For years the Bulls have touted 2014 as the year the team would finally have spending flexibility. But with the summer approaching, management has thrown cold water on the possibility of bringing over long-awaited Real Madrid star Nikola Mirotic. With a franchise so well-versed in bracing its fans for disappointment, that got us at Bulls by the Horns thinking of exploring the other possibilities that await Chicago this summer. This week’s installment looks at the perimeter players available in restricted free agency this offseason. In terms of perimeter players, the Class of 2010 provided two elite players, #1 pick John Wall and #10 pick Paul George, along with a lot of disappointments. As mentioned in the last edition of The 2014 Plan, it doesn’t look quite as bad now that guys like Wes Johnson and Al-Farouq Aminu have stabilized their careers somewhat, but with both George and Wall locked up on max extensions, the pickings are a little slimmer than last year’s crop, which featured Tyreke Evans, Jeff Teague, Brandon Jennings, Gerald Henderson, Darren Collison and Gary Neal. In fact, the most likely Chicago target isn’t a 2010 draftee at all, but we’ll get to him later. Here are the notable wings and points available in restricted free agency:
The Untouchables: Suns PG Eric Bledsoe, Jazz SF Gordon Hayward
Tom Thibodeau loves playing with two point guards to close games, and until his meniscus injury, Bledsoe was thriving alongside Goran Dragic for the shockingly good Suns. Meanwhile, Utah parting ways with Paul Millsap and Al Jefferson has allowed defenses to swarm Hayward this year, thus his dismal shooting percentages, but he is a talented scorer who shot 40% from beyond the arc in his first three years. The idea of either of these established young players in a Bulls uniform is intriguing, but also not realistic. Phoenix has one of the cleanest cap sheets in the league. Aside from option years for players on cheap rookie contracts, Goran Dragic’s $7.5 million player option is the only salary on the books for 2015-2016. The team has already said they will match any offer Bledsoe gets in July, and with how well he has fit in so far with the Suns, that statement isn’t just a scare tactic to ward off other teams. As for Utah, their books are pristine as well. In order to free up room for Andre Iguodala, Golden State gifted Utah two first-rounders for absorbing the onerous contracts of Andris Biedrins and Richard Jefferson. However, both of their antiquated deals are expiring, as are the contracts of Marvin Williams and Brandon Rush. That leaves the Jazz flush with cash, except they’re rarely a free agent destination, so no offer to Hayward could be enough to scare them from matching. If they happened to be willing to trade Hayward, that would take the Bulls out of the running anyway. The Square Peg: Raptors PG Greivis Vasquez
Vasquez is a fine player who hasn’t been able to find a long-term home. After his rookie year, in which he hit a couple big shots in their amazing playoff run that announced the arrival of the Grit and Grind Grizzlies, Memphis sent him straight up to New Orleans for another Class of 2010 pick, Quincy Pondexter. He spent two seasons with the Hornets, playing and starting in 78 games last season, in which he posted 13.4 points, 9 assists and 4.3 rebounds in 34.4 minutes per game. Apparently that wasn’t good enough for New Orleans, as they traded Nerlens Noel and a top-five protected 2014 first rounder for Jrue Holiday, and sent Vasquez to Sacramento in the Tyreke Evans sign and trade. He didn’t stay a King for long, as just a couple months later they flipped him to Toronto in the Rudy Gay deal. Vasquez is a solid, 20 minute a game type player, but he’s a tweener in terms of talent. He started all 18 games he played for the Kings this season, posting a gruesome -7.1 net rating. but is now sporting a 9.7 net rating backing up Kyle Lowry in Toronto. Point guards are kind of like quarterbacks, in that the difference between having a great one and a bad one can be more damaging than at other positions, as the Bulls showed before signing D.J. Augustin (who only got to the Bulls because the Gay/Vasquez deal meant Toronto had to cut a player). Greivis is in that awkward Kyle Orton-ish territory of being a little too good to settle for being a backup, but any team he starts for is going to get crushed by teams with elite counterparts. As for pursuing him to be the new backup to Derrick Rose, his 6’6″ height would seem to make him an ideal companion in the aforementioned dual PG lineups, but he’s not a good enough shooter (32.1% from three, 42.1% overall for his career), and he’s a liability on defense. Also, Thibs has thrived with small, waterbug type backups, from John Lucas to C.J. Watson, and Nate Robinson to D.J. Augustin. Vasquez simply isn’t a fit for what the Bulls do or need. The Heel: Sixers F/G Evan Turner
A look into Turner’s play and fit on the court would be a fool’s errand because this one’s simple.
