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Chicago Bulls 2018-2019 Free Agency outlook: Role players


In this edition, I will accentuate role players the Chicago Bulls could target in the 2019 free agency period. I will discuss their dexterity and fit on the roster.

Highlighted by Lebron going Hollywood, Kawhi packing his bags for Canada, and Russell Westbrook throwing a memorable party for Paul George, this Summer’s free agency–like past Summers–was a bumpy roller coaster ride. There were some dizzying moves–like Rajon Rondo and Lance Stephenson to the Lakers–leaving fans astonished.

Every free agency period evokes bewilderment. Despite rumors flying around, no one really knows what is going to happen until it hits. And when it does, there is no better time. This is a time where teams grab a superstar catapult into the playoffs–like the Lakers–or into conference title contention–like the Raptors.

With that being said, will the Bulls stay on the same path? Will they tank this offseason so they could grab Cam Reddish, Zion Williamson, R.J. Barrett?

Cap Space

Of course, Chicago signed Jabari Parker to a two year-$40 million contract. From the outskirts, that deal looks heavy and burdening. However, the deal is highly incentivized. If the injury-prone (two ACL tears in three years is noteworthy) doesn’t show flashes or doesn’t dress–or worse undergoes another major knee injury–then Gar/Pax will walk away from the contract unscathed.

Unfortunately, Parker forces management in a bind if he averages 16-18 points (like Lavine) and exhibits flashes of the potential of his 20 point scoring. The latter is more probable. After all, there was a moment his offensive dexterity was once likened to Carmelo Anthony and Paul Pierce. In spite of being widely misused in a stagnant Bucks offense, Jabari got the chance to redeem himself–for an especially extravagant, albeit rental cost.

Signing Jabari Parker means Chicago won’t be making any consequential noise on the free agency market this summer. Jabari, being 19.5% of the cap and the highest paid employee of the Bulls, adds to a declining 2018-2019 cap space. Being that the cap space for this year was set at $99.093 million, the Parker signing carries us over at $102.577 million. Keep in mind that the luxury tax threshold stands at $119,266,000, so we have substantial wiggle room before penalties are inflicted. Of course, management would not touch that figure, being that we are not contending.

The roster is filled with 14 players, following the signing of Antonio Blakeney to an (expected) two-year deal. For all his flaws, signing Jabari was a timely decision due to the fact that he’s off the books for next Summer.

Four players come off the books after this year; Bobby Portis, Robin Lopez, Justin Holiday, Cameron Payne, and possibly (depending on how he performs) Parker. Portis seems like a longtime Bull, similar to Taj Gibson, he will most likely look for a similar $8 million per year deal. Lopez, a Hoiberg favorite, could be in the $10 million over two years range that should at least make management think twice. Personally, I don’t think fans would be content with that signing. Cameron Payne, who was once touted the point guard of the future, has proven to be a minimum player at best and two-way player at worse. Holiday, who had the (relative) makings of a breakout season, should command something between Gerald Green (1 year-$2.4 million) and an Ed Davis (1 year-$4.4 million) contract. A bargain one-year deal for a league-average backup could be worth it in the case they let Jabari walk.

If they start winning games (thus escaping the lottery) who have all their first round picks for the ensuing years, could package a first-round pick with Asik or Felicio. On the other hand, a plausible buy out could be on the horizon for either player, but that could tie up future free-agency endeavors depending on how the numbers crunch.

That being said, this year’s free agency signings are nearly incomparable to next years. Next Summer, salary cap space skyrockets to $101.869 million, while the luxury tax line moves up to $123.733 million. On paper, there is $26,218,046 million in cap space next Summer if they do decide to keep Jabari Parker.  That money could be used to splurge on a max player and some role players. Notably, the Bulls have an $8.9 million trade exception, received for trading Mirotic to the Pelicans they would dole out as well.

The salary cap information used in this paragraph was pulled from RealGm, Spotrac, and Basketball-Reference unless otherwise noted. 

Who is available?

If Chicago does try to attack the market, there are no shortages of options. There are a passable 100 free agents to choose from. Maximum salary all-stars, bargain role-players, and end of the bench or two-way players tally to make for a deep free agency class.

