The Bulls have a point guard problem. No, in sheer number they're doing just fine. With Rajon Rondo expected to return after the Bulls pick up his team option, they'll have him, Jerian Grant and Cameron Payne under contract. Isaiah Canaan may or may not be back as a cheap fourth option. The retooling process over the last 12 months - swapping out Derrick Rose, Aaron Brooks and E'Twaun Moore for the aforementioned point guards plus Michael Carter-Williams - at the position has been turbulent.
In addition to dealing Rose, the Bulls have surrendered two former first-round picks in Tony Snell and Doug McDermott, and a player in Taj Gibson who could have yielded a future first-round pick a year ago.
June's NBA Draft will be a point guard-heavy class, though the cream of the crop will come off the board before the Bulls pick at No. 16 (in CSN's most recent mock draft five point guards went in the lottery). Despite it being the Bulls' deepest position in numbers, point guard remains their biggest need. Rondo will surpass 28,000 career minutes next season, while the 24-year-old Grant and 22-year-old Payne have showed little in their respective two-year NBA careers to consider either foundations at the position. Assuming Dwyane Wade picks up his $23.8 million player option, the Bulls won't be real contenders for top free agents like George Hill, Jeff Teague or Jrue Holiday.
But there's another option the Bulls could pursue this month.
Per a source, #Lakers are not just "open-minded" to trading Jordan Clarkson, as has been reported, but are actively seeking out offers.— Jordan Schultz (@Schultz_Report) June 1, 2017
The Lakers are widely expected to select UCLA point guard Lonzo Ball (assuming Markelle Fultz goes No. 1) second overall to pair up with D'Angelo Russell, their 2015 first-round pick. While keeping Clarkson would give Luke Walton depth on the second unit, finding future value for the 24-year-old combo guard may trump any short-term gains he'd provide as depth. And if the Lakers really are actively shopping Clarkson, the Bulls should consider dangling the No. 16 pick for him.
There's recent precedent in an NBA veteran-for-mid-first round pick. Last year before the draft the Nets traded 27-year-old Thaddeus Young for the No. 20 pick, and the Kings dealt Marco Belinelli to the Hornets for the No. 22 pick. Belinelli, 30, had two years and $13 million left on his deal, while Young had three years and $43 remaining, with the final year acting as a $13.7 million player option. Clarkson's a more appealing option than either of those two, and has more potential than win-now appeal, yet the No. 16 pick is more valuable, too.
Clarkson has outplayed his expectations since the Lakers took him 46th in the 2014 NBA Draft. Among those in that draft class, he ranks second in points, fourth in assists and steals and third in total minutes. The Lakers gave him a four-year, $50 million deal last offseason to avoid restricted free agency, and he responded with another solid campaign. He averaged 14.7 points on 44.5 percent shooting, 3.0 rebounds and 2.6 assists in 82 games (19 starts). He's played ample time at both guard spots - he took over second-unit point guard duties last year after starting at shooting guard in 2015 - and his 6-foot-8 wingspan makes him a versatile defender (though his on/off splits have been lackluster on the defensive end).
He's not the 3-point shooter the Bulls covet in Fred Hoiberg's system - Clarkson's made just 33.4 percent of his triples in three years - but his 4.3 attempts per game would have trailed only Nikola Mirotic last season. Clarkson shot 63 percent at the rim last season, per basketball-reference, and is athletic enough to create for himself. Learning under Rondo for a year would do wonders for his playmaking, as the shot-first guard has averaged just 3.4 assists per 36 minutes in his career.
It's unlikely Clarkson turns into a star, though he's still just 24 (he turns 25 next week) and has shown improvement while adapting to multiple roles in his short NBA stint. It's safe to assume his numbers would improve in an increased role. Given that he's owed just $37.5 million the next three seasons, he'd give the Bulls a relatively cheap option at the position. The Bulls, of course, could be waiting until the 2018 offseason to have maximum salary cap space, as Rondo's $14 million will come off the books in 13 months.
Selecting anyone with that No. 16 pick would of course be a cheaper option than Clarkson, but also a bigger mystery. Of the Bulls' previous five first-round picks, two have been traded away (Snell, McDermott), one is no longer in the NBA (Marquis Teague) and the most recent two (Portis, Valentine) struggled to find consistent minutes on a 41-win team. Dealing for Clarkson would limit the ceiling a potential pick could bring, but also raise the floor on a potential bust.
Clarkson isn't the answer to the Bulls' struggles. But he is a rare player that a) the Bulls can afford, b) improves the current roster and c) increases the team's future outlook. There's a chance the Bulls are enamored with a handful of prospects at No. 16, which could include Louisville's Donovan Mitchell (a player similar to Clarkson), Texas' Jarrett Allen or shooting guard Terrance Ferguson. Swinging for the fences is certainly an option for a Bulls team needing an influx of (younger and more athletic) talent. But Clarkson would improve the Bulls and, perhaps most importantly, give some clarity to the point guard dilemma they're currently facing.