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.
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.
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? 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.
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.
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)
Once word got out that Matt Forte and the Bears had finally agreed on a long-term contract (four years worth roughly $32 million with roster bonuses and incentives), it felt as if the weight of the world was lifted off my shoulders. It scared the living shit out of me that the most important player in our offense (other than Cutler) was just hours away from holding out. With him, we’re a Super Bowl contender. Without him, we’re not. It’s as simple as that. And to the people who previously thought that Forte’s presence is overrated and that Michael Bush can easily carry the load: stop talking. Right now.
Forte’s uncanny athleticism and versatility are what separate him from today’s mediocre running backs and make him one of the best in the biz. I understand that the last two Super Bowl champions had gotten less production out of their backfields than the Bears have gotten from their offensive line (Giants ranked dead last in 2012, Packers ranked 24th out of 32 in 2011), indicating that the NFL has rapidly transitioned into a passing league, but why does that matter? Without Forte, this is an offense without a true identity. ESPN Chicago’s Michael C. Wright did him justice in coming up with these stats:
Since entering the league in 2008, Forte ranks sixth in the league with 6,218 yards from scrimmage and is the only player in NFL history to gain 900 yards rushing and 400 receiving in each of his first four seasons. Forte is also one of four Bears to gain at least 4,000 rushing yards (4,233) and 1,500 receiving yards (1,985) in his career.
Those numbers, by themselves, should indicate how impactful Matt Forte is on the football field. His incredible ability to protect Jay Cutler, catch 50, 60 or even 70 balls out of the backfield, and his knack for breaking off long runs (especially last season) will ultimately be the offense’s biggest assets yet again. Except this time, there will be more playmakers to help this team score points and no Mike Martz to call atrocious plays. The additions of Brandon Marshall, Alshon Jeffery and Earl Bennett’s great health will force defenses to pick their poison with this offense. No more worrying about whether or not Roy Williams, Johnny Knox and Devin Hester can run the correct routes and hold on to the football anymore. The threat of Forte opens up the field for our everyone and vice versa, putting less pressure on Jay Cutler and much more pressure on opposing defenses. The legitimate balance in our offense should also keep the defense off the field more, giving them the opportunity to make stops more efficiently, and allow the punting unit to stay on the sidelines longer, meaning that opposing offenses won’t have as many short fields to work with. One little thing Forte does on the field can positively impact a number of different facets of the game.
The deal Forte signed was great for both sides. The Bears locked up one of their most valuable players for four years, and Forte gets insurance and nearly $18 million guaranteed until the age of 3o, which is known to be the age in which great running backs lose whatever ability they used to have and become backups or platoon candidates at best. Some may argue that Forte got shafted and deserves more money (which he very well may), as he was originally seeking a contract comparable to that of Darren McFadden ($10 million/year, $26 million guaranteed) or Chris Johnson (9.17 million/year, $30 million guaranteed). But, given the amount of leverage the Bears had in this negotiation (Forte was more than likely going to be franchise tagged again next season), this is probably the best deal that he could have gotten. It makes him one of the six (or so) highest paid running backs in the league, ahead of the likes Frank Gore, Maurice Jones-Drew and Michael Turner and in the same ballpark as Ray Rice, Steven Jackson and Marshawn Lynch. Not too shabby of a list, that’s for damn sure.
After the way last season ended in such disappointing fashion, the only way for this team to go is up. Locking up Forte was a major step in the right direction and should give Bears fans the optimism we’ve lacked since Cutler broke his thumb. Not only is Forte a great player, but he’s also a great teammate and professional. He couldn’t have handled this situation any better by playing out his contract and doing what was best for the team, unlike what many football players would do. Forte’s presence alone should put the Bears in position to make a run in the playoffs next winter, and I’m confident he’ll live up to the expectations of his contract and then some. September 9th can’t come any sooner.
Two years ago, Bulls fans, including myself, were devastated when our beloved Kirk Hinrich was traded on draft night to the Washington Wizards. It was a way for the Bulls to clear up some cap space and go all-in on free agency by splurging on Lebron James, Dwyane Wade and/or Chris Bosh. I never thought for a second that Lebron was taking his talents to the Windy City (I actually thought he would stay in Cleveland, but that’s besides the point). Wade maybe. He grew up in Chicago, so there was a realistic chance of him coming here. But when the Bulls struck out on all three of them, Carlos Boozer ended up being our consolation prize, and it was disappointing to say the least.
