Filling the Gap
As the Bulls got further and further into the 2011 Postseason, it became more and more clear that we had one large hole to fill before we were truly able to contend for an NBA title: a starting shooting guard.
Before I go into how to change this, let’s take a look at what we were working with last season. Keith Bogans was the starting shooting guard for basically all of the 2010-2011 season. Can anyone honestly say that Keith Bogans is a starting shooting guard in the NBA? Would he be starting on any other NBA roster? The simple answer is no. While his defense, especially on Dwyane Wade in the Eastern Conference Championship, was nothing short of spectacular, and his three point shot did start falling when it mattered, he is not a complete enough player to be starting on a championship caliber team. Now if we had a sixth man such as Jason Terry coming off the bench that would be a completely different story.
Our next best option was Ronnie Brewer. Brewer was projected to start the season as the starting shooting guard until an injury gave Keith Bogans the chance he needed to hold down the starting spot. Brewer is an athletic wing player who has a mediocre jumper but plays great defense on long wing players such as he did with Lebron James in the Eastern Conference Championship. Again, Brewer is not a complete enough player to be starting on a championship caliber team. His shot is not consistent enough and he does not run the floor well enough to be starting next to Derrick Rose. Again, having a player like Jason Terry or James Harden coming off the bench changes that.
Our last option was Kyle Korver. As we all saw in the series against Miami, unless an offensively challenged player is on the court for the Bulls to stick Korver on, he hurts the team more than he helps them. Not only can he not stick with anyone that can relatively score the basketball, but when he was on the floor he almost became a distraction for the offense. Tom Thibideau would have him running through screens to get from one wing to the other looking for an open jumper anytime he was on the floor. All of a sudden it was as if we were running the offense through Korver. Instead of letting Rose run the normal offense or getting Korver open looks through Boozer’s post presence, we were looking at Korver as option number one every time down the floor. If he wasn’t knocking down a very high percentage of his shots, he was essentially useless.
The Bulls did make a good run with this tandem of shooting guards in the playoffs, but without some improvement at the position it will be difficult to take the next step towards a championship. So what should the Bulls do to improve for next year?
Option 1: sign a shooting guard via free agency. This year, there are a handful of shooting guards that could be considered starters on a quality NBA team. Jason Richardson is the first name that comes to mind. While he has put up good numbers on a few playoff teams, those teams were the Golden State Warriors and Phoenix Suns who are notorious for not playing defense. He can create his own shot fairly well and can certainly knock down open jumpers, but he isn’t exactly known for his defense and is on the down slope of his career. And as we have seen over the last couple years, Gar Foreman and Thibideau don’t typically sign guys that cannot play solid defense (the exception: Carlos Boozer). If the price is right and the contract was only for a year or two, it would probably be worth a shot. Most likely he will want a longer deal and more money then he is worth, therefore this isn’t an option the Bulls will want to go with. Jamal Crawford is the next most appealing option in free agency. While he did have a pretty good series against us in the playoffs and is known for being able to create his own shot, the Bulls have been down this road before. He is a ball stopper, he plays absolutely no defense, and he gives up more points then he scores. Again, I’ll pass. J.R Smith is a fairly big name that is known for his offensive abilities. Some say he is as good at creating his own shot as nearly any other shooting guard in the NBA. The problems with him are ones that Foreman and Thibideau absolutely do not allow: he plays no defense and can be somewhat of a cancer in the locker room. With the chemistry that they have built up for this team, there is no chance they take a risk on a player that could possibly mess that up. I’m fairly certain they will be staying far away from a player like this. While he isn’t a shooting guard and wouldn’t solve the issue of adding a player who can create, Shane Battier would be an interesting option for the right price. He would help to create questionably the best wing-defending rotation in the NBA between himself, Deng, and Ronnie Brewer, and he would also be of good value in terms of three-point consistency.
Option 2: look to trade for a starting shooting guard. There have been constant rumors about the Bulls making a play for a shooting guard for the past year. From Monte Ellis, to OJ Mayo, to Courtney Lee, we have heard numerous different possibilities. Monte Ellis would be a great addition to the Bulls; anytime you can add someone who can score 25-30 points on any given night is a huge upgrade, but being that we would need to break up our core by trading Luol Deng or Joakim Noah to get him, I don’t see Ellis in a Bulls uniform anytime soon. That and the fact the Warriors have said they have no interest in trading Ellis right now. OJ Mayo would be a great scorer to tandem with Brewer. He can create his own shot and is relatively affordable, but Memphis has built a very deep and very solid roster, and it is one I do not foresee them changing much this off-season. If the Bulls regret not making an offer he couldn’t refuse last off-season, maybe their chance at Ray Allen isn’t over with. While it seems for now that Boston will be keeping the Big Four together, there is a chance that for the right offer they would be willing to part with him. With Kevin Garnett and Ray Allen due to become a free agents after the 2011 season and no center for the future, it is possible that the Bulls could throw together a package focused around Taj Gibson or Omer Asik and draft picks in order to pry Allen away from them. For now though, it seems unlikely. Two Detroit Pistons could be available in Rodney Stuckey and Rip Hamilton. Stuckey can score the ball fairly well but is a mediocre defender and isn’t the knockdown shooter that Bull’s management would like to put next to Derrick. Hamilton has always done well moving off the ball, but with him it’s more a question off how much he really has left in the tank. Other than those players, it does not appear that there are any other shooting guards available via trade that would be worthwhile. A player like Toney Douglas could possibly be available for the price of Gibson or Asik, but with the value of good big men I don’t see Gar Foreman willing to make that trade.
Option 3: wait it out. As we saw last postseason, this Bulls squad did a pretty good job of fighting regardless of the fact they were low on fuel. With better play in the 4th quarter, the series against the Heat may have looked a bit different. Next season you would think that Thibideau will make sure that the players are more rested going into the playoffs, and with another year of experience under their belts the core of this team will be expected to perform better come playoff time.
So which option will best help this young team for the future: Option 3. By waiting it out, Gar Foreman gives himself another year to see the talent that he is working with. The Bulls did not have a full season together last year because of injuries, so it’s possible that it will just take time for this group to take the next steps toward a title. There are really no great options in free agency, and you don’t want to make a trade that results in parting with Gibson or Asik unless it will substantially better the team. I predict Gar Foreman stays relatively quiet this off-season and if need be makes a trade toward the deadline when new options may be on the market. Maybe he will take a chance on a player like Michael Redd this off-season. Depending on the length of the lockout, it would be interesting to see how Michael Redd would work out for the Bulls. He is notorious for getting injured, but when he was playing at his best in Milwaukee he could create and knock down open shots with the best of them; he wasn’t even a half bad defender. For a very cheap price, he may be worth a look if his health is in order. If he saves his money this off-season, Foreman may be able to snag a player like Ray Allen, Jason Terry, or OJ Mayo next off-season. Allen and terry will be unrestricted free agents on ageing teams, and Mayo is a restricted free agent but with his current role as sixth man, he may want out of Memphis.
The biggest problem with this option is the future of the NBA Labor Agreement. Right now, owners are working for a $45 million hard cap and the Bulls current salary cap for next season is $64,923,771. Knowing they need to sign Derrick Rose to a long and costly extension within a year or two, it could be a difficult task for Gar Foreman to find any money to spend in the near future. Their best bet could be to use the nonguaranteed contracts of Lucas, Pargo, and Bogans to trade to another team that is in need of clearing cap space.
Yes, it would be nice to see an improvement at the position this year, but Gar Foreman has been very smart in building this team over the past few years and I trust that he has a long term plan to fill the gap.