The Runner Sports

What If The Chicago Bulls Blow It Up?

The Chicago Bulls have a lot of fans. In fact, as they consistently do, the Bulls led the NBA in attendance this season. However, the Bulls hardly gave their fans anything to cheer about this year, barely making the playoffs almost in spite of themselves. Then, just recently, GarPax came out and–essentially–stated not much would change this offseason. Basically, an organization that has already been torturing their fanbase for years gave them even more agony. The Chicago Bulls might stand pat over the offseason and run it back with Jimmy Butler, Dwyane Wade, and Rajon Rondo all suiting up for the team again next year.

However, we here at The Runner Sports would like to give Bulls fans a chance to dream: what if the Chicago Bulls blow it up and start over?

Step One: The Purge

Not like the kill everyone and free crime purge, but the Chicago Bulls can possibly open up a ton of cap space this offseason. The Bulls do not need to hold onto Nikola Mirotic and his $7.2 million contract or Michael Carter-Williams and his $4.4 million contract. Furthermore, Chicago only owes Isiah Canaan $200,000 of his $1.5 million salary next season, and they only owe Rajon Rondo $3 million of his $13.4 million contract. Releasing all of those players clears $22,871,055 from the Bulls’ cap.

Subsequently, if the Chicago Bulls convince Dwyane Wade they are blowing up the roster, and he would have a miserable time playing there next year, perhaps they can convince him to decline his player option. This move would save the Bulls $23,800,000 for next year, giving them $46,671,055 off the books.

Finally, the Chicago Bulls could trade Jimmy Butler. The Boston Celtics should be hungry for a star to pair with Isaiah Thomas. Jimmy Butler is the perfect wing for the job. Let’s say the Celtics agree to trade their first-round pick next year and give up Jae Crowder. Crowder has not been great in the playoffs. With Butler there, the Celtics might not have a ton of minutes for Crowder. Furthermore, knowing they have the first overall pick in this draft, I cannot imagine they will part with it; hence, they throw in next year’s pick. Again, this is all hypothetical, so we will say it happens. This saves the Bulls nearly $12 million in cap room. Hence, the Bulls–in this situation–have $58,571,856 off the books going into free agency.

Overall, this leaves the Bulls with $68,282,812 in cap space. Or–in scientific terms–a bunch.

2017:

The Roster:

In this hypothetical situation, here is the Bulls roster left over.

Point Guard: Cameron Payne, Jerian Grant

Shooting Guard: Denzel Valentine

Small Forward: Jae Crowder, Paul Zipser

Power Forward: Bobby Portis

Center: Robin Lopez

There are seven players on the Bulls, and a ton of money available to fill in the blanks. As this roster stands, the Bulls would be in need of starting level talent at point guard, shooting guard, and power forward.

The Draft:

With the blow-up, the Bulls have a ton of needs in the draft, and they can draft the best player available. I say they take a chance on Justin Patton, the 7-foot center out of Creighton. Patton is a high upside prospect who can contribute on defense right away as he develops offensively. The big man won’t be a big player right away, but the Bulls are rebuilding here, and he doesn’t need to be.

The Roster Post-Draft:

Point Guard: Cameron Payne, Jerian Grant

Shooting Guard: Denzel Valentine

Small Forward: Jae Crowder, Paul Zipser

Power Forward: Bobby Portis

Center: Robin Lopez, Justin Patton

Justin Patton should sign for about $1.8 million, leaving the Bulls with $66,482,812 going into free agency. The Bulls still need starting level talent at point guard, shooting guard, and power forward.

Free Agency:

The Bulls might chase top-level talent like Gordon Hayward, but it is hard to picture Hayward leaving a growing contender for a rebuilding squad. The same can be said for most of the top free agents. Instead, the Bulls should build their team through some affordable, short-term contracts.

The Targets:

Point Guard: Jrue Holiday: 2-year, $23 million with a player option for the second year.