For one, he and Derrick Rose basically hate each other going back to their high school days in Chicago, as detailed here, and he didn’t make any friends on the Bulls in their 2012 playoff series. (Caution: the Trey Kerby article linked was written right before Rose’s injury. You’ve been warned.) Now, players switch allegiances all the time due to a number of different factors, but Turner doesn’t fit the Bulls profile at all. He’s a moody guy who has spoken his mind on the reality of his situation in Philadelphia. He’s clashed not only with Doug Collins (to be fair, who hasn’t?) but also his new coach, Brett Brown. The Sixer Sense did a great piece on Turner’s attitude, which includes a phenomenal excerpt from Turner’s college teammate turned author Mark Titus.
All of these issues end up making him a player that neither Bulls players nor management would want in the locker room. The Poor Fit: Celtics SG Avery Bradley
I’m not gonna pretend I’ve watched the decomposing remains of a team that meant so much to me, so I’ll let our own Trey Adell, a Boston fan who can often be found tweeting his frustrations about Bradley and the rest of the Celtics, give his take:
While Bradley’s currently shooting 35.6% from deep, higher than I expected, Trey confirmed my assumption that Bradley still isn’t a great ballhandler. He seems like a better fit for a team that would use him in the way New York uses Iman Shumpert: a matchup defender who at least allows an offense-first teammate to guard a lesser threat, and on the other end, he then conserves energy on offense by getting his looks through off-ball cuts and spot-up shots. That’s not a role the Bulls need filled, and considering Chicago makes subpar defenders like Marco Belinelli and D.J. Augustin fit in their system without crippling it, there’s no sense in allotting money to a guy like Bradley. The Only Hope: Kings PG Isaiah Thomas
Now we’re talking. Thomas was the aforementioned player not in the 2010 Draft. Heck, he was one pick away from not even being selected in the 2011 Draft. As a diminutive University of Washington point guard, Thomas often gets compared to former Bull Nate Robinson, and there are some similarities, but Thomas has a more refined game than the dearly departed and unfortunate injured Nate. Thomas is a better floor general and while he gets dinged for his less than stellar assist numbers, that obviously wasn’t Nate’s forte, and Thibs had problems at times letting Robinson run the point because he didn’t always keep the offense in rhythm and on schedule. There’s one other noteworthy point about IT’s numbers. Some might look at his relatively static numbers across his 2.5 career seasons, but that’s actually a big plus. Many players see their efficiency fall when given a bigger role within the offense, but his shots in every facet, both on a per game and a per 36 basis, have increased, the efficiency is relatively the same. They have fallen just ever so slightly since the Rudy Gay trade, but not enough to take any conclusions away from it. The reason I like Thomas for the Bulls is that he’s a perfect fit. At a lower salary than a star like Carmelo or even Lance Stephenson, he’d allow the Bulls to keep Mike Dunleavy. He’d get to play a supersized sixth man role, so now instead of being a starting point guard who doesn’t distribute enough, he’s like Jamal Crawford, a scoring guard with passing ability. It turns a negative into a plus and gives the Bulls a second explosive player to put alongside Rose.
Part of that creating ability results in trips to the free throw line. Thomas is in the top fifteen in the entire league in free throws attempted per game, with only the game’s stars above him, like LeBron, Kevin Durant, Blake Griffin, Kevin Love, etc. When only looking at point guards, after Ty Lawson, Russell Westbrook and Goran Dragic, Thomas is in a big tier that is only separated by 0.2 attempts per game. Joining him in that cluster is Chris Paul, John Wall, Bledsoe, and Michael Carter-Williams. Pretty good company I’d say. Thomas also provides the shot profile the Bulls need.
He’s hitting over 35% at all three non-corner spots, and those are where the Bulls take about 75% of their threes, per NBA.com. Chicago needs to get away from shooting those inefficient 20 footers in order to improve their offense and acquiring Thomas would aid in that. For context, here’s Kirk Hinrich’s shot distribution chart, which as one can tell, is essentially inverted from that of Thomas:
Sacramento’s cap sheet isn’t near as clean as the other West teams discussed earlier. They have quite a few long-term commitments and could creep up on the luxury tax line depending on what Gay does in free agency. A lot of teams have cap room this summer, but many of them don’t make sense as Thomas destinations. Even a team such as the Lakers that does make sense on paper seems unlikely, as they are rumored to be rolling over their cap space for the next wave of free agent stars in 2015. The main competition I could see for Thomas is a team like Orlando, a young team that might want to add Thomas in the same way New Orleans added Holiday. He’s old enough (turned 26 last week) that he can bring some stability to a youthful team, but not too old that he’s a bad investment. It’s unclear how much Sacramento values him, but if the Bulls could pry Thomas away from the Kings with something like three years, $24 million, they’d have a starting lineup next year of Rose, Dunleavy, Butler, Gibson, Noah, with Thomas, Snell, one, possibly two first-round picks, and a couple cheap veterans. Not too shabby.