The 2022 NBA Draft is on Thursday. The free agent negotiating window opens one week later.
And the rumor mill is spinning in kind.
The latest entry for Chicago Bulls fans to monitor comes from Chris Haynes of Yahoo! Sports, who reports that the Bulls — along with the Lakers, Celtics, Suns and Jazz — "will have strong interest" in Nicolas Batum, who is expected to decline his $3.3 million player option with the Clippers for the 2022-23 season and become a free agent.
Batum has spent the last two seasons in Los Angeles after being waived-and-stretched by the Hornets in November 2020. At the time, Batum was thought to be on the downslope of his career; he was waived by Charlotte in the final season of a five-year, $120 million contract, which the Hornets will officially finish paying out in the upcoming season.
But the veteran forward breathed new life into his career with the Clippers, averaging 8.2 points, 4.5 rebounds, 2 assists and shooting 40.2 percent from 3-point range in 126 appearances (in which he averaged 26.2 minutes) across two seasons. He also established himself as a defensive swiss army knife with the ability to guard multiple positions and even play small-ball center in select matchups, which served Los Angeles well in their 2021 run to the Western Conference finals.
These are qualities that should seriously intrigue the Bulls. Batum is a player that would bolster the team's wing and frontcourt depth, improve their defensive versatility and add reliable spot-up shooting to a group that finished last season as the only team in the league to attempt fewer than 30 3-pointers per game (28.8). He's also a 14-year veteran with a reputation for high-IQ play on both sides of the ball.
But those qualities also figure to make him a priority for other interested contenders, especially the Clippers, who Haynes reports are in the "driver's seat" of negotiations.
If the Bulls stay under the luxury-tax line, they would be armed with the non-taxpayer mid-level exception to pursue Batum, which this year is projected to carry a maximum first-year salary of just north of $10 million.
The expectation appears to be that a return to the Clippers it the most likely outcome for Batum. Nevertheless, he's a name for Bulls fans to track as the front office seeks to improve the team's ancillary pieces.