Filling Out the Bulls’ Roster: Options at Backup Center

Should the Bulls try luring Elton Brand back to where it all began?

With the Mike Dunleavy Jr. (full mini mid-level exception) and Nazr Mohammed (veteran’s minimum) signings now official, the Bulls’ roster is nearing full capacity. Tony Snell and Erik Murphy agreed to contracts yesterday, meaning 12 players will make up what should be one of the two or three best rosters, from top to bottom, in the Eastern Conference (Rose, Butler, Deng, Boozer, Noah, Gibson, Dunleavy, Hinrich, Teague, Mohammed, Snell, Murphy), with room for one more. The back court, as expected, will be a bit crowded, so it’s fair to presume that the final roster spot will go to another big man. With all do respect to Mohammed, he’s 35-years-old, slow as molasses and simply can’t be relied upon to solely backup Noah and his lingering plantar fasciitis anymore. He gave some solid minutes here and there last season, but the only thing anyone truly remembers was his legendary shove of Lebron in Game 3 of the Eastern Conference Semis; the backup center market is horrific, but it’s painfully obvious that the Bulls need another big body in the front court to come off the bench. Who’s available? Who makes sense? Let’s take a look.

Elton Brand

The night the Bulls traded Elton Brand to the Clippers for Tyson Chandler was one of the worst moments in my sports life. Constant pouting and wall-punching for days, minimal sleep and happiness. Twelve years later, the 34-year-old Brand finds himself looking for work after a very successful NBA career. He’s nowhere near even a shell of his old self, but he was still able to give Dallas a solid 21.2 minutes per game last season.

  • Pros: Because of his ability to rebound and block shots, Brand fits into the Bulls system fairly well. He averaged nearly a career high in blocks per 36 minutes (2.1; career high is 2.3), steals per 36 minutes (1.2; career high is 1.3) and rebounds per 36 minutes (10.1; career high is 11.0). Although his ability to score has diminished over the years, Brand was able to convert 54.17% of his shots from the right elbow and 48.28% from the right baseline, highlighting his effectiveness in the pick-and-roll on the right side of the floor. Of course, the Bulls won’t be counting on Brand to score much from anywhere outside the restricted area, where he was able to make 58.6% of shots.
  • Cons: Brand is still a pretty terrible shooter (47.3% last year as a center – not good), and his rising foul rate is a major concern. He committed a career high 4.5 fouls per 36 minutes last season, almost a full foul more than his previous season (3.7). With Joakim Noah continuously battling through injuries and Taj Gibson missing 17 games last season, members of the Bulls front court can ill-afford to get into significant foul trouble.
  • Bottom line: Any team willing to give Brand anything more than the veteran’s minimum ($854,389) is dumb as rocks. Given the Bulls’ salary cap situation and Jerry Reinsdorf’s cheap tendencies, it’s almost impossible to see them signing anyone for more than that. Brand somehow posted a higher Player Efficiency Rating (PER) than Taj Gibson last year and would provide some value from a defensive standpoint. Those reasons, along with Brand’s veteran presence in the locker room, lead me to believe that the Bulls really can’t do much better than that.

Samuel Dalembert

The 32-year-old Dalembert is the best center available left amongst the weak free agent crop. He’s had a very productive career but is coming off a season in which he became the 78th player to make it to Scott Skiles’ unnecessarily large doghouse.

  • Pros: Dalembert is a fantastic defender, even at his age, and can alter shots in ways that many centers around the league cannot. He has career per-36 averages of 2.6 blocks and 11.5 rebounds and converted an incredible 54.2% of his shots last season in Milwaukee. Like the other players on this list, he won’t be counted on to score (although he did put up 35 points in a game against Denver back in February) in Chicago, but his defensive presence in the paint can be very impactful for any team. Additionally, Dalembert had a higher PER last season (18.60) than both Joakim Noah (18.16) AND Roy Hibbert (17.32). That should at least count for something.
  • Cons: Dalembert’s value is a little too high for Reinsdorf and his checkbook. The Bulls are already over the luxury tax line of $71.748 million, so it may not be sensible to go after a backup center who made nearly $7 million last year and is likely looking for a deal around half of that. He also played a majority of last season somewhat out of shape, which is probably the reason why Skiles benched him so often.
  • Bottom line: Most teams interested in Dalembert are presumably targeting him as a mini mid-level exception candidate, which the Bulls already used on Dunleavy. He will also be looking to play more minutes than the Bulls will be able to provide him, so this speculation is more wishful thinking than anything else. It’d be relatively shocking to see Dalembert sign with Chicago for the veteran’s minimum or see Chicago throw any more money at him than that.

Jason Collins

Jason Collins? The 34-year-old veteran who came out of the closet back in April and claims he still has some basketball left in him? Yes. Yes indeed.

