Can Free Agency Solve Any of The Chicago Bulls’ Problems?


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The Chicago Bulls have had an anything-but-smooth transition while attempting to rebuild around Jimmy Butler this season. After trading Derrick Rose and losing Noah and Gasol to free agency, the team floundered in the middle with second-year coach Fred Hoiberg at the helm. The end results were underwhelming, as Chicago faced a quick first round exit in the playoffs.
Unfortunately, next year is not looking much better. During a recent press conference, Bulls’ VP of Basketball Operations John Paxson made it clear that the team planned on moving forward with a similar core:

“In September, our expectations as an organization were to be competitive, but also try to create an environment where our young players grew and developed in a competitive environment. We thought we had a nice blend and balance of veterans and the young guys… Gar and I are committed to reshaping the roster, continuing to do that in that in a disciplined fashion. As we’ve talked to Fred briefly, which we will continue to do. He’s obviously committed. Fred’s our coach. He’ll be back… In the short term, we’re looking at a draft coming up where we’re going to add two young players to a group that primarily is still very young…

There’s a good chance or a really good chance that we bring Rajon back… we want [Mirotic] back, we hope we’ll be able to work something out… The landscape is such that to make significant change right now will be difficult. From that perspective, to think that we could just up and massively move pieces and parts is not realistic. It’s not. We have guys signed to contracts. We made the statement last year we were investing in the young guys. I know it sounds like a broken record, but it’s the truth.”

Although neither Dwyane Wade nor Rajon Rondo’s contracts are guaranteed, there’s a good chance both players will be back at the start of next season. Assuming Paxson follows through on all the points highlighted in his statement, that means they’ve already locked up 12 of their roster spots for next year (or 14 if they choose to exercise options on Cristiano Felicio and Isaiah Canaan).
Barring some unforeseen changes, at most, the Bulls would have space to add one mid-level free agent in the offseason. At the moment, the team’s biggest needs are still three-point shooting and athleticism. So, with all that in mind, here are five suggestions for free agent signings that could help them out:

BONUS: Danilo Gallinari
I’m not counting this as one of my five because it would only work if the Bulls declined Mirotic’s option (or Wade opted-out), but it’s still worth examining.
Danilo has a $16.1 million player-option with the Denver Nuggets which he’s currently expected to decline. It seems unlikely that the team would pursue him in the offseason, but it seems more probable than signing a Chris Paul or a Gordon Hayward… Gallinari could be a major upgrade for the Bulls frontcourt, even though he’s prohibitively expensive and somewhat injury prone.

#5. James Johnson
The Chicago Bulls drafted Johnson back in 2009, so they clearly saw something in him at the time. He’s a good defender and he had a great season with Miami, but there’s no guarantee that he’ll repeat that performance and he’s had trouble staying in shape. Also, as Ira Winderman of the Sun-Sentinel pointed out, Johnson is better with the ball in his hands, and the Bulls already have a lot of ball-dominant players.
Of course, the biggest argument for signing James Johnson is that, like many other players on this list, he could end up within the Bulls price-range.

#4. Rudy Gay
Rudy Gay recently announced his plans to opt-out of his $14.2 million contract with the Sacramento Kings. The Bulls have shown real interest in him in the past, but is he with the price-tag?
Gay’s a player who’s had good chemistry with Rondo and may be a good fit with Butler, but that doesn’t mean he necessarily makes sense in the Bulls current configuration. Plus, after several seasons at the bottom of the league, Gay may be looking to join a contender.

#3. CJ Miles
CJ Miles could be available if he turns down his player option, but would he really make the Bulls better?
Miles says he’s one of the “best shooters” in the league and he has an eFG% of .565 to back it up, but after missing a potential game-winner against the Cavs, he’s starting to look a little bit like damaged goods.

#2. Ben McLemore
Like Gay, McLemore had good chemistry with Rondo and may be a good fit with Butler, but there are two huge problems:
  • 1. He is a Restricted Free Agent, so the Kings could choose to match any contract Chicago offers to him.
  • 2. The Bulls have a logjam in the backcourt. They have way too many guards; but they also have way too few talented ones. While McLemore could be an upgrade at his position, his presence would necessitate a trade that may not materialize.

#1. JJ Redick
A lot of people think Redick could get roped into a Clippers sign-and-trade for Carmelo Anthony, but I think it’s far more likely Redick ends up on the open market.
If the price is right, the former Duke “college player of the year” could be exactly what Chicago need on the wing, but there are a couple speed bumps: Like Galinari, Redick may be too expensive for them to sign and, even if the Bulls can afford to sign him, Redick could choose to chase a ring somewhere else.

Unfortunately, like we said before, there are no clear solutions for Chicago moving forward.