There is no doubt that the Chicago Bulls have set their sights on signing free agent Carmelo Anthony, but should he decide to stay with the New York Knicks or sign elsewhere, the Bulls must be prepared. Missing out on Anthony doesn’t magically make the need for scoring go away, so if Melo decides not to choose the Windy City, the Bulls need a backup plan — and the best one out there is Lance Stephenson.
According to Marc Stein of ESPN, the Bulls are meeting with former Los Angeles Lakers power forward Pau Gasol on Thursday. It makes sense. Gasol is a very talented player who, at 33 years old, still has some quality years left. Last season for the Lakers, Gasol averaged 17.4 PPG and 9.7 RPG while shooting 48 percent from the field.
The former no. 3 overall pick in the 2001 NBA Draft has a number of teams interested in his services, but he would absolutely make sense in Chicago. The Bulls need another All-Star caliber player on their roster, and Gasol is one of the better low post players in the league. It would also give the team a nice three-man rotation in the frontcourt with Joakim Noah and Taj Gibson.
Gasol played in only 60 games last season, so the Bulls would certainly platoon him and Gibson at power forward. It would also allow the team to reduce Noah’s minutes, keeping him fresh for the playoffs. Even though Gasol would be a great fit, he should not be Chicago’s second choice in free agency — it should be Stephenson.
Stephenson might be a bit of a wild card. He acts a little crazy sometimes and some might say he has a bit of an attitude problem, but at the end of the day, he can score and the Bulls desperately need some scoring.
Chris Broussard of ESPN reported that the Indiana Pacers offered Stephenson a five-year, $44 million deal which he declined, and that the Bulls are one of the teams interested as he explores his options. Chicago obviously wants Anthony and they should; but if he says no, which is a realistic possibility, Stephenson is the best alternative. The Bulls need a shooting guard and Stephenson, at 23 years old, could fill the void and provide much needed scoring next to Derrick Rose.
Last season, Stephenson really came into his own, averaging 13.8 PPG, 7.2 rebounds per game and 4.6 assists per game. Those are great numbers, plus he is a very good defender. He also shot 49.1 percent from the field as well as 35.2 percent from beyond the arc.
During his tenure with the Pacers, Stephenson did show some immaturity but with strong personalities in Noah, Gibson and head coach Tom Thibodeau, he will be kept in check. Stephenson’s attitude also fits in great with the Bulls’ culture and never-back-down mantra. He fears no one, not even LeBron James.
Stephenson could also be had for somewhere in the $10-12 million range. He wants to play for a contender and with him, the Bulls could contend for the top spot in the East right away. It would also allow the Bulls to potentially pursue some other free agents and add some other pieces to improve the roster.
Don’t get me wrong, if the Bulls don’t get Carmelo, Gasol should definitely be considered; but with Chicago’s need for perimeter scoring, the backup plan should start with Stephenson.