Now that we know Jim Boylen will be the Bulls head coach for the foreseeable future, it’s time for the front office to structure a roster that fits the style of play Boylen prefers.
Here’s the roster breakdown by position, with predictions on which players are likely to return and where the front office will be looking to add help.
Point guard: Kris Dunn, Ryan Arcidiacono, Shaquille Harrison, Walter Lemon Jr.
Only Dunn is under contract for next season, but judging by John Paxson’s comments at his season-ending news conference, the front office will be looking to upgrade the position this summer.
“We have not given up on Kris. I think he has defensive abilities," Paxson told reporters. "But we have to get better at that position, there’s absolutely no question in my mind.
“Kris is going to have opportunity because he’s under contract, but we understand as an organization that’s a position that if we’re to make a step in the right direction, that we’re going to have to address. No beating around the bush on that one.”
At the very least Dunn will face competition from a high draft pick or free agent addition. If the Bulls are fortunate enough to land the No. 2 pick in the upcoming draft, you can expect them to select Murray St. point guard Ja Morant. If they pick in the 4-8 range, Vanderbilt’s Darius Garland and North Carolina’s Coby White will be among the players they consider.
Free agent possibilities include Derrick Rose, Patrick Beverley, Ricky Rubio, Darren Collison and Cory Joseph. The Bulls will have roughly $20 million of cap space this summer, but a player like Rubio or Collison would eat up the majority of that space. Rose would be an intriguing addition coming off an excellent season in Minnesota, but it’s unclear whether the front office would be willing to deal with some of the off the court drama his presence on the roster would create.
Beverley is another Chicago native who would offer the tough-minded, veteran leadership Paxson wants to add and could be an ideal mentor for a player like Morant, Garland or White.
Look for the Bulls to bring Harrison back as a combo guard who can play the role of defensive stopper, much like the Celtics’ Marcus Smart. Arcidiacono also could be back as a third point guard option, depending on what other moves the Bulls make. Lemon Jr. did a good job in his late season stint, but will probably have to look elsewhere for an NBA job next season.
Shooting guard: Zach LaVine, Denzel Valentine, Antonio Blakeney, Brandon Sampson (2-way player), Rawle Alkins (2-way player)
LaVine, Valentine and Blakeney are all under contract for next season, so don’t expect major changes at this position. The Bulls definitely missed Valentine’s court vision and three-point shooting on their second unit and are hoping reconstructive surgery will alleviate the ankle issues that have plagued him in his NBA career. Blakeney fell out of favor with the coaching staff late in the season, and his small guarantee for next season wouldn’t stop the Bulls from releasing him.
Depending on what other moves the Bulls make in free agency, they could look to add a veteran three-point shooter at a value price to supplement their reserve group. There’s also a chance the Bulls could draft a player like Jarrett Culver, Romeo Langford or Kevin Porter Jr. if they fall in the lottery.
Small forward: Otto Porter Jr., Chandler Hutchison, Timothe Luwawu-Cabarrot, Wayne Selden Jr.
Another position that is basically set for next season. The Bulls love what they have in Porter Jr., and the front office is hoping Hutchison will improve his outside shooting this summer to take the next step in his development. Both Luwawu-Cabarrot and Selden Jr. head into free agency and are unlikely to return with the numbers crunch at their position.
The Bulls look at Porter Jr. as their major addition for the 2019-20 season and are pleased with what they saw from Hutchison in his rookie year. It’s possible they could look at Duke’s Cam Reddish, Virginia’s De’Andre Hunter or North Carolina’s Nassir Little in the draft, but they have greater needs at other positions.
Power forward: Lauri Markkanen
Yes, the depth chart at the four spot is awfully thin, thanks to the trade for Porter Jr. that sent Bobby Portis and Jabari Parker to Washington. Look for Porter Jr. to get some minutes at power forward next season when the Bulls utilize smaller line-ups.
Boylen indicated the Bulls would like to have late-season hardship addition JaKarr Sampson play with their summer league team. Sampson surprised everyone with his scoring ability during his 10 days with the team, but it’s hard to project whether he can offer that kind of production in limited minutes over an 82 game season. Still, he could be a low-cost option for a back-up role.
The Bulls might look to add a young backup for Markkanen in the draft with players like Gonzaga’s Rui Hachimura and Brandon Clarke, Oregon’s Bol Bol or Kentucky’s P.J. Washington, but it seems more likely the team will bring in a veteran like former Bull Taj Gibson to offer toughness and locker room leadership.
Center: Wendell Carter Jr., Robin Lopez, Cristiano Felicio
The Bulls are excited about the possibilities for improvement with the 19-year-old Carter Jr. He showed excellent defensive instincts, combining rim protection with the ability to guard smaller players on the perimeter in pick and roll situations. Carter Jr. was a reluctant shooter as a rookie, normally deferring to veteran players at the offensive end. Still, he has a nice touch on his mid-range jumper and can shoot jump hooks with either hand. There’s no reason why Carter Jr. can’t become a significant contributor at both ends of the court as he gains more confidence and experience.
Lopez emerged as a Kevin McHale-like low-post scorer over the final two months of the season, increasing his value as he heads into free agency this summer. The Bulls face a difficult decision with RoLo, who has told reporters he’s okay with returning as Carter Jr.’s backup as long as he plays a meaningful role. The negotiation process could get tricky, since the Bulls would probably want to cut Lopez’s $14.3 million salary in half. They also might want their backup center to be a three-point shooting threat, similar to what Portis offered over the last couple seasons.
The front office places a lot of value on what Lopez brings as a veteran leader; we’ll just have to wait until July 1 to see if other free agent options force the Bulls to say goodbye.
One other option for creating more cap space would be using the “stretch” provision on the contract of the seldom-used Felicio, basically extending the money owed to him for the final two years of his contract over the next five years. The disadvantage would be adding “dead money” to their cap in future years when they might be in position to add a high quality free agent.
We’ll have a better idea of how the roster tweaking will unfold after the draft lottery on May 14. If the Bulls are fortunate enough to land the first or second pick, they’ll be able to add a potential franchise-changer in Zion Williamson or their point guard of the future in Morant. That would lessen their need to make a major move in free agency and allow Paxson to pursue the tough-minded veteran leaders he talked about in his news conference.
Despite finishing with five less wins than they did in the 2017-18 season, the Bulls made some significant progress in Year 2 of the rebuild, identifying four long-term starters who are all 25 years old or younger. With a little lottery luck and the right free agent additions, the Bulls are in position to make a jump like the Nets and Magic, who each went from the lottery to the playoffs this season.
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