Jrue Holiday has been hurt, but highly productive when healthy. The Bulls would be a perfect spot for a “prove it” deal. Holiday gets free reign of the offense, and–if he stays healthy and goes off–he can opt out and sign a mega-deal next season. If he struggles, he has a safety option to accept the player option for next year.

Shooting Guard: J.J. Redick: 2 years, $30 million.

This one could go really well for the Bulls, or it could flop hard. J.J. Redick is 32, and he regressed ever so slightly this season with the Clippers. However, he shot over 40 percent from deep, and the Bulls need shooting in Hoiberg’s offense. In L.A., Redick has always been a fourth or fifth option, and in Chicago, he could become a good second option. Redick could put up more shots and have more opportunities, along with nabbing a contract that pays around $15 million per season. Redick will probably want more than two years, but–again–this is hypothetical, and I get do what I want.

Power Forward: Rudy Gay: 1-year, $18 million.

I know Rudy Gay isn’t a natural power forward, but he has a 7’3″ wingspan, and he would give the Bulls a stretch 4 to share minutes with Bobby Portis. Gay can also spell Jae Crowder at the 3. He is coming off a major injury, so–like Holiday–he would be on a “prove it” deal. Both Holiday and Gay are big risks, but they also come with big possible rewards.

Small Forward: Shabazz Muhammad: 2 years, $22 million.

This is a risky move. Again, the Bulls are taking a chance. Muhammad is a restricted free agent, but I can’t imagine the Timberwolves would want to match 11 million dollars per year for a role player. Muhammad would get the chance to take on a sixth-man role and serve as an active scorer. This is also a “prove it” type deal, as both the Bulls and Muhammad would benefit from him outplaying his contract.

Center: Cristiano Felicio: 1-year, $1.2 million.

The Bulls can make a qualifying offer to Felicio for next year, and I can’t imagine them facing a ton of competition for him. Felicio is a serviceable backup big, and he is continuing to develop. If the Bulls can get him back for his qualifying offer, that would be a big win.

The Roster Post-Free Agency:

Point Guard: Jrue Holiday, Cameron Payne, Jerian Grant

Shooting Guard: J.J. Redick, Denzel Valentine

Small Forward: Jae Crowder, Shabazz Muhammad, Paul Zipser

Power Forward: Rudy Gay, Bobby Portis

Center: Robin Lopez, Cristiano Felicio, Justin Patton

With this lineup, the Bulls still have about $10.3 million left in cap space, and they can–conceivably–compete still in the East. If everyone stays healthy, and Holiday and Gay are playing to their All-Star level, this is a good Bulls team. If one of the newest players goes down due to injury, however, the season falls apart.
Things get even better for the Bulls in 2018.

2018:

Let’s say Jrue Holiday does well and doesn’t take his player option. Let’s also say the Bulls don’t pick up the options on Cameron Payne and Jerian Grant–two disappointing point guards. However, they guarantee Paul Zipser’s contract and pick up Bobby Portis and Denzel Valentine’s options.
The Roster:

Point Guard:

Shooting Guard: J.J. Redick, Denzel Valentine

Small Forward: Jae Crowder, Shabazz Muhammad, Paul Zipser

Power Forward: Bobby Portis

Center: Robin Lopez, Justin Patton

Together, the Bulls will have around $56 million in contracts, giving them $45.9 million in cap space and–hopefully–a top three draft pick from the Celtics.

The Draft:

Let’s say the Bulls end up with the third overall pick from the Celtics because the Nets are the worst again, but they don’t get the same results. I could see the Bulls drafting the best player available, which–right now–projects to be DeAndre Ayton out of Arizona. I’m also assuming the Bulls will make the playoffs as a 7th seed, thus getting the seventeenth pick.

Pick Three: DeAndre Ayton, Center/Power Forward, Arizona.

Ayton is a seven footer who has the frame to develop into a beast in the paint. Ayton has a soft touch around the basket and a solid midrange jumper. Furthermore, he projects to be a very solid rim protector and defender.

