There is, at this point, little sense in guessing where the NBA goes from here. One week into free agency, the league has reached an unofficial moratorium while LeBron James and Carmelo Anthony contemplate their next moves. Until that happens, the slow news days of this weekend will be the norm during the typically frantic early days of July when player movement reaches its peak. This isn't a peaceful calm. If anything, it's like looking at a weather radar for a storm you know is coming, you just don't know when it will hit.
These are anxious days for everyone, because the entire NBA seems effectively tethered to Melo and (more specifically) James to such an extreme extent. If LeBron leaves, the shakeup will be felt league-wide, starting with Chris Bosh likely joining another franchise. Even if James stays, there's sure to be a flurry of activity in the wake of his announcement as teams with ample cap space scramble to fight for what's left on the free agent market.
The Bulls are like everyone else right now, in that the market is largely out of their hands. Maybe Melo's reported interest in the Lakers is a way to leverage the Knicks into agreeing to a sign-and-trade with the Bulls. Maybe Anthony will just accept the Knicks' money, as everyone seems to think will happen, and the Bulls will have to move on to Plans B-Z. While we sit and wait for LeBron and Melo to decide what's next, we might as well consider the same thing for the Bulls.
If the Bulls don't get Carmelo, what other options do they have? These are just a few ideas I've come up with. Feel free to throw half-baked ideas in the comments, too, as we're only limited by creativity. Just so everyone is on the same page:
- The Bulls will have about $9.7 million in cap space if Carlos Boozer is amnestied.
- If you want to create more space, start with Anthony Randolph ($1.8 million for next season) and Mike Dunleavy Jr. ($3.3 million). Remember, the Bulls can only use exceptions if they stay over the cap.
100. Kirk Hinrich and whatever
Feel free to go on record saying you would be fine with Hinrich returning for the minimum, but then don't come back crying in 10 months when he's the last person announced in the starting lineup of a playoff game again. I would bet Hinrich is back on a veteran's minimum deal, but that doesn't mean I can't pre-complain about it.
8. Nikola Mirotic and D.J. Augustin
This would seem like an acutely painful offseason on the surface, but it's more realistic than we might be willing to realize. It all comes down to how much money Mirotic wants. We know Mirotic has a $3 million buyout and that the Bulls can contribute only $600,000 to it. We also know it can be paid in installments. Is a three-year, $12 million deal enough to get it done for Mirotic? If not, and the Bulls are looking at $6-7 million annually to sign him, a Mirotic + D.J. offseason becomes even more likely.
Darren Collison just went from making $1.9 million to $5.3 million on a new contract with the Kings. Given the number of teams that have cap space and the way some iffy veterans (Jodie Meeks!) are getting paid already, I don't think it's impossible that Augustin could be in for a slightly bigger payday than the Bulls are hoping for. If he's drawing a contract worth $4 million annually, the Bulls could just sign Mirotic, re-sign Augustin and be finished this offseason. They would obviously still need a backup center.
7. Nikola Mirotic and other free agents
Other free agents can be anyone, really. Some names: Marvin Williams, Emeka Okafor, Paul Pierce, Shawn Marion, Nick Young, Vince Carter, Rodney Stuckey, Jordan Crawford, Anthony Morrow, Jason Smith, Jordan Hamilton, Ed Davis, Josh McRoberts, Caron Butler.
It isn't a particularly inspiring list. The one name on here I could really talk myself into is Nick Young. NICK YOUNG. That in and of itself tells you everything you need to know about NBA free agency.
6. Pau Gasol and Nikola Mirotic
Gasol is still a really good player. Evidence:
Daily reminder that Pau put up 20, 11, 4, and 2 per 36 last season.— Brian Schroeder (@Cosmis) July 2, 2014
The problem is that he's 34 years old and started to break down already last season. Plus, if you have Noah-Gibson-Gasol in the front court, Mirotic might not all that much playing time. I don't love the idea of Gasol for the type of contract I think it will take to land him. If he's joining the Bulls in conjecture with a bigger move (like getting Melo or Kevin Love), I'd be all for that.
