With free agency only a few weeks away, and the Bulls presumably hoping to get back into the playoffs next year, they're going to need to get out their checkbooks.
This upcoming free agency doesn't involve a tremendous amount of star power, outside of the obvious. However, there are quite a few interesting free agents of the restricted variety. These players have transformed themselves from little-known role players into consistent contributors and those players in or on the fringe of their prime years.
Some of these restricted free agents may warrant reasonable deals, while others are going to command an enormous sum of money as the NBA's TV deal kicks in and the salary cap spikes. Let's take a look at those RFA's that could help shore up the Bulls backup point guard and wing positions, ones that Gar Forman and John Paxson should take a strong look at making an offer to.
Big Money Comin'
Evan Fournier - Orlando Magic, RFA - I think it's fair to say that "Never Google" has improved each season throughout his young, four-year career. Traded from Denver to Orlando after two seasons, Fournier's role grew, albeit under a rather poor situation. His ability to score is what makes him surely to get his fair share of money this offseason, one in which he averaged a career high 15.4 PPG, shooting 40% from deep. While his defense isn't great, it did improve this past season, as he put up his best defensive rating and his defensive win shares increased from 0.6 to 1.7. With the change in head coaches this summer after a disappointing season, how they view Fournier as a long term fit will be interesting.
Fournier probably won't get max money, but what he will warrant will be just shy of that. He's only 23 right now, turning 24 as next season begins, which means he's right on the cusp of his prime and could desperately help the Bulls wing situation for the next several years alongside Jimmy Butler. But is management willing use a large percentage of their salary cap on him?
Willing to overspend for an unknown?
Jordan Clarkson - Los Angeles Lakers, RFA (Early Bird*) - Clarkson is a hard one to peg. You can see the talent with him is there, but his percentages don't reflect that. In his first two seasons, Clarkson is shooting a lackluster 43.8% from the field and only 33.8% from deep. His defensive numbers are just as poor. But how much of this was impacted by one of the league's worst coaches in Byron Scott? It's plausible to wonder how good Clarkson could be under an actual NBA coach.
Just as with Orlando, Los Angeles changed head coaches, and how they view Clarkson's long term fit is unknown. This could end up being a case of the Bulls hoping that with a change in scenery, Clarkson could tap into his potential.
*(Cap Note: Clarkson has only 2 years in the league, so he's subject to the Arenas Provision and thus the Bulls can only start an offer at the MLE (~$5.6m) but the yearly value can jump a lot in year three a la the Asik contract with the Rockets)
Most likely candidates
Tyler Johnson - Miami Heat, RFA (Early Bird) - Through his first two seasons, Johnson has only played a combined 68 games (missed most of this season due to shoulder surgery). Prior to early season surgery, Johnson was a key part of the resurgence in South Beach. His athleticism and shooting touch (38% from three) are what makes him a very good prospect for free agency. Miami will be focused on trying to get Hassan Whiteside back and handling Dwyane Wade's new contract, so it could be a spot where Chicago swoops in with a manageable deal. He's better than the options the Bulls have right now.
Langston Galloway - New York Knicks, RFA (Early Bird) - Galloway was in a similar situation through his first two seasons as with Clarkson, with the coaching debacle and organization itself. His statistics are poor, but as with Clarkson I don't believe they accurately reflect his talent or potential. Through multiple instances in his young career, he's shown great playmaking ability, which makes him an intriguing prospect. One that could fill the Bulls backup point guard spot should they pass on on a point guard in next week's draft and/or E'Twaun Moore moves on via his own free agency. But as with Clarkson, New York has had a change in coaching, and his future with the organization is cloudy.
Allen Crabbe - Portland Trailblazers, RFA - Crabbe was a guy that many wanted Chicago to select three years ago during the draft. It wasn't until this past season that Crabbe finally got an opportunity to showcase his abilities with the surprising Trailblazers. In a larger, more consistent role, Crabbe averaged 10 PPG off the bench, shooting 45.9% from the field and 39.3% from deep on 3.5 attempts per game. Not to mention a very solid year defensively.
Early indications have been that Portland would like to bring a lot of their young pieces back, and that those guys want to be back. That being said, if management were to put a substantial offer on the table, it could be too enticing for Crabbe to pass up.