Want a Shooting Guard? Keep Looking, Chicago Bulls

Who is a realistic backcourt mate for D Rose?

Isiah Thomas had Joe Dumars. As the Chicago Bulls continue to build a championship caliber team around Derrick Rose; a glaring question remains … Who is a good running mate for him in the backcourt? Here are a few realistic (not just ideal) options.

Ramblings by JL

One week from Christmas! That’s 6 days and 21 hours until Bulls Lakers tip off! So excited! The 2-week free agency rush is winding down. Most of the top names have found landing spots and we finally get to look forward to actual basketball. If you’re taking the time to read my posts, you’re probably a pretty avid NBA follower. Then you’ve probably already heard the mainstream media dissect the Chris Paul saga, break down the Dwight Howard narrative and over-analyze every other mid-level free agent signing a thousand times. You don’t need to hear about those again from me.

I don’t have that much to say about the Bulls’ Rip Hamilton signing, either. But since my writing is pretty Bulls-centric, I’ll give it the obligatory mention here. I like the move. I think it makes the Bulls significantly better than last year. Is it the ideal upgrade? Absolutely not. There are questions with Rip. He doesn’t have a reputation as a greater 3-pt shooter. He is getting up there in age. He allegedly led a mutiny against the coach in Detroit. Those are all legitimate concerns. However, when you compare Rip’s skill-to-contract ratio to all the other available but similarly flawed shooting guard options out there, I don’t think the Bulls could’ve done much better. Factoring Rip’s championship experience, I think it becomes a no brainer.

Regardless of whether you believe Rip’s the best option for the Bulls at shooting guard, I think we can all agree that the ideal shooting guard to put us over the top was not available in this free agency. Short of the Dwight Howard pipe dream, I believe the Bulls will still be looking up at the Miami Heat (God it hurts me to say that) in the Eastern Conference this year, and possibly beyond. So, if they have any championship aspirations, the Bulls management needs to keep making roster improvements going forward. That’s what I really want to talk about: What are the Bulls options for landing another high level player in the near future?

Here are several ideas on what the Bulls could potentially look at going forward. Now, some of these names may seem farfetched, but rest assured, my friend and I talk Bulls all day at the office instead of doing work. We have come up with legitimate reasons why these players may become available in the not so distant future. Of course, you will see that there are a lot of assumptions built in to these availabilities. That’s the way the NBA works. You hit it big by being in the right place at the right time. Management just needs the foresight to be ready when opportunity knocks. All right. Enough rambling. Here are the names, in order from most likely to longest shots.

Manu Ginobili

The reason I put Manu first is because if this is going to happen, it will have to happen this season. I just can’t imagine a more perfect fit at shooting guard for the Bulls than Manu. The guy is just as solid as they come. He can shoot, penetrate, pass and defend. Put him next to Rose at crunch time and watch him go to work if Miami dares trapping Derrick. The best thing is, we already know he doesn’t mind coming off the bench. If he can sit behind Bruce Bowen, I’m sure he can sit behind Rip Hamilton. Can you imagine inserting Manu into a second unit that routinely pitched shutouts during their time on the court last year? The upgrade would be absolutely tremendous.

So why will he be available, you ask? The Spurs are an old team, to put it politely. This is likely their last run as a group. If they struggle during the season (and I think they will struggle), it’s conceivable that they will start selling off their pieces. I predict that Manu will be the first major piece to go. He is 34 years old. He is not going to be a part of any rebuilding or retooling. He has two years left on his contract at $12.9 million and $14.1 million, respectively. If the Spurs are going to rebuild, that’s money they can do without. Given Manu’s age and contract, he’s not a great fit with any non-contending team. I also suspect that Spurs will look to flip him to a contender out of respect for his services.