5. Trade a protected No. 1 draft pick for a player like Alec Burks
The Jazz drafted Rodney Hood and Dante Exum, so Burks might not be in their future plans. He's also set to become an restricted free agent a year from now, so they may want to get something for him while they still can.
Would you trade a first round pick for Burks? I think I would. He just put up a PER a shade under 16 in his age-22 season by averaging 14 points per game on 45.7 percent shooting. He's a big and strong shooting guard who would have the tools to develop into a good defender under Tom Thibodeau. He isn't a great playmaker (2.7 assists per game) or three-point shooter (35 percent from three), but he's at least average in those two areas already and should only get better.
Especially if the Jazz have to sign Hayward to a near-max contract as a restricted free agent, I think they might be willing to move Burks. I think he may be worth the gamble.
4. Sign restricted free agents Chandler Parsons or Gordon Hayward to a big deal
Parsons and Hayward are each good players, but signing away a restricted free agent comes at a major premium. Hayward turned down a four-year, $40 million offer a year ago, and seemed to regress a bit last season. He has a good skill set that would fit nicely in Chicago, but you're likely only getting him away from Utah with something like a $13-14 million contract annually. He's still only 24 years old, so it isn't a terrible bet. The Cavs are already said to be thinking about offering him a max contract.
Parsons is likely to end up back in Houston if they don't get Chris Bosh (or Melo). If Bosh does go to Houston, Parsons might be able to be pried away with a big offer sheet. Again, is he really worth $12-13 million per year? I'd rather have Hayward for that price tag. Parsons is a good player but that feels like a rather substantial overpay to me.
3. Luol Deng and Nikola Mirotic
This would obviously be hilarious, but I wonder: can the Bulls really get a player better than Luol Deng in free agency? I think it's pretty likely they will not be able to.
The Bulls need help on the wing, and Deng is one of the best players available there. If they don't want to chase Lance Stephenson and they miss out on Deng, you're talking about Vince Carter, Nick Young, Paul Pierce and Shawn Marion as options. None of those guys are as good as Deng.
The easy rebuttal to this is "we've seen it and it doesn't work" but I don't know if that's necessarily true. The 2011 playoffs were a long time ago. I personally thought the Bulls had a great chance of winning the title last season before Derrick Rose got hurt. If Rose can stay healthy, it wouldn't be terrible to run it back again with Mirotic in place and the addition-by-subtraction of losing Boozer.
Maybe a three-year, $33 million deal would be enough for Deng? Then if you move Dunleavy and Randolph, there could be enough money left for Mirotic. It all depends on how much how both of these players want.
2. Lance Stephenson and Nikola Mirotic
Lance turned down $44 million over five years from Indiana. You would think the absolute minimum offer to get him would be something like $40 million over four years, or more likely $44-48 million over four years. Even fitting that type of contract under the salary cap with Mirotic is difficult, and might require moving Tony Snell in addition to Dunleavy and Randolph. With that being said, Stephenson and Mirotic would be, at least to me, a really exciting offseason.
Everyone has an opinion on Stephenson, and at this point my arguments aren't going to change your mind. That is fine -- people are allowed to disagree about sports. I just don't see many players who are as good and as young as he is available on the market. I still don't think the Bulls will truly pursue Lance because he doesn't seem to mesh with their culture, but from a fit standpoint, his game would be a really nice match with the current roster.
1. Trade for Kevin Love
Kevin Love is worth it. To get him, the Bulls might have to surrender Taj Gibson, Jimmy Butler, Nikola Mirotic and draft picks. For all the talk about "gutting the roster", I think a move for Love would be justified. The Bulls have proven to be very good at finding role players. They're not very good at getting stars. This would be one way for the Bulls to bet on themselves by aligning a strong core and trying to figure out the rest later.
The nice thing with Love is that the Bulls would extend their window. He'll only be 26 years old next season, four years younger than Carmelo. Even if the roster for the 2014-15 season might be a little light on depth, the Bulls would have a few years to upgrade the talent around Rose-Love-Noah (pending Noah's health and extension after 2016).
Jason has already outlined how to get him. I'd be all-in for it. It's not all a no-brainer move whenever you're sending out that much talent, but it's a risk I think the Bulls should be willing to take.