Could Rodney Stuckey be a fit off the bench for the Bulls?


Could Rodney Stuckey be a fit off the bench for the Bulls?

When the clock strikes midnight on July 1, expect the Bulls to conduct meetings with Jimmy Butler on his restricted free agency, where all the conjecture and rumors will be met with action.

But despite Butler being the first priority, they do have other needs, most notably in the backcourt and perhaps they should give Pacers combo guard Rodney Stuckey a phone call.

According to league sources, Indiana wants him back while Houston and Sacramento are expected to be in the running for Stuckey’s services, while another source said Stuckey would be interested in hearing from the Bulls this summer. The 29-year old guard averaged around 13 points and three assists in 26 minutes last year, shooting a career high 39 percent from 3-point range.

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Backup point guard Aaron Brooks was a godsend during Derrick Rose’s absences, scoring 14 points per game in 21 starts, albeit on 39 percent 3-point shooting (42 percent overall), but he’s a free agent and was largely minimized in the playoffs, playing just 11 minutes per game in 12 appearances.

While the Bulls have a habit of picking up backup point guards the last few years who’ve paid dividends like Brooks, D.J. Augustin and Nate Robinson, Stuckey represents a shift from that thinking.

A bigger guard, at 6-foot-5, he would be tougher to neutralize in the postseason than the more diminutive Augustin and Brooks while being able to play both guard spots.

Stuckey, who essentially played on a make-good veterans minimum deal in Indiana after seven up-and-down years in Detroit, was one of the more consistent Pacers as they dealt with playing the majority of the season without All-Star Paul George.

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He played more shooting guard in the past three seasons but spent the majority of his early years growing into playing the point — making him an ideal option for the Bulls as someone capable of playing starter’s minutes at either guard spot.

Rose would probably welcome playing with Stuckey, considering Stuckey scored a career-high 40 on Rose during Rose’s rookie year, when Stuckey was viewed as one of the up-and-coming young guards in the league.

Times have changed since then, and Stuckey has battled inconsistency through his career but seems to have found it as a reserve the last two years. Aside from making the playoffs with the Pistons the first two years, he hasn’t played in the second season since 2009, which is why he would consider playing in Chicago. Staying in the Midwest after playing in Detroit and Indianapolis seems to appeal to the Seattle-area native, as much as money would.

The Bulls won’t have any cap room, but they’ll be able to use the mini-midlevel exception to try to improve their roster after dealing with Butler, where he’ll likely sign a maximum contract (length to be determined).

Veteran forward Mike Dunleavy is also a top priority, so the Bulls will have to come to the table with a fair offer while attending to other business. They need a perimeter shot creator aside from Butler and Rose, as evidenced to how the Bulls offense bogged down in the playoffs more than once — and at the worst possible time against Cleveland in Game 6 of their second-round series.

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Stuckey clashed with coaches in Detroit, most notably Lawrence Frank in 2011-12 and 12-13. It stained his reputation to where he had to sign for less than his talent dictated once he hit the open market as an unrestricted free agent last July.

But he was a model citizen under Frank Vogel in Indianapolis last season and would seemingly thrive in new Bulls coach Fred Hoiberg’s wide-open system. The question is, will the Bulls be interested?

Wendell Carter Jr. is now 6 feet, 9 inches---and other Bulls' height adjustments

USA Today

Wendell Carter Jr. is now 6 feet, 9 inches---and other Bulls' height adjustments

With player heights long a topic of question and debate, the NBA informed teams that all players must be measured by a team physician this training camp.

It’s all part of the league’s push towards transparency, which includes detailed reports on officiating and other initiatives.

So who grew and who shrank among the Bulls?

Wendell Carter Jr. dropped from 6 feet, 10 inches to 6-foot-9, which will do nothing to change the narrative that he's an undersized big man. Kris Dunn moved from 6-4 to 6-3. Daniel Gafford isn’t 6-11, as first advertised when drafted, but 6-10. And Denzel Valentine is no longer 6-6 but 6-4.

The Bulls even pushed down Coby White’s flamboyant hairstyle and discovered he’s 6-4, not 6-5.