The Bulls gave up a seven-year veteran in Hinrich, a guy who did everything that was ever asked of him, for next to nothing. By trading a player of Hinrich’s class, the front office showed that loyalty hadn’t meant as much as we’d thought. Of course, we all got over it, and the Bulls ended up with the best record in the NBA the next season, but there wasn’t a game that went by where I didn’t miss Kirk Hinrich. His leadership and his defense were his two best qualities, and the Bulls lacked both during the 2011 Eastern Conference finals and 2012 playoffs.
Sure enough, as of yesterday morning, Captain Kirk is coming back to Chicago on the mini-midlevel exception and will sign a two-year, (just over) $6 million deal when the free agent moratorium ends on Wednesday. The most surprising part? He passed up a better offer from Milwaukee to come back and play for the team that low-balled him with a trade just two years ago. Hinrich probably didn’t forget, but he certainly forgave. Clearly, he wants to win as badly as anyone and feels he can help keep this team afloat without its best player. That, in itself, should make us feel pretty good.
No, Hinrich won’t be the difference maker in winning a championship this season and beyond, but he does solve the Bulls’ need for a combo guard and will man the point while Rose is out until January or February. Every one is entitled to their opinion on C.J. Watson (he was told by the Bulls yesterday that his team option will not be picked up) and whether or not Hinrich is an upgrade but, although he hasn’t been the same player in two seasons since that trade, I’d like to think that a comeback to Chicago will be exactly what Hinrich needs to get back to his old self.
By now, we can all agree that Watson is a soft-spoken floor general who plays mediocre defense at best and proved he cannot run the Bulls’ offense without the luxury of having Derrick Rose take off some pressure; Hinrich is the opposite. He started at point guard for this organization for over five seasons and already has a large majority of fan support in Chicago. He can defend multiple positions very well, has a high basketball IQ and was widely considered one of the best perimeter defenders in the NBA during his time as a Bull. The injuries have piled up – there’s no doubt about that. However, Hinrich is only 31 years old, so if he can manage to stay healthy, he’s still got a good amount left in the tank. He’s not the answer by any means, but he does bring some aspects of his game to the table that Watson does not.
When Rip Hamilton’s deal expires after this season, Hinrich could start at shooting guard next season, making him even more valuable to the Bulls backcourt. The two-year deal comes with minimal risk, so it can’t hurt. Plus, according to Chicago Tribune’s K.C. Johnson, because Hinrich is signing for the mini-midlevel exception, “the Bulls can exceed both the luxury tax threshold projected to be $70.3 million and a hard cap of $74.3 million set for teams who use the full midlevel exception.” In other words, the Bulls may end up matching Houston’s offer for Omer Asik after all, putting them into luxury tax territory and forcing them to pursue minimum-salary free agents to fill up the roster. But, that’s another story for another day.
As excited as I am about seeing Hinrich back in the white, red and black, the Bulls still have a few more important decisions and potential roster changes to make. It’s unfortunate that we can’t bring in any legitimate game-changers, but with such little flexibility in the salary cap, signing Kirk Hinrich was a move that many felt needed to be made. We’ll see how creative the front office wants to get in the coming weeks, but I’m not counting on anything major. In the meantime, let’s welcome back our former Captain and his new-look goggles to his old stomping grounds with open arms.
Less than a week after striking out and getting rejected by Dwight Howard, Houston Rockets GM Daryl Morey has decided to settle for Bulls’ restricted free agent Omer Asik to fill their gaping hole at center. As everyone expected, the Rockets have offered Asik a heavily backloaded 3-year deal worth $24.3 million (about $14 million in the third year). Once July 11 hits, the Bulls will have three days to match that offer sheet, or else The Turkish Hammer will be taking his talents to H-Town. For months, Gar Forman has made it very clear that re-signing Asik is a priority and that all decisions made within the organization this summer will be basketball decisions, not financial decisions. That being said, matching this offer and re-signing him will be extremely difficult and will put us right up against the luxury-tax threshold –something that Jerry Reinsdorf has never felt comfortable with.