Tobias Harris

Like Jabari, Tobias Harris is a big body at the 3. Unlike Jabari, he is not injury prone and is more of a natural small forward.

Harris can put the ball on the floor like a guard. If he’s guarded by a bigger body, he can utilize his surprising quickness to speed by on his way to a finesse layup. His 9.2 drives per game ranked 8th for forwards who appeared in at least 50 games. To put that number into perspective, Paul George, Will Barton, and even C.J. McCollum drove to the hoop at a lesser rate.

Despite being shipped left and right to a new situation (Harris was even traded in his rookie year) Harris makes an improved and lasting impact on each team he dresses for. Once the former Tennessee standout was jettisoned from Milwaukee to Orlando, Rob Hennigan quickly realized his dexterity surpassed his minute output in Milwaukee. With an uptick in minutes, Harris averaged close to 16 points and 7 rebounds per game under Scott Skiles. During that time, Harris never found his jumper. He shot a meager 30.6% on 642 shots. Never finding a three-point shot he didn’t like, defenders would allow Harris jack up three’s like a reincarnation of Josh Smith. The inability to shoot–and even be respected from deep–made his game decidedly mortal.

While he still jacks up an abundance of shots, 16.0 per game, he picks and chooses his spots, thus shooting at outstanding rates, 50.1% on 2-pointers and 41.4% on three’s. His build is not indicative of his shooting ability. Simply put, you are not going to see many 6’8’’ 230 pound players shoot 445 threes at such an extraordinary clip.

In his first game in a Clipper uniform, Harris braught detractors to naught and feasibly caught Hoiberg’s eye.

Tobias’ offensive versatility adds an extra element to his team, whichever that may be.

Ricky Rubio

There are specific uncertainties entangled inside the Chicago Bulls starting lineup. Jabari’s health embodies a question mark, Lavine’s contract is certainly not team friendly, and Lopez could blockade Carter’s playing time–which he so desperately needs to develop. Perhaps the demonstrative–if not implicit– worry is how Kris Dunn, a three-year pro, will perform in a vastly disparate role from last season.

Last season, Dunn took control of the offense. At times, it looked like ice jotted through his veins, like when he hit a game-winning shot against Indiana.

In spite of his brightest moments, Dunn had his fair share of dark moments. Mostly, he struggled to deliver the ball at the opportune moment, either holding on for it too long or getting rid of it too quickly. On this play against the Suns, Dunn decided to play hot potato in transition.

On the play, Dunn leads a pass to Felicio. The pass wasn’t an especially horrendous pass, he assumed Felicio would dive to the basket for a transition bucket. The point is, Felicio is not notably speedy, nor are his hands the softest. Awareness of personnel–like who your pass is directed to–is essential for a point guard, young or not.

So what does all this have to do with Ricky Rubio?

Ricky Rubio remains one of the best passers in the league–recording 6.5 assists per 36 minutes. What looks like a drop in his assists (he averaged 9.6 assists per 36 minutes in the 6 seasons prior) was due to an offensive system that prided itself on moving the ball quickly, and to its best player, Donovan Mitchell. For point guards that played at least 50 games, Rubio was 15th in potential assists and 13th in hockey (technically referred to as secondary) assists.

That being said, Rubio deviated from being the point guard that held the ball in his hands in hopes of getting the coveted statistic, assists, to become a team player. That’s a driving reason Utah advanced to the second round and were a respectable opponent to a Rockets team that had the Warriors in a chokehold.

Rubio is a coach’s favorite because he makes the smart play more often than not. He doesn’t force the issue or leaves his comfort zone. In game 2 versus the Thunder, Rubio showed his ability to survey the floor, without even putting the ball on the ground.

He finds cutting players at ease. He backs out the ball as to get the better angle for the ‘mouse-in-the-house situation’ in the paint. The former Timberwolf realizes who he’s up against (namely Carmelo Anthony) and slithers by for an ambidextrous one-legged and one-armed finger roll. He ball-fakes to slips on screens, just so he can dart the ball cross-court to a knockdown-three point shooter, Joe Ingles. The Spaniard stays within himself, realizing he’s a career 32.5% three-point shooter.

