New York Post writer Marc Berman reported on Sunday afternoon that the Chicago Bulls, Los Angeles Lakers, and Atlanta Hawks have expressed interest in acquiring recently waived New York Knicks forward Mindaugas Kuzminskas.
The Knicks waived the Lithuanian-born forward on Sunday to clear space on the roster for former Bull Joakim Noah who will return from a drug suspension on Monday when the Knicks play against the Cleveland Cavaliers.
Teams can claim Kuzminskas off of waivers until Tuesday, when he will become an unrestricted free agent. A team’s record from last year determines the order of waiver claims; however, it’s unlikely that any team claims him off waivers because they’ll have to assume the remaining year of his current two-year, $5.9 million contract.
In 68 games last season with the Knicks, the 28-year-old averaged 6.3 points per game in a small bench role. This season, he has only appeared in one game after suffering a calf strain in training camp. He started his professional basketball career at age 17 and bounced around professional leagues in Europe before getting his chance with the Knicks last season. According to his DraftExpress.com profile from 2011, his main skill is his efficient scoring and his 47.9 percent field goal percentage across six years of professional basketball in Europe is a testament to that.
Another analysis on him concludes that he runs the floor well, is athletic for a European player, and plays hard. However, the analysis also notes that he relies on his teammates to create his offense, making him a potentially problematic fit with the Bulls who are devoid of a consistently play-making guard. His already poor defense and how that athleticism will translate to the NBA are big question marks, although he was a productive player for the Knicks last season.
Should the Bulls bite? First, an important wrinkle before we can proceed: the Bulls roster is full so somebody would need to be cut.
Quincy Pondexter is a possibility. At 29 years old and because he’s set to become an unrestricted free agent after this season, he’s not in the Bulls long-term plans. He also plays the same position as Kuzminskas and his production this season is worse than Kuzminskas’ stats with the Knicks last year, Pondexter is the most likely candidate to get cut.
Paul Zipser is another possibility in terms of position overlap. His contract isn’t guaranteed past this season either. But Pondexter would likely get cut before Zipser simply because the latter is a better player and still only 23.
Kay Felder is another possibility as he’s faded into a minimal role since Kris Dunn returned from injury on Oct 28. His contract only has a partial guarantee this year, so they’d gain more immediate cap space. However, the Bulls tend to like to carry three point guards on the roster, and if they cut Felder they’d only have two point guards until Cameron Payne returns from his foot injury in a couple of months. Payne is not likely to get cut as he’s due over $3.2m as the Bulls picked up that option for some reason.
In a rebuilding season, taking fliers on relatively unknown players (like the Bulls have done with Felder and David Nwaba already) is a great idea. Kuzminskas, though a bit older, has a similar NBA story to Nwaba, as their former teams waived them after fairly productive seasons to make room for more established players. Before his injury, Nwaba looked like he was settling into an important role with the Bulls. Could Kuzminskas do something similar?