Friday, May 21, 2010
By Aggrey Sam
As the NBA world converges on Chicago for the league's draft combine at the A.T.T.A.C.K. Athletics facility (where players such as Michael Jordan, Kobe Bryant and Dwyane Wade have trained in the offseason) on the West Side of the city, discussions about where free agents and coaches, let alone potential draftees (this much is certain, the Wizards will use the No. 1 selection they acquired in Tuesday's lottery to choose University of Kentucky point guard John Wall, team sources told CSNChicago.com), the Chicago Bulls are a hot topic of conversation amongst league observers and insiders alike. While much of the focus on Chicago revolves around adding a top-tier free agent (some player from Cleveland is reportedly a possibility), many have ignored the fact that the Bulls only have six players--Derrick Rose, Joakim Noah, Luol Deng, Kirk Hinrich, Taj Gibson and James Johnson--under contract for next season
Last week Bulls general manager Gar Forman spoke to CSNChicago.com about the overall direction of the team, specifically adding depth to the roster. While Forman didn't address specific players or the speculation regarding Chicago potentially acquiring high profile players such as LeBron James (perhaps that's the aformentioned Cavalier in question) this summer--under NBA rules, he can't comment on free agents or can risk facing tampering violations--he did provide insight about the team's approach to the offseason and status of the Bulls' present roster.
"The biggest thing as we continue to build and put this team together is adding high makeup and character guys," Forman told CSNChicago.com. "We feel the guys we have now do have character, so as we add players, we want to continue to add guys who love to play for the right reasons."
That said, it's obvious that while the Bulls had another promising season, there are certainly holes to fill, as well as roster spots.
"I guess it will depend on how our summer goes and what our needs are," asserted Forman to CSNChicago.com, adding, "We need to get better shooting the basketball."
With a supreme penetrator at point guard in Rose, it would certainly behoove Chicago to add some knockdown perimeter shooters to complement the young All-Star. Free-agent talk thus far has centered around the potential acquisition of James (although Dallas owner Mark Cuban's comments about a potential sign-and-trade scenario with Cleveland not involving one of the teams with significant cap room, such as the Bulls, possibly muddied the waters), Chicago native Dwyane Wade of the Heat (a longshot, as he's expected to stay in Miami), Chris Bosh (who reportedly listed the Bulls, Lakers, Heat, Knicks and his current team, the Raptors as potential destinations; his agent later refuted that claim) or Atlanta's Joe Johnson (despite his poor playoff performance), but outside of Johnson, none of the aforementioned stars truly fits the bill.
"Everybody focuses on free agency--some of the bigger names--but we had a staff meeting last week," Forman told CSNChicago.com. "We need to pay attention to some of the lower-salary players."
Fans shouldn't be shocked if players such as shooting guards Anthony Morrow of Golden State, former Bull Roger Mason of San Antonio and J.J. Redick of Orlando are in the mix this summer. At small forward, Utah's Kyle Korver, Washington's Mike Miller and former Nugget Linas Kleiza (who played professionally in Greece this season) are also deadeye shooters and free agents that Chicago could covet, while power forward Matt Bonner of the Spurs may be an intriguing option as a "stretch four" if veteran Brad Miller doesn't return to the Windy City next season.
Forman told CSNChicago.com that some of this season's Bulls not under contract for the next campaign--such as the aforementioned Miller and midseason pick-up Flip Murray--"definitely" are under consideration, but regardless if they return or not, the general manager wants to add a veteran presence to the team's young core.
"Obviously we want some veteran guys," Forman told CSNChicago.com, before cautioning that the organization wouldn't add players simply to match up with their competitiors in the East, as a team like Cleveland did the previous summer (with the addition of Shaquille O'Neal, which was assumed to be a counter for Orlando's Dwight Howard in the playoffs; obviously the Cavaliers didn't advance to the conference finals and a date with the Magic), with future postseason plans in mind. "I'm not sure we're at the point yet where we look at individual players and certain matchups."
Still, with added expectations heaped upon the franchise in light of the roster's potential, it's clear this summer is the time to capitalize on the perception around the league that Chicago is a team on the rise. In addition to the previously listed sharpshooters, some veteran free agents the Bulls could consider include Boston shooting guard Ray Allen (definitely an outside sniper, but even at his advanced age, a cut above his contemporaries), point guards Luke Ridnour of the Bucks and Steve Blake of the Clippers in the backcourt, with athletic Clippers small forward Travis Outlaw another player that could add some reserve firepower.
After Gibson's strong rookie season (he was named first team NBA all-rookie), some squads could opt to invest in his development, but with the plethora of available players at his position--not to mention Gibson's ability to be productive in a reserve role--the Bulls could take a different tack. Bosh is obviously the prime target on the market at power forward, followed by Phoenix's Amar'e Stoudemire (who Chicago is reportedly not as interested in) and Utah's Carlos Boozer, the only one of the trio who probably won't command a max deal. Another alternative is New York's David Lee, who leapt into second-tier status with a strong season for the Knicks, albeit in head coach Mike D'Antoni's run-and-gun system. However, that first quartet, rugged veterans like Houston's Luis Scola and Miami's Udonis Haslem (both restrcted free agents considered valuable pieces by their current teams) are possibilities, while frequently-rumored in-season (but never consummated) Bulls trade option Al Harrington (a proven scorer off the bench) of the Knicks and young, athletic energy player Amir Johnson of the Raptors could be in play.
Then there's the draft, the reason Chicago has been such a hot spot in NBA circles the past few days. Extensive athletic testing, workouts and interviews have yielded key insight, but it more of the same in the coming weeks will occur leading up to the June 24th D-Day, as teams hustle to make the perceived right decisions.
"Our philosophy draft-wise is take the best player available," Forman told CSNChicago.com. "If you look historically at the draft, in that area the Bulls currently own the 17th pick in the first round, it's tough to get a guy that can help us right away."
Of last season's draft haul, Johnson (drafted 16th) had an inconsistent initial campaign, but Gibson (picked 26th) was a mainstay from early on, so Forman's statement rings both true and false. With outside shooting being a top priority--as well as hypothetically adding some size on the wing to complement Hinrich--it seems as if Chicago got an accurate sneak peek at some of the best available shooting guards (as least as it stands right now) last Sunday, when James Anderson of Oklahoma State, Xavier Henry of Kansas, Dominique Jones of South Florida and Paul George of Fresno State came to the Berto Center (the Bulls practice facility in the city's northern suburbs) to work out for the team.
Anderson may be the most polished and accomplished of the group, Henry's strength and prolific shooting intrigue teams across the league and Jones' toughness and ability to play point guard have earned him admirers, but George--the least ballyhooed of the prospects--has earned rave reviews from league insiders and with his size (6-foot-8), versatility and high skill level, he has a chance to move even higher up the draft board, perhaps out of Chicago's range. Of that group, Jones is the one player not known as a precise outside marksman, but George, Anderson and Henry are all on the organization's radar.
All in all, this summer will definitely be one of change for the Bulls, regardless if James, Wade or Bosh come to town. Rome wasn't built in a day and as diehard Bulls fan know from the championship era that now seems so long ago, even Hall of Famers Michael Jordan and Scottie Pippen were ably backed by a cast of solid, contributing role players.
"We'll always explore all our options. We like our nucleus, but at the same time, if there's something that makes us better, that's our job to explore all our options," Forman told CSNChicago.com. "We really like our young nucleus and want to see them get better."
In order for that to happen, that current group--if it remains wholly intact; Forman indicated that only Rose and Noah were truly untouchable--will need some help. That help just might come in the form of some under-the-radar assistance.
Aggrey Sam is CSNChicago.coms Bulls Insider. Follow him @CSNBullsInsider on Twitter for up-to-the-minute Bulls information and his take on the team, the NBA and much more.