Much is still up in the air when it comes to the NBA's delayed, truncated and almost-guaranteed-to-be-hectic free-agency period, which officially begins Friday afternoon, but that hasn't stopped speculation from abounding.
While the majority of the focus continues to be on two members of the 2012 free-agent class--superstars Dwight Howard and Chris Paul--behind the scenes, several of the NBA's middle class are being ardently pursued by teams around the league.
With reports of the Spurs' planning to amnesty Richard Jefferson and Tracy McGrady's next destination being Atlanta, as well as the Heat adding small forward Shane Battier (at least per the player's own Twitter feed Thursday), moves are already being made.
The Bulls have been no exception, as they continue to do their due diligence by contacting candidates in their search for a shooting guard. Only one free agent, Caron Butler, has visited Chicago, and incumbent starter Keith Bogans has been working out at the Berto Center--it would be no surprise if the veteran, popular among teammates and coaches (if not fans), returns to the Bulls--but on the eve of the madness beginning, here's a look at some of the organization's options:
--Arron Afflalo: A strong defender and capable outside shooter, Afflalo would be a great fit in a Bulls uniform, especially when it's considered that he's much younger than most of the other options. However, as a restricted free agent, the Nuggets would be able to match any offer for him--and likely will, given that J.R. Smith, no lock to be back in Denver anyway, is currently stuck in China--and in a shallow market, there's a chance he could command more than the mid-level exception the Bulls are poised to offer a free agent.
--Keith Bogans: While a faction of Bulls fans considered Bogans the weak link in last season's starting lineup, it should be noted that his minutes reflected those of a reserve, as he split playing time with Ronnie Brewer and Kyle Korver, and very rarely finished games. Although he's not a big scorer, Bogans is a solid outside shooter and tough defender who was a big part of the on and off-court chemistry that was a major reason the Bulls won 62 games a year ago, making it likely that he returns to Chicago, but perhaps in a reserve role this time around.
--Caron Butler: It's been reported that Butler privately considers the Bulls his front-runner (though sources say he was also very positive about meeting with the Clippers and Spurs, who jettisoned Richard Jefferson, possibly to add a natural small forward of Butler's caliber) and if the Racine, Wis., native did end up in Chicago, his toughness, offensive versatility, experience and hunger for a title would pay major dividends. Conversely, his surgically-repaired knees are a major concern, particularly if he needs the lateral quickness to defend shooting guards, and could also pose a problem if he's expected to beat opponents off the dribble as he did earlier in his career.
--Vince Carter: Carter isn't technically a free agent (the Suns are expected to waive him), but being that he's likely to be available, it's worth examining how he'd fit in Chicago. One thing he's always been able to do is score, though his shot selection, ongoing health issues, less-than-stellar defense and perceived selfishness have seemingly run their course, making him frequent trade bait (New Jersey, Orlando and Phoenix in the span of three years) as of late, and at least on paper, a player whose cons outweigh his pros for the Bulls.
--Jamal Crawford: The former Bulls draft pick is obviously familiar with the franchise and vice versa, and has built on his early-career potential by becoming one of the league's best instant-offense scorers, if somewhat of a hired gun. Crawford's ballhandling and playmaking abilities set him apart from most of the other prospective additions, but it comes at the cost of occasional ball-stopping offense and sometimes indifferent defense, not to mention his price tag could be beyond Chicago's desired range, although there's been talk of a sign-and-trade scenario with Atlanta involving Taj Gibson, a high premium to pay.
--Grant Hill: Alternately rumored to be either re-signing with the Suns or on the verge of taking his talents to the Big Apple, the league's second-oldest player (after veteran big man Kurt Thomas, another free agent the Bulls are in discussions with), Hill is now seen as a bit of long shot to relocate to the Windy City. His time spent at Phoenix's fountain of youth has rejuvenated his game in recent years, as he's morphed from one of the game's best all-around players, elite scorers and high-flying athletes into a defensive standout capable of guarding multiple positions, a reliable outside threat and solid secondary ballhandler.
--Josh Howard: Like the aforementioned Butler--ironically one of the players included in the trade that sent him to the Wizards from the Mavericks--Howard has also had knee problems and hasn't regained the form he showed as a promising young player. When healthy, however, Howard offers a nice slashing game, good defensive acumen, the ability to score without needing a lot of offensive touches and some versatility, though he was never known as knockdown three-point shooter.
--Tayshaun Prince: The longtime Pistons veteran is probably in need of a change of scenery after a few tumultuous years in Motown, and his versatility on both ends of the court--the ability to guard a variety of players, an effective post-up game, spot duty as a primary ballhandler, long-range shooting--would be an intriguing addition to the Bulls. Prince, however, has suffered a multitude of injuries as of late after being extremely durable earlier in his career, the stink of last year's mutiny of ousted Detroit head coach John Kuester clings to him and other veterans (such as Rip Hamilton, though Prince's "buffoonery" comment was the highlight of that saga) and he isn't a natural shooting guard.
--Jason Richardson: When it comes to pure shooting guards, Richardson might be the best fit on paper who's actually available, as the veteran has hinted at being willing to take less money (like Chicago's mid-level exception) in exchange for an opportunity to compete for a championship. His perimeter shooting and athleticism would seem to be a good match for the Bulls' roster and style of play, and while he can't be considered an elite defender, he's at least adequate and could thrive under Tom Thibodeau.
--Nick Young: In terms of scorers, Young has the most potential going forward on anyone on the market, and with his youth and athleticism, he could surpass even optimistic expectations. Problem is, he has the classic "good scorer on a bad team" syndrome, where he put up big numbers in a losing situation and neglected other parts of his game, such as defense and passing, although comments he's made indicate he's ready to mature as a player and do what it takes to round out his game, if in a winning environment.