  • Pros: I couldn’t give a crap less whether Collins is gay or straight. Anyone who does should go take a look in the mirror and reassess the life he/she is living. All I care about is whether or not he can still play basketball. For a team like the Bulls, who are looking for another guy to spell Noah and provide 5-10 minutes off the bench, some believe Collins can. He defends very well, plays as hard as anyone, has a ton of postseason experience, and he can be signed for the veteran’s minimum. Against a team like the Pacers, whom the Bulls play five times a year, Collins’ physicality and mental toughness would be a great asset.
  • Cons: As sad as it is, some teams are shying away from Collins because of the potentially negative attention his homosexuality (not that there’s anything wrong with that) will draw from a number of fans around the country. If the Bulls feel that Collins’ defense and leadership trumps all of that, they’ll probably take a look at him. However, he has absolutely no offensive skills anymore and is very one-dimensional. He’d be signed to strictly guard opposing teams’ centers and set hard screens for ball handlers and shooters – nothing more, nothing less.
  • Bottom line: It’s difficult to see the Bulls going after Collins, as he’ll likely draw interest from a number of Western Conference teams looking to beef up their front lines to better defend Dwight Howard. Nevertheless, he’s a solid fit for the defensive system Tom Thibodeau has in place and has proven to hold his own down low, so Bulls fans shouldn’t be totally opposed.

Ronny Turiaf

Another one-dimensional center. The 30-year-old Turiaf can’t score, but he can be relied upon to defend the post.

  • Pros: Defense. Turiaf only played about 11 minutes a game last season as Deandre Jordan’s backup in LA, but he was able to put up per-36 averages of 7.8 rebounds and 1.8 blocks. He works hard, and he has played on six playoff teams in seven seasons. You know what you’re getting with Turiaf; whether or not that effort remains sufficient for most organizations remains to be seen.
  • Cons: Offense. A large majority of Turiaf’s points come from deep inside the paint – generally layups, tip-ins and dunks – as opposed to anywhere else on the floor. Like Collins, there’s really not much to him offensively. He’ll do some of the dirty work and set some screens, but he will not be counted on to score at all. Period.
  • Bottom line: Given the fact that Turiaf really isn’t any better than Mohammed, it’d be mildly surprising if the Bulls show any interest at all. They’d probably be better served signing another guard for cheap.

Chris Andersen

The Birdman. Why not?

  • Pros: He’s extremely irritating for opponents, every opposing fan despises him, and his hair is kind of awesome.
  • Cons: He’s a total douche, looks like a complete idiot, can’t do a damn thing offensively unless Lebron James is dropping him a dime, and I hate him. That’s why not.
  • Bottom line: I threw him in here just to emphasize how big of a jackass he is. The Heat will re-sign him anyways, which is fine. They can have him.

Other options: Brandan Wright (likely to re-sign with Dallas), Chris Wilcox (eh), Cole Aldrich (eh), Joel Przybilla (bum)

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About Adam Levy

Adam Levy is a diehard sports fan and grew up in the suburbs of Chicago. After graduating with a Master's Degree from Indiana University, he began working at a consulting firm in the loop. In his spare time, he watches sports, re-watches Seinfeld episodes for the 23rd time, plays pickup basketball, competes in sports leagues during the summer, and overvalues all of the players on his fantasy teams. He is extremely passionate about his teams and will likely be found curled up in the fetal position on his bed, crying and cursing after significant losses. If you like his insight, feel free to comment, follow him on Twitter @ChiCityBS, or email him at aplevy1@gmail.com.

Posted on July 11, 2013, in Bulls and tagged , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 3 Comments.

  1. I couldn’t agree more about Anderson (I refuse to honor anybody like him with a nickname). Got a good laugh about your reasons for adding him to your list. Until I read that I was going to blast you for adding him. I have no problem adding a defensive-minded center with no offensive skills. The Bulls have enough offense with Rose back, and the outside threat with Dunleavy. Leave the grunt work to the back-up big man. Perfectly fine. I’d prefer Collins to Brand for that reason only, but anybody except Anderson on your list would suffice.

    • Haha well good news: The Heat re-signed Andersen last night. I wrote the article before that but decided to keep that part in there anyways for the hell of it.

      I would be content with the Bulls signing either Collins or Brand. At this point, I haven’t read any rumors about the Bulls talking to either of these guys, but I’d say that Brand is probably a little more realistic simply because he’s getting looks from a number of Eastern Conference teams (New York, which is now not happening, and Cleveland, which is also not happening after their signing of Andrew Bynum). Not sure if there is any interest from either side at this point, but we should know sooner rather than later what route the Bulls would like to go.

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