Enter the Chicago Bulls. I will argue that, outside of maybe Oklahoma City, the Bulls have the most assets to trade for Manu out of all the contenders. They can provide young talent, draft picks and salary relief. Ronnie Brewer and Kyle Korver’s contracts are unguaranteed after this season. Essentially, they’re expiring contracts. Taj Gibson and Omer Asik are young and have the size that is coveted around the league. Finally, unlike teams like the Lakers, Mavs, Heat and the Knicks, the Bulls actually have their draft picks for the next 5 years. They also have the Charlotte pick from the Tyrus Thomas trade that has very good potential of turning into a lottery pick(as long as MJ keeps running that team).

With the new CBA, teams under the luxury tax threshold only have to match within 150% of the salary in a trade. This means the Bulls will only have to send the Spurs $8.6 million in salary to complete a trade for Manu. A combination of Korver, Asik and Jimmy Butler with throw-ins like Lucas and Scalabrine will get you there. Then the Bulls can add in their 2012 draft pick along with the Charlotte pick to complete the package. Everything considered, I think this is a match in heaven. In fact, I may go as far as saying that this is a Tony Parker or Tim Duncan injury away from happening.

With a rotation of:

Derrick Rose
Rip Hamilton
Luol Deng
Carlos Boozer
Joakim Noah
Manu Ginobili
Ronnie Brewer
C.J. Watson
Taj Gibson
[Insert big man here]

I’d stare down any rowdy Heat fan at the UC and feel confident in saying: “Take seat you D-bag! We’re better than you!”

BTW, did I mention Ginobili’s contract ends in two years? In the summer of 2013, we can amnesty Boozer and be in the market for another max free agent! We will also be equipped with Rip Hamilton and Luol Deng’s expiring contract in the summer of 2013, which gives us more options and flexibility. If you’re wondering, here is a list of some of the players potentially in the 2013 free agency:

Monta Ellis
Andre Iguodala
Kevin Martin
James Harden (Restricted) – More on him later
Eric Gordon
OJ Mayo
Ben Gordon
Kevin Love
Brook Lopez
Serge Ibaka (Restricted)
Blake Griffin (Restricted) – We can dream right?

Eric Gordon

Any player who averages 22 points a game and is 22 years old, I want on my team. Gordon’s fit on the Bulls is obvious. He played on the same AAU team and is good friends with D-Rose. He may not be on the same level as a passer, but he is similar to Manu in that he can shoot, penetrate and play D. Best of all, he is the same age as Rose! With him, the Bulls have the new age Isiah/Dumars and will dominate the rest of the back courts in the NBA for the next 10 years.

So how will he become available? Stories have already surfaced that Gordon was disappointed by the trade to New Orleans. With the Hornets’ ownership situation in limbo, it’s hard for me to see the rest of the owners committing long term money to a team they have no stake in. So until they have a new owner in place, I think it’s entirely possible that the Hornets won’t be handing out long term contracts to anybody. This means that, whether it’s by restricted free agency in 2012 or unrestricted free agency in 2013, Eric Gordon will likely come on the market. Once he’s on the market, the Bulls will have a chance to acquire him. The reason I put him behind Manu on this list is because there will be considerably stiffer competition for his services. As I mentioned before, the guy is a 20-pt scorer who plays defense, and he has yet to approach his prime. He is a building block. The whole league is going to be after this guy.

The Bulls best chance at acquiring Eric Gordon might actually lie with EG himself. I have no inside information on this, but I get the feeling that if EG had the choice himself, Chicago would be one of his top 2 destinations (Pacers being the other). Chicago is the biggest market EG could realistically go to as a free agent (LA still has Kobe, NY has no cap space for the foreseeable future, Miami has D-Whistle). He’s on good terms with D-Rose. It’s also close to home (He’s from Indianapolis). If EG somehow made it to unrestricted free agency in 2013, I think the Bulls would have a great chance of signing him out right. However, if he and the Hornets mutually decide to make a move in 2012 (when he’s a restricted free agent), the Bulls would need a lot of help in getting him as they would not have adequate cap space at that time. The Bulls could get under the cap if they chose to amnesty Boozer in 2012. However, with Rose’s extension and Hamilton’s $5 million guaranteed, they will not be far enough under to offer EG the kind of money he will likely get somewhere else. Anyway, in 2012, the Bulls will need EG to be very vocal about his desire for Chicago (I’m talking Carmelo to NY level vocal) in order to scare away other pursuers. Then, and only then, can the Bulls swoop in with a sign and trade offer to grab EG.