Pick Seventeen: Trevon Duval, Point Guard, Duke.

Duval is an elite point guard prospect who could drop in the draft due to his size (6’2). However, Duval has a 6’8 wingspan and top-notch athleticism. He has great handles, attacks well, but he needs to develop a better jumper.

Ayton will command a $5.4 million contract and Duval will have a $2 million contract. Overall, this leaves the Bulls with $38.5 million for free agency.

The Roster Post-Draft:

Point Guard: Trevon Duval

Shooting Guard: J.J. Redick, Denzel Valentine

Small Forward: Jae Crowder, Shabazz Muhammad, Paul Zipser

Power Forward: DeAndre Ayton, Bobby Portis

Center: Robin Lopez, Justin Patton

Free Agency:

The Bulls now have some promise with Ayton and Duval coming in as young rookies with a ton of potential. There are not a ton of great options in the 2018 free agent class outside of Kevin Durant and Blake Griffin. The Bulls don’t have the core to compete for a championship yet, but they could use a veteran point guard to pair with Duval and an experienced power forward.

The Targets:

Point Guard: C.J. Watson: 1-year, $3 million.

C.J. Watson could come back to Chicago as a serviceable backup point guard. Again, outside of aging and expensive options like Chris Paul and Tony Parker, there is not much to this point guard market. Watson could come in and contribute some solid minutes behind Duval.

Power Forward: Channing Frye: 1-year, $15 million.

15 million dollars for Channing Frye? Let me explain. Frye is in a sweet situation in Cleveland. He gets to play on a championship team, and they will want him back. So what can motivate Frye to leave? $15 million can. It is just a one-year deal, and Frye could be the big man that spaces the floor while Lopez, Patton, and Ayton stay inside the arc.

Shooting Guard: Archie Goodwin: 1-year, $3 million.

Archie Goodwin is a player I loved in college who just hasn’t gotten a great chance in the NBA. Goodwin is more of a combo guard, so he can play both point and shooting guard. He doesn’t have a great shot, but he can attack and take over for any guard who is struggling.

The Roster Post-Free Agency:

Point Guard: Trevon Duval, C.J. Watson

Shooting Guard: J.J. Redick, Denzel Valentine, Archie Goodwin

Small Forward: Jae Crowder, Shabazz Muhammad, Paul Zipser

Power Forward: Channing Frye, DeAndre Ayton, Bobby Portis

Center: Robin Lopez, Justin Patton

The Bulls will again be a lower-half of the playoffs type of team. Duval and Ayton will be exciting additions who get a decent amount of playing time, but the real prizes come out in 2019.

2019:

I feel like I am in year three of franchise mode in NBA 2K. The Bulls will lose Robin Lopez, and they will have a qualifying offer to give Bobby Portis if they so wish. The only Bulls under contract will be Trevon Duval, Denzel Valentine, Jae Crowder, Paul Zipser, DeAndre Ayton, and Justin Patton. Crowder will be the only one who isn’t on a rookie deal.
The Roster:

Point Guard: Trevon Duval

Shooting Guard: Denzel Valentine

Small Forward: Jae Crowder, Paul Zipser

Power Forward: DeAndre Ayton

Center: Justin Patton

The Bulls will only have $24.1 million in contracts, giving them a projected $83 million in cap space. The Bulls will be in a position to build a super team.

The Draft:

Let’s say the Bulls make the playoffs as a seventh seed again, and they end up with the seventeenth pick.

Pick Seventeen: Mustapha Heron, Point Guard/Shooting Guard, Auburn.

Heron is a five-star high school prospect right now who has the ability to handle the ball and shoot the ball with nice touch. Heron could be a scorer and fill a void left behind by J.J. Redick if he develops well.

Heron will take up $2.4 million in cap space, but that barely makes a dent on the remaining $80.6 million the Bulls have for free agency.