Maybe that’s the essential difference between Dunn and Rubio. At 27, Rubio is a seasoned veteran, who doesn’t make the spectacular play, because he knows he doesn’t need to make a lasting impact.

Tyreke Evans

Oscar Robertson. Lebron James. Michael Jordan. Tyreke Evans?
Those are the players to record averages of 20 points 5 assists and 5 rebounds in their debut season. Of course, there were a few things that obstructed him from reaching the pinnacle of either of the aforementioned players.

First, the game has changed tremendously, even from 2009. The 2009-10 Orlando Magic–first in  threes–would land 21st (right above the Bulls for those wondering) in 2017-18. Tyreke was great his rookie year, no doubt about it. Yet, Tyreke’s game stayed old-school while the league went through growing pains. Like a mathematical graphing problem, Evans’ game negatively correlated to a changing game.

His statistics were on a downfall ever since his standout rookie year. Weight gains, locker room troubles, and missed jump-shots permeated his first 7 years. In those 7 seasons, his points per game vacillated from 20.1 to 16.6, then all the way down to 9.5 points in his last season in New Orleans. He had his last go-round in Sacramento, averaging 11.6 points in about 22 minutes. He could have gone to China to become a legend, but instead signed a 1 year-$3.4 million, his value hitting a metamorphic rock bottom.

The Pacers made a jump at Evans after his turnaround season in a Grizzlies jersey. Rightly so, Evans looked like his old Kings self, creating for himself and others in a variety of ways. His most notable amelioration was undoubtedly his three-point shot. Once known for his tendency to brick wide-open threes, Evans mended his jump shot.

With an increased role and a contract year, Evans decided to lose weight and learn how to shoot. Entailing, he nearly hit the same amount of three’s in 2017-18 as he did the last three seasons, at a 39.9% clip.

Before, his upright stance and flailing right arm lent to a flat shot.

His game did a full-360 this season.

In a mid-December game against the Clippers, He was comfortable shooting in a myriad of ways; coming off screens, spotting up, and on pull-ups in transition.

He completely overhauled his shot into what it is now.

On the Bulls, he would be utilized as a three-point threat and a secondary creator. Beside Marc Gasol, Evans was able to create space and get him his shots. Fundamentally, he would do the same for Wendell Carter Jr. and Lauri Markkanen. If Chicago does retain the same roster next season, they will need to add a secondary passer. Trusting Dunn, is a risky endeavor and while Lavine can pass, he still is not a natural passer. His 1.66 assist/turnover ratio is mediocre–at best–for a player with the ball in his hands so often.

Theoretically, Evans would bump Lavine down to the bench. Bringing Lavine off the bench could be beneficial to the team. Believe it or not, his most efficient season came when he came off the bench for 59 games. He would thrive in a Jamal Crawford-type role while Evans adds consistent shooting and passing to the starting lineup.

J.J. Redick

Once upon a time, J.J. Redick was going to be a Bull. That was back in 2010 when Chicago had league MVP Derrick Rose, high post presence Carlos Boozer, and point center Joakim Noah. Management wanted to form a pair of shooters; Redick and Kyle Korver, around its scorers. Drive and kicks and low-post touches would inevitably open the floor for the two shooters. As well, the shooters would spread the lane for the drivers to attack vulnerable defenses, a symbiotic relationship of sorts.

8 years have whizzed by but the point subsists. Chicago is still built on a foundation of apathetic shooters, namely Kris Dunn, Robin Lopez.

Calling Jabari Parker and Justin Holiday inconsistent shooters may as well be a compliment. Right now, Carter and Markkanen are the two best shooters. A pair of young big men should not be a team’s best shooters–even if one looks the part of a reincarnated Dirk and the other a Karl Anthony-Towns.

That being said, a shooting guard with a career 41.5% three-point shooter would be a coup for the 21st three-point shooting team in the league. Not to mention, he would be a fantastic locker room presence for a team whose starting lineup’s age averages 21.

To reiterate, this is a free agency analysis. I highlighted a few role players’ talents and fit on the roster. Next edition will be a similar feature geared towards stars in next years’ free agency.

The salary cap information is pulled from RealGm, Spotrac, and Basketball-Reference. Statistical information used is from Synergy Sports Technology and Basketball-Reference.

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