Blogabull.com crunched the salary numbers Saturday and determined that, if the Bulls are to re-sign Asik, they will be going well over the luxury tax, meaning that Watson, Brewer, Korver AND Lucas will almost certainly be gone in order to make things more affordable for the organization. They will have to find cheaper alternatives (Jimmy Butler is already one of them) to those players, as they’ll still have very little wiggle room with nearly $70 million tied into nine players (the luxury-tax threshold is expected to be around $70.3 million, according to ESPN capologist Larry Coon). The Bulls are in an incredibly difficult situation this summer — they’ll be treading water like a scared four-year old without inflatable armbands and scrambling to find cheap replacements (some of whom I wrote about last week, some of whom Nick Friedell touched on on Saturday). That’s why it’s hard to see them bringing Asik back even after Forman’s adamant statements about keeping him. They have limited flexiblity, if any, to work with before next season tips off. Keep in mind, though, that the luxury tax is put in place at the end of the regular season, which opens up the opportunity for a midseason trade to get the Bulls back under if need be.
By bringing back Asik for this price, the $14.09 million he’s set to make in the 2014-15 season will be added to the combined $47.7 million owed to Derrick Rose, Carlos Boozer and Joakim Noah that season. That would be about $61 million tied into four players, which pretty much guarantees that the amnesty clause will be used on Boozer by 2014. Unfortunately, that’s an extra two years of potential frustration and bipolar conversations/debates about Boozer’s erratic play and mysterious hairline. The popular opinion amongst Bulls fans, including myself, is that we’d be better off amnestying Boozer now instead of two years from now. That way, the Bulls will be able to re-sign Asik, allow Taj Gibson to get more minutes and even audition for a starting gig before he’s up for an extension, and bring in some better free agents (either this year or next) to surround Rose with. But everyone knows by now that there’s no chance of that happening, and in life, we can’t always get what we want.
There’s no denying how phenomenal Omer Asik is on the defensive end of the court. If we don’t keep him, his 7’1″ presence will be severely missed. Take a look at the impact he made last season while anchoring the paint (according to Hardwood Paroxysm):
Of the Bulls’ top 50 most played 5-man lineups this past season (via NBA.com), Asik was in six of the top seven in points allowed per 100 possessions (pts/100). Without Asik on the court, Chicago allowed just 97.6 pts/100, which would have place 5th in the league over the course of a full season. But when Asik was on the court, that number dropped all the way down to 89.7 pts/100, which would have led the league 5.6 pts/100. He ranked in the 96th percentile in individual points allowed per possession, via mySynergySports, as well as 84th percentile against pick-and-roll ball-handlers and 77th percentile against isolations. (h/t Matt Moore) He’s an elite rebounder (h/t Zach Lowe), an excellent help defender and a good shot-blocker.
Take that all in for a second and think about this: the Bulls were a ridiculous eight points better defensively with Asik on the court. But as great as that sounds, we all know about the train wreck that is Asik’s offense. He has bricks for hands, has absolutely no range outside of an inch from the basket (meaning he can’t do anything but dunk), and watching him shoot free throws is more painful than jamming a finger or stubbing a toe. Asik may be as valuable to the Bulls’ defense as anyone (especially the second unit), but I’m not convinced that matching this fat offer would be the smartest decision. NBA players (especially centers) get overpaid all the time — I know that. But given the situation the Bulls are in, someone who has literally no offensive ability whatsoever, regardless of how good he is defensively, doesn’t deserve a contract that averages $4 million per year, let alone $8 million. I fully expect the Bulls to immediately start negotiating a sign-and-trade with Houston if they feel they can’t match this offer in order to get something in return for Asik’s services. It may sound unrealistic if Asik and/or the Rockets are unwilling to work out a new contract, but it’s definitely a possibility.
As much as I like Asik and would be devastated to see him go, I don’t think this deal is worth it. His future his bright, and he will continue to improve, but to pay a backup center an average of $8 million a year who only played 14.7 minutes per game last season is just too much. Big men are always tough to find, and this summer is no exception. The best low-cost options are guys like Joel Przybilla, Rony Turiaf, Troy Murphy, Nazr Mohammed, Greg Stiemsma, and Eddy Curry (just kidding, chill out), among many others (I’m not sure what kind of money Marcus Camby will demand, but he’s an unrestricted free agent as well). As unappealing as that list is, the Bulls would have to bring in someone cheap to fill the 5-spot in the second unit, plus they’ll have the money not used on Asik (about $5 million next year) to bring in whomever else (or bring back Watson/Korver) they feel will help keep this team afloat until Rose and Deng (Thibs actually said Deng won’t have wrist surgery and will be ready to go by training camp, so who knows with him) come back. It’s not ideal, that’s for sure, but we have to believe that Thibs and his hardworking mentality will find a way to make it work. Over the next week and a half or so, we’ll see how madly in love Gar Forman and John Paxson still are with Omer Asik.