I guess. But it doesn't exist in this fanpost. Neither does a universe where GarPax decides they want to throw money at Lance Stephenson.
Instead, I looked at the other available free agents. My source is Hoops Hype's wonderful list.
Before delving into the options, let's review the financial situation (which is something we all should have memorized by now as fans of the Financial Champions). The cap next year is expected to be $63.2 million and the tax line around $77 million (per ESPN). Per Sham and JayPatt's work last month, and including allowances for draft picks, cap holds, a Boozer amnesty (not a foregone conclusion, I guess), and the inevitable Hinrich resigning (or, if you're a believer, an Augustin resigning instead), here's how our balance sheet for next year looks:
- Derrick: $18,862,876
- Noah: $12,700,000 (I added $500,000 to Sham's figure because I'm not sure if he already did)
- Taj: $8,000,000
- Dunleavy: $3,326,235
- Snell: $1,472,400
- Jimmy: $2,008,748
- Rip's ghost: $333,334
- "Greg Smith": $948,163
- Captain Kurt: $1,448,490 (betting on the min; it's time for Kirk to take one for the team)
- 16th Pick: $1,468,900
- 19th Pick: $1,266,000
- 11th roster spot cap hold: $507,336
- 12th roster spot cap hold: $507,336
- TOTAL: $52,849,818
Now, because we'd be under the cap, we have to account for additional cap holds like our trade exceptions, the mid-level, etc. If our exceptions exceed our cap room, we can't actually use the cap room; we can only use exceptions. I've tried to read Larry Coon's FAQ as closely as I can to parse this out (and I'm a lawyer), but it's still confusing. I think these are the only exceptions we'd have to count: we have two trade exceptions for Deng and Teauge that amount to $3,099,720; and we have the non-tax-payer mid-level exception for next year, which is $5,305,000. Those are less than our (my) projected cap room, which means we can use the entire cap room (I think), PLUS the "Room Exception," which amounts to $2,732,000.
Assuming the math from Nate Duncan described here is correct concerning Mirotic, let's deduct another $3,500,000. That means our available pot of gold would amount to this: $9,582,182.
Mentioned quite a lot around these parts, Lowry would most likely take up most of our available room and might preclude a Mirotic signing. But if Lowry is willing to take a contract around $9 million, we would have quite a back court rotation. Bledsoe is younger, perhaps has more upside, and would come a bit cheaper (say, maybe $8 mil), but not enough cheaper to make much of a difference in the plan. Of course, we'd be depending on vet minimums or our draft picks to shore up the front court, but that's not important, right? Nazr's like Dumbo -- he'll work for peanuts.
2. The Luol Homecoming + Mirotic
I love(d) Luol Deng. But he's going to get at least $8 million on the open market, and at his age and with our prior ineffectual performance against the Heat with him as our second or third option, I say we can do better.
Air Canada has gone the way of TWA, but that doesn't mean he's useless -- somehow, Vince has reinvented himself under Coach Carlisle as a super rotation player, knocking down threes, adding a Belinelli-level (at least) ball-handling presence, and playing at least average team defense (and that's without Thibs Dust). Meanwhile, Shaun Livingston has proven the worth of modern medical science, becoming a key cog in the Nets' second-half resurgence as a perpetual mismatch and uncanny playmaker (even if he doesn't have his pre-injury explosiveness). I'd prefer this route to going all-in on the injury-prone Lowry as it completely solidifies our back court -- Rose + Hinrich + Butler + Livingston + Carter is a great mix of ball handling, shooting, and defense. There's still the issue of our front court depth, though. And it's possible Livingston commands more than the $6M I projected him for, and Vince might not want to move again so close to the end of his career (although the Bulls would give him a better shot at a championship than the geriatric Mavs).
This is the ultimate test of Thibs Dust. Both players have shown flashes of value well beyond the salaries they'll command this off-season. Humphries is only two years removed from averaging 14 and 11 per 36 with the Nets (and he was actually very close to those rates last year with the Celtics, but without the playing time). By last year's stats, he actually compares pretty favorably to Taj. (Sacrilege! Heresy!)
With Stuckey, you're getting a big combo guard who's been mired in the coaching and management hell-hole of Detroit. He's big enough and athletic enough that you'd think he'd be a good defender, but it hasn't really shown. Here's where the Thibs Dust earns its reputation. He's not a shooter, but he's a decent "scorer" who could easily supplant Hinrich (or Augustin) in the rotation and could be good enough at shooting guard to make Jimmy more of a full-time small forward; and while he doesn't possess inherent point-guard instincts, he's a better ball handler and playmaker than we've seen in recent years.
Who knows what lurks in the mind of a D'Antoni? Jordan Hill averaged around 16 and 13 with 1.5 blocks per 36 the past two years, and my memory might be off, but it seemed that the Lakers always played better with him on the court last season. His foul rate is a tad high, but as a back-up big man (as opposed to a starter for the rag-tag bunch LA threw out there last year), that's not much of a concern. Dude's PER is right around 19 for the past three years; last year, his PER of 19.3 had him tied with a less-than-full-capacity Pau Gasol and just behind Kawhi Leonard and Serge Ibaka. Is he as good as those guys? Of course not. But he's only 26, and big men tend to take some time to round into form. It's possible his next team is going to get a steal.
Ramon Sessions, on the other hand, probably is what he is: a non-shooting point guard who is a passable starter for a bad team but would be quite an asset playing 18 minutes a game for the Bulls. It's been a while, but he used to dish about 7 assists per 36, and his consistent ability to draw fouls augurs well for his ability as a penetrator and playmaker. He hasn't shown the best defense in his career (and I don't think he has the defensive upside of Stuckey), but if Thibs can make adequate defenders out of Belinelli and Korver, who knows?
The Pu-Pu Platter of Other Free Agents
The above represent those free agents I think could exceed expectations and become quite valuable "Spurs-ian" rotation players (like Belinelli or Diaw) in the Bulls system. Of course I could be wrong, and of course I could be way off on my valuations of their next contracts.
The following names are other free agents I consider less exciting -- those guys who, if they're your seventh or eighth men, probably aren't moving the championship needle. We still need a roster, though, right? And I don't think these would be the stiffs of the FA class. In no particular order:
- Steve Blake
- Chris Kaman
- Anthony Morrow (maybe; player option)
- Elton Brand
- Wes Johnson
- Drew Gooden
- Dejuan Blair
- Ben Gordon!!!
- CJ Miles
- Devin Harris
- Jordan Farmar
- Darren Collison (maybe; player option)
These names are also potentially interesting for the mid-level or vet minimum exceptions in the event we do land Melo or K-Love.
We need to get Melo or Love. There are plenty of free agents out there to build out some passable depth after those acquisitions. But if we don't, I think our free-agent options are good enough to get us back to the level of second-best in the East (over the Pacers) and a few lucky breaks away from beating the Heat in a playoff series. (Depending, obviously, on Rose's knees, Noah's feet, Taj's progression, Jimmy's jump shot . . . man -- winning championships is hard.)