As for those who grew, well, Zach LaVine’s All-Star candidacy now features him as a 6-6 guard, not 6-5. New big man Luke Kornet is really big; he’s 7-2, not 7-1. And Shaq Harrison somehow grew from 6-4 to 6-7.

That’s the official Bulls’ roster. 

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Insider K.C. Johnson calls Bulls the 'sexy pick' to make the postseason but tempers expectations

Insider K.C. Johnson calls Bulls the 'sexy pick' to make the postseason but tempers expectations

On the 2019 NBA Preview Show, NBC Sports Chicago Bulls insider K.C. Johnson broke down what it would truly take for the Bulls to make the jump into playoff contention following a particularly tough 22-win season. 

Johnson, like most of the national NBA landscape, is optimistic about the prospects of the 2019-20 Bulls. He stated that it is "widely accepted that they had a pretty strong offseason," but cautioned us against simply penciling in the Bulls for a playoff spot this season. 

Despite the additions of savvy veterans like Tomas Satoransky and Thaddeus Young, the Bulls still enter the 2019-20 NBA regular season as the second-youngest team in the NBA, as good of a reason as any to temper expectations.

That being said, the Bulls, from a simple talent standpoint, are much better than last year's squad that featured a ton of injuries and many Windy City Bulls/NBA G League call-ups. 

With a new coaching staff around head coach Jim Boylen and a new offensive philosophy, things will be very different in Chicago this season.

But as Johnson stated in Tuesday's 2019 NBA Preview Show, for the Bulls to achieve their ultimate goal of reaching the postseason, "basically, all of those [free agent] additions need to hit.

"You need to see Tomas Satoransky prove that he can be a full-time starter at that point guard position, you need to see Zach LaVine and Lauri Markkanen take a step towards stardom, you need to see Otto Porter Jr. stay healthy enough to contribute at that small forward position and you need to see Wendell Carter Jr. hit the two-way potential that the organization believes he has... and Coby White... needs to bring you something off the bench."

If that sounds like a lot, that's because it is and it appropriately represents the amount of work needed to make the leap from 22-wins to a playoff spot. 

What the Bulls have working on their side as of now is that everything we have seen and heard from the team throughout preseason has indicated that there is good shot that every one of the things K.C. Johnson named happens. 

Carter was limited to just 44 games due to injury last season and while he has looked rusty in the preseason, he has also had some explosive finishes and shown his trademark appetite for help defense and blocked shots. Carter blocked 2.0 shots per game over two preseason games but was abysmal in terms of his offensive efficiency (26.7% from the field), something to keep an eye on throughout the first week of regular-season games. 

Boylen recently made comments about managing Porter's workload, so clearly keeping Porter healthy amid the backdrop of the Bulls questionable wing depth is already something the organization has discussed and seems to have a concrete plan for. 

Satoransky has shown that he can comfortably handle the starting duties at the one as Johnson suggested, averaging 7.5 points, 4.8 assists, 4.2 rebounds, and 2.2 steals per game while being lights-out from 3-point range (80% on 1.2 attempts per game). And while Sato represents the steady hand, Coby White represents the true "boom-or-bust" option in the backcourt, capable of going off for 25+ points or fading into the background while playing more of an off-ball role. 

The factor that Johnson mentioned that will have the greatest impact on the 2019-20 Bulls season is if Markkanen and LaVine can take a step towards superstardom.

LaVine looks clearly poised to do so, finishing the preseason third in the league in scoring at 23.2 points per game on 59.3/56.0/ 83.3 shooting splits. Markkanen, on the other hand, struggled to find his shot and despite being one of the top-three scoring options on the team, struggled to get his scoring average just over 11.0 points per game (11.2). 

It is only preseason action, so all results are to be taken with a grain of salt. But as we gear up for the start of the Bulls games that count on Wednesday, it is clear that the national outlook on the Bulls is much rosier than it has been in the past.

Johnson stated that the Bulls are indeed shaping up as a "sexy pick" to make the playoffs and that alone is a monumental step in the right direction as the franchise looks to put last season's disappointment further in the rearview mirror. 

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