C.J. Watson said last week that the Bulls have already told him that they will exercise their option to keep him on the roster for 2012-13. The Bulls' option is to trade him before the end of June, pay him $3.2 million next season, or allow him to enter free agency.
There hasn't been an official announcement by the team, but there's clearly support for Watson from the coaching staff.
Watson recently underwent an "outpatient procedure" where he received shock therapy on both of his feet to repair plantar fasciitis for the second straight offseason.
Plantar fasciitis is known to be a recurring injury for many athletes, but the Bulls have seen recent success with their players' recovery. The procedure, "which basically is controlled blasts of sound waves designed to break up the damaged tissue", was performed on Joakim Noah and Taj Gibson following the 2010-11 season; neither have reportedly had the problem since.
He endured elbow and ankle injuries throughout the season to interrupt what was looking like a career year for the now five-year veteran point guard. He said, as I noted when Derrick Rose was missing time to injury, that he had to keep playing instead of heal because the team's injuries put them in a position where sitting Watson was unaffordable, K.C. Johnson added:
"It was hard," Watson said by phone. "I couldn't do all the things that I'm usually capable of doing. But I knew with Derrick (Rose) out, I had to give the team what I could."
"I can lift weights, but they said I can't do any running or jumping for four to six weeks," Watson said.
Before spraining his ankle in early March, Watson started eight of his 27 games played, scoring 9.8 PPG with 3.7 APG in 21.5 MPG, shooting a .437 3P% and .522 TS% and logging a 27.7% assist rate. He was on pace to having the best season of his career off the bench in a way that made him one of the best backup point guards in the league.
On March 14, he returned to start 17 of the Bulls' final 22 games, due to Rose's injury. And the drop off of Watson's play made it clear that he was playing hurt because the team didn't have the luxury of resting him.
His efficiency plummeted in every shooting category, with a TS% of only .456 in those games, shooting only 35.6% on 3s to score only 9.5 PPG in the elevated 26.3 MPG.
Watson made up for not getting up as well for his 3s by elevating his FT% to finish at over 80% on the year, but hs slowdown was evident in him lacking the ability to force defense to foul him.
In the playoffs, he was largely a disaster, shooting 24.1% from the floor and not running the offense to create much of anything against a 76ers defense that had the Bulls' number in the first round of the playoffs.
But Watson is being forgiven for this as he's been re-assured that the Bulls want to keep him, K.C. added:
"(Management) said they would keep me and my agent updated," Watson said. "I have no expectations either way. I'd like to be back."
Rose is expected to miss -- at least -- the first three months of the 2012-13, recovering from surgery to repair the ACL he tore in Game 1 of this year's playoffs. At worst, he could miss the whole season.
Watson has shown he can be a very effective point guard -- even against starters -- during the regular season, when healthy. And with the Bulls high salaries spread elsewhere, the $3.2 million price tag is a bargain.
Now, this doesn't mean that John Lucas III or Mike James will be Watson's backup. It doesn't necessarily mean that Watson's definitely going to be the starter until Rose returns -- though this is the most likely possibility. The Bulls can use the mid-level exemption to sign a PG for up to $5 million next year, assuming that they don't go over the luxury tax via some longball trade.
Other point guards available this offseason (2011-12 salary; "R" = restricted) who could compete with Watson for the starting spot are (via HoopsWorld):
- Steve Nash ($11.7 million)
- Aaron Brooks ($2m; R - $3m qualifying offer)
- Raymond Felton ($7.6m)
- Kirk Hinrich ($8m)
- Jason Kidd ($8.6m)
- Andre Miller ($7.8m)
- D.J. Augustin ($3.2m; R - $4.4m qualifying offer)
All of these options would be a longball attempt to cheaply rent an old guy, which isn't bad if you can get it; or relying on either: (a) an overly shooty Brooks; (b) Felton rebounding from an awful year after a pretty damn good one in New York and Denver; (c) Augustin, who likely won't move out of Charlotte unless he gets overpaid; or (d) bringing back Hinrich.
And I'm pretty sure I'd rather have Watson running the offense than Hinrich, with all due respect to Hinrich's speed and defense. The other options would be paying for someone to backup Watson. And looking at the list of what these available PGs made last season, the $3.2m bargain is too sweet to pass up for an emotional gut reaction to Watson's playoff failures through pain.
Stats via Basketball-Reference.com.