The overriding assumption here is that EG REALLY wants the Bulls. If that is not the case, Chicago has no discernible advantage over any other team competing for his services and it’s going to be difficult to beat out the field. Since I have no information that would validate this assumption, I consider the Bulls getting EG to be a longer shot than Ginobili.

James Harden and his beard have a ton of potential.

James Harden

Solid, solid player. When you take everything into consideration, I think you’ll be hard pressed to find a better shooting guard for the Bulls’ needs in the entire NBA. He can stroke it from long range. He can take it to the hole. He can defend. These are all attributes possessed by the players listed above him and, incidentally, attributes desired by the Bulls. The advantage Harden has over Gordon is that he is a better ball handler and passer. He has an attribute that is very rare in today’s NBA: He can create well off the dribble, but he doesn’t dominate the ball. That is a perfect fit with D-Rose. In addition, he has ideal NBA shooting guard size (6-5, 220), something that can’t be said for EG (6-3, 215). In many ways, Harden’s game is very similar to Manu’s. The advantage Harden has over Manu is that he is 22 years old. They get Harden and the Bulls won’t have to worry about their backcourt for the next 10 years. Of course, I need to make clear that James Harden isn’t nearly as accomplished or proven as EG or Manu. However, based on his performance in the playoffs, the general expectation is that he will breakout over the next couple of years and develop into an All-star level player.

This is where his availability comes into play. For as well as OKC has kept its payroll under control, they’re about to face an issue every small market team faces. Will they be willing to pay significant luxury tax? They have already given Durant the max. They’re about to give Russell Westbrook the max. They’re paying Kendrick Perkins $8 million a year until 2015. Even if they fill out the rest of the roster with minimum salary players, assuming they won’t pay luxury tax, they will likely have to choose between Serge Ibaka and James Harden with the rest of their money. On the open market, both of those guys are going to get PAID. If Thunder chooses Ibaka, Harden will be in a similar situation to Eric Gordon, except a year later. He will probably be on the market through restricted free agency in 2013 or unrestricted free agency in 2014.
As mentioned in the Eric Gordon section, Bulls can create max cap space in 2013. So if he’s on the market, the route to acquire James Harden is actually pretty simple: get him to sign your offer sheet in 2013 and hope Thunder doesn’t match.

Of course, the same road block that existed for EG exists for Harden. He is a building block. The whole league will be after him. Competition will be stiff. So here is what will have to happen for James Harden to become a Bull. Thunder will have to decide that they’re not paying luxury tax. They will choose Serge Ibaka over James Harden. Harden will hit open market in 2013 and the Bulls will outbid everyone for his services. On top of that, unlike Eric Gordon, Harden doesn’t have any built-in back story that would lead someone to speculate that he may have interest in the Bulls. All of the above makes him an even longer shot than EG, putting him 3rd on this list.

Some astute NBA fans will argue that I left a lot of names off my list. Andre Iguodala(No J), Ben Gordon(No D), Kevin Martin(No Pass), Monta Ellis(No Size), OJ Mayo(No Good); all of them come to mind. Yes, those players will all improve the Bulls, but none of them are perfect fits for the Bulls. As long as we’re looking into far-fetched future scenarios, why not shoot for the moon and go for the perfect fit? I will argue with anyone that in the entire NBA, there is no better fit for what the Bulls need at shooting guard than Manu Ginobili, Eric Gordon and James Harden(Joe Johnson might be in the conversation but no need to explain why he’s not an option). You get Ginobili and, while short-term, we’ll be able to go to war with Miami the next 2 seasons. You get Gordon or Harden and we’ll be set in the back court for years. However far-fetched the possibilities are, those thoughts make me salivate. Leave no stone unturned. If the Bulls front office is not at least looking into the prospects of acquiring these 3 names, they would not be doing their jobs.

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