The Chicago Bulls enjoyed an active 2021 free-agent period, inking DeMar DeRozan, Lonzo Ball, Alex Caruso and Tony Bradley to add to a completely overhauled roster.
As of Aug. 26, that roster holds 12 guaranteed contracts and one two-way deal:
Guards: Zach LaVine, Lonzo Ball, Coby White, Alex Caruso, Ayo Dosunmu, Devon Dotson*
Wings: DeMar DeRozan, Patrick Williams, Troy Brown Jr., Javonte Green
Bigs: Nikola Vučević, Tony Bradley, Marko Simonović
Assume Ball, LaVine, DeRozan, Williams and Vučević comprise the starting five, with Caruso, White, Brown and Bradley as the key reserves.
That still leaves the team with, at maximum, three full-time roster spots to fill before the end of training camp, and multiple holes to address — most pressingly, depth in the frontcourt and on the wing.
Lauri Markkanen’s restricted free agent status remains the biggest domino left to fall. Should a sign-and-trade be consummated for him to play elsewhere next season, his departure would leave the Bulls’ power forward depth chart even more vacant, with Williams and DeRozan the only players with even limited NBA experience at the position. Even if Markkanen returns, he hardly addresses the Bulls’ need for defensive presence in the forward rotation.
And then there’s the matter of the $5 million trade exception the Bulls generated from their sign-and-trade of Daniel Theis, which may motivate them to enter the season with just 14 guaranteed contracts instead of 15. They could then use that exception to take in an extra player in a potential mid-season trade.
Regardless of whether the Bulls end up filling two or three roster spots, there are a handful of interesting names left on the open market that could provide a helping hand — and crucially, given the Bulls’ cap constraints, be available for the minimum.
Here’s a pass at five names that could fit:
Paul Millsap, PF
Millsap, 36, isn’t the versatile, All-Star-caliber two-way presence he once was with the Jazz and Hawks. In 56 appearances with the Nuggets last season, he averaged 9 points, 4.7 rebounds, playing just 20.8 minutes per contest.
But he remains a solid veteran that’s been a leader for multiple Conference finals teams, and, even at his advanced age, could provide sharp defensive instincts and a modicum of spot-up 3-point shooting (34.3 percent last year) in the frontcourt. A tried and true power forward, he also directly addresses a position of need.
Plus, Millsap has some connection to Artūras Karnišovas, who worked in Denver’s front office when they first signed him in 2017, when he was fresh off four consecutive All-Star selections with Atlanta. That's why Millsap is on the Bulls' wish list, though he also is drawing interest from the Nets and Warriors.
Other power forwards: Patrick Patterson, Ersan Ilyasova
James Ennis, SF
Ennis, 31, has bounced around a bunch throughout his NBA career, but, a 6-foot-6 small forward that guards the perimeter well and shoots a career 36 percent from 3-point range, his skill set is sustainable in a marginal role.
The Bulls’ functional small forward depth at this point features DeRozan and Brown Jr., with little else surrounding them, so having a bit of seasoned insurance certainly wouldn’t hurt. Ennis could provide that. He averaged 8.4 points, 4 rebounds and shot 43.3 percent from 3 last season in 41 games (37 starts) with the Magic.
Other wings: Wesley Matthews, Justin Jackson, Denzel Valentine
LaMarcus Aldridge, PF/C
Aldridge, 36, has been linked to the Bulls for a while, but what’s not clear yet is if he intends to play next season. In April 2021, he announced his retirement from basketball due to heart concerns; and while ESPN reported weeks ago he is mulling a return, health takes precedence.
If Aldridge were to suit up next season, and choose the Bulls, he’d add scoring punch to the frontcourt as a mid-post savant and floor-spacer. After being bought out by the Spurs, he averaged 12.8 points (52.1 percent shooting), 4.8 rebounds and 2.6 assists in five games with the Nets before his campaign abruptly ended.
Where he’d add little is on the defensive side — a projected problem area for the Bulls, especially up front — but he’s an offensively skilled, veteran presence nonetheless.
Other bigs: Isaiah Hartenstein, DeMarcus Cousins
Svi Mykhailiuk, SG/SF
Mykhailiuk, a 6-foot-7 wing, has flashed potential as an outside shooter in the league. In 56 appearances (27 starts) for the Pistons in 2019-20, he averaged 9 points and shot 40.4 percent from downtown (5.1 attempts per game). He was traded to the Thunder in the middle of the 2020-21 campaign, and averaged 10.3 points down the stretch for Oklahoma City, shooting a slightly dampened 33.6 percent from 3-point range.
Still 24 years old, there’s reason to believe in untapped potential within Mykhailiuk, especially in a reserve capacity. The Thunder weeks ago reportedly rescinded his qualifying offer, making him an unrestricted free agent.
Other wing shooters: JJ Redick, Garrison Mathews
Jarred Vanderbilt, PF
Vanderbilt averaged 5.4 points and 5.8 rebounds last season in Minnesota, exhibiting flashes as a high-motor defender, rebounder and finisher.
How high-motor, you ask? Extrapolating his 17.8 minutes per game to 36, those 5.8 rebounds translate to 11.6, including 3.7 on the offensive glass. Standing 6-foot-9 with a 7-1 wingspan, the combo forward’s blend of length, athleticism and energy add up to lofty defensive potential, and he showed some ability to finish around the basket too. Plus, still 22 years old, he qualifies as a prospect. Vanderbilt was a Nuggets second-round pick in 2018 — another Karnisovas tie — after being a highly-ranked recruit out of high school, but was traded to Minnesota in February 2020.
The problem is that, while unsigned, the Timberwolves own Vanderbilt’s restricted rights, meaning they could match any offer he signs. With Minnesota at one point a reported Markkanen suitor, could the specter of a double sign-and-trade make sense for both sides?
Other defensive-minded forwards: Rondae Hollis-Jefferson, Stanley Johnson