“We’re not done.”
Those three words rang the loudest from Artūras Karnišovas’ first press conference after swinging the blockbuster that made Nikola Vučević a Chicago Bull. Now that the short-term results of that trade have underwhelmed, they echo as resoundingly as ever.
Nine players from the Bulls’ 2020-21 roster are set for free agency, three more have partial or non-guaranteed salaries for next season, and the team will have the ability to free a significant amount of salary cap space this offseason. So sweeping change could very well be on the horizon.
Where that change comes is the question. Upgrading at point guard already stood out as a need, but with the news that Coby White will spend the next four-to-six months rehabilitating a shoulder injury, it becomes a necessity. White started 54 of 72 games at the position last season and averaged 31.2 minutes, third-most on the team to only Zach LaVine and Vučević.
Internally, options to address that gap in the rotation are limited. Tomáš Satoranský has $5 million of his $10 million salary for next year guaranteed, meaning he could be retained for rotational security or waived to clear $5 million in space. Ryan Arcidiacono has a $3 million team option. Other than impending free-agent Devon Dotson, who played on a 2-way contract last season, that’s about it.
Other avenues include trades (Vasilije Micić anyone?) — where the Bulls’ compromised first-round pick situation could make negotiating for a high-level upgrade tricky — and the draft. The Bulls need to cash in on their 20.3 percent chance of landing in the top four of the lottery to retain their first-round pick, and if they do, could add an impact name like Cade Cunningham or Jalen Suggs. But there’s nearly an 80 percent chance of that not coming to fruition, which would limit them to just a second-round choice (No. 38 overall).
And then there’s free agency, perhaps the easiest route about which to speculate. Here’s a tiered summary of options the Bulls could explore (and if interested in an explainer on the Bulls’ cap space situation, click here):
Tier 1: Realistic, Starter-Caliber Options
Lonzo Ball, G, New Orleans Pelicans (restricted)
Stats: 14.6 ppg, 5.7 apg, 1.5 spg | 41.4% FG, 37.8% 3P, 78.1% FT
The Bulls were linked to Ball from weeks before trade deadline day until the final horn, and it’s easy to see why. Though not necessarily a half court maestro, the 23-year-old combo guard has significantly improved his outside shot, thrives as an pace-pushing playmaker and is a solid team defender. He projects as a solid fit next to Zach LaVine and still has room to grow.
The problem: Ball is a restricted free agent, meaning the Pelicans can match any offer sheet he signs, and there should be suitors for his services. A sign-and-trade swap would be ideal from the Bulls’ perspective. Could talks centered around Lauri Markkanen rekindle?
Spencer Dinwiddie, G, Brooklyn Nets (player option)
Stats (2019-20): 20.6 ppg, 6.8 apg, 3.5 rpg | 41.5% FG, 30.8% 3P, 77.8% FT (7 attempts per game)
Dinwidde missed all but three games of the 2020-21 season with a partially torn ACL suffered in late December — thus, the use of his 2019-20 statistics, when the now 28-year-old guard had a career year with Kevin Durant sidelined and Kyrie Irving in and out of the lineup.
Now, he’s coming off a serious knee injury and won’t hit the open market unless he declines his $12.3 million player option for 2021-22 in pursuit of long-term security and perhaps a bigger role. But if Dinwiddie does become available, he could be a great fit for the Bulls, a team in need of facilitating and rim pressure.
Dennis Schröder, G, Los Angeles Lakers
Stats: 15.4 ppg, 5.8 apg, 3.5 rpg | 43.7% FG, 33.5% 3P, 84.8% FT
Schröder is due for unrestricted free agency, making him a simpler target than the restricted candidates. But he reportedly previously turned down a four-year, $84 million extension offer from the Lakers, which gives an idea of the type of compensation he’ll be seeking.
It’s easy to envision the Bulls having interest in Schröder if he is indeed gettable. He has a years-long track record of productivity and durability on both ends and enjoyed the best season of his career under Billy Donovan with the 2019-20 Oklahoma City Thunder, when he finished a Sixth Man of the Year finalist and shot a career-best 38.5 percent from 3-point range.
Devonte’ Graham, G, Charlotte Hornets (restricted)
Stats: 14.8 ppg, 5.4 apg, 2.7 rpg | 37.7% FG, 37.5% 3P, 84.2% FT
Graham, 26, is another restricted option. But his current team, the Hornets, faces a backcourt glut, with LaMelo Ball already a cornerstone, the ascendent Terry Rozier under contract for next season and a decision due on Malik Monk this offseason.
If Graham ends up available, he’s worth a look as a dynamic off-the-dribble shooter and capable facilitator. Plus, he likely won’t carry the weighty price tag of a Ball or Schröder.
Jalen Brunson, G, Dallas Mavericks
Stats: 12.6 ppg, 3.5 apg, 3.4 rpg | 52.3% FG, 40.5% 3P, 79.5% FT
Brunson isn’t necessarily a “free agent,” but he could become available depending on how the Mavericks handle his $1.8 million non-guaranteed salary for next season (which the 24-year-old guard has far outperformed).
Should the Mavericks exercise that team option, or decline it then extend Brunson, he won’t be an option for the Bulls. But if he ends up on the open market, whether as an outright signing or sign-and-trade option, his two-way prowess and shot-creation ability could be just what the doctor ordered. Sentimentally, it would also be a nice homecoming for the Stevenson product.
Tier 2: Pie-in-the-Sky Veterans
Chris Paul, G, Phoenix Suns (player option)
Stats: 16.4 ppg, 8.9 apg, 1.4 spg | 49.9% FG, 39.5% 3P, 93.4% FT
Paul’s contract carries a $44.2 million player option for next season, which might seem like a no-brainer for the 36-year-old guard. But on the heels of a stellar season in Phoenix, reports have recently surfaced he may opt out and pursue a multi-year deal.
The reason he’s classified as a long-shot option for the Bulls has as much to do with the potential price tag as it does his current fit in Phoenix. No team knows Paul’s impact better than the Suns, who punched their first Western Conference finals ticket since 2010 on Sunday behind 37 points from the Point God. One would think they’d be hard-pressed to let him walk.
Mike Conley Jr., G, Utah Jazz
Stats: 16.2 ppg, 6.0 apg, 1.4 spg | 44.4% FG, 41.2% 3P, 85.2% FT
Conley will be an unrestricted free agent, but is sure to have high salary expectations and plenty of high-profile suitors. He revitalized his career in his age-33 season, making his first All-Star appearance for the league’s best team in the Jazz, who, like the Suns, are a title contender. He’d be a picture-perfect fit for the Bulls, but also has to be considered an unlikely one.
Kyle Lowry, G, Toronto Raptors
Stats: 17.2 ppg, 7.3 apg, 5.4 rpg | 43.6% FG, 39.6% 3P, 87.5% FT
Lowry, like those above him, would be a sublime addition. An high-level defender and floor organizer with championship pedigree, he’d raise the Bulls’ ceiling considerably.
But he’s also up there in age and likely looking for a proven team and lofty contract if he leaves Toronto in unrestricted free agency. The Heat (who will be cap flexible), 76ers and Lakers were all linked to him at the trade deadline.
Tier 3: Fallback Options
Derrick Rose, Knicks: Proved this year he can still captain a winning team and perform on both ends. The Knicks went 24-11 in Rose’s 35 regular-season appearances, then he led them in scoring in the postseason. A return to Chicago would be about more than a homecoming.
Goran Dragić, Heat: His contract carries a $19.4 million team option for next season, which the Heat could decline if they decide to pursue a bigger-splash move. While Dragić, 35, showed signs of decline this season, he’d be a solid veteran to add to the mix and still packs some scoring punch.
TJ McConnell, Pacers: Bulls fans know McConnell’s feisty defensive ways as well as anyone, and he’s a nifty facilitator to boot. While not glamorous, he’d be an impactful piece to a revamped three-guard rotation.
Alex Caruso, Lakers: Would considerably improve the Bulls’ point-of-attack defense and, while limited offensively, even cracked 40 percent from 3 this season on low volume.
Patty Mills, Spurs: A 38.8 percent 3-point shooter (37.5 percent on 6.3 attempts per game last season), Mills would add a spark — and a veteran — to the backcourt.
Reggie Jackson, Clippers: Streaky offensively and suspect on the defensive end? Sure. But Jackson was productive in his minutes for the Clippers this season and has stepped up in the playoffs, shooting mid-40s from 3-point range in both samples.
Ish Smith, Wizards: The 32-year-old is exiting the 11th season of his journeyman career. A steady — and speedy — veteran option.
Elfrid Payton, Knicks: Payton would bring solid defense to the Bulls’ backcourt, but his offensive limitations were on display in an unceremonious second season with the Knicks, which ended with him being fully supplanted by Rose in the playoffs.