The Roster Post-Draft:

Point Guard: Trevon Duval

Shooting Guard: Denzel Valentine, Mustapha Heron

Small Forward: Jae Crowder, Paul Zipser

Power Forward: DeAndre Ayton

Center: Justin Patton

Free Agency:

The Bulls can now pair a dynamic Heron with a very young core containing Ayton, Duval, and Patton. With a boatload of cash, an exciting group of role players, the Bulls can now start viewing themselves as a team that top-tier free agents will consider. 2019 is not much better than 2018 in terms of targets, but there are two major players the Bulls might be able to go after.

The Targets:

Point Guard: Russell Westbrook: 4-year, $160 million.

Again, we want to give Bulls fans a chance to dream here. By 2019, Westbrook will be 29, still without a championship, and probably seeking a bigger market outside of OKC. The Chicago Bulls have a lot to offer Westbrook. He would be the number one option in a top market, and–if the Bulls can get the other target for which I believe they will bid–he has ample talent around him to make a run at the finals with an easier path in the East.

Shooting Guard: Klay Thompson: 4-year, $155 million.

Why would Klay Thompson leave the dream team in Golden State? I am not viewing this as a matter of Thompson wanting to leave; rather, I don’t believe the Warriors will be able to sustain their roster if they are holding onto Kevin Durant, Steph Curry, and Draymond Green–when he enters into free agency in 2020. This way, Thompson goes back to being a legitimate second option who will thrive playing with a Westbrook that drives and kicks often. Pairing stars Westbrook and Thompson with a gritty front court in Crowder, Ayton, and Patton would give the Bulls a great starting five.

Power Forward: Bobby Portis: 1-year, $3.6 million.

This is the qualifying offer that the Bulls can offer Bobby Portis. In 2019, there are some great power forward options in free agency for other teams: LaMarcus Aldridge, Enes Kanter, Tobias Harris, and Kenneth Faried to name a few. Chicago should be able to get away with no team throwing a boatload of money at Portis, as he has been a backup his whole career without that high of a ceiling. Portis will fill in behind Ayton again and give the Bulls some good minutes.

Power Forward: Jordan Mickey, 1-year, minimum.

Jordan Mickey hasn’t contributed much throughout his NBA career. However, he is a solid third option to eat up minutes every once in a while in short doses. Obviously, Mickey won’t contribute much to the Bulls outside of filling out the bench.

Center: Marcin Gortat, 1-year, minimum.

Gortat will be 36 years old if he is not retired by 2019. At this point in his career, he isn’t going to demand much money and should be available at the minimum. While age will catch up with him, Gortat is a big body with touch around the rim and can serve as a serviceable backup big.

Point Guard: J.J. Barea, 1-year, minimum.

Barea is actually coaching in Puerto Rico right now, as that is something he wants to do later in life. However, he still has three or four more seasons left in him as a player. Still, Barea is a quality option at this stage in his career for a third point guard. He won’t have it in him to contribute meaningful minutes all the time, but if Westbrook or Duval get injured, he is a quality guard to have on the roster.

The Roster Post-Free Agency:

Point Guard: Russell Westbrook, Trevon Duval, J.J. Barea

Shooting Guard: Klay Thompson, Denzel Valentine, Mustapha Heron

Small Forward: Jae Crowder, Paul Zipser

Power Forward: DeAndre Ayton, Bobby Portis, Jordan Mickey

Center: Justin Patton, Marcin Gortat

Finally, the Bulls will have a competitive team. With Westbrook running the floor with another star in Klay Thompson, a great third option in Jae Crowder, and young big men in DeAndre Ayton and Justin Patton, Chicago can be competing for the top seed in the East again. Crowder will be a free agent in 2020, but the cap space is rumored to be up to $120 million in 2020, so the Bulls can easily re-sign him at that point.

The Verdict

It is going to be a difficult few years of mediocracy. However, by 2019, the Bulls should be back to the cream of the crop. Of course, this is all hypothetical, and GarPax will almost certainly take the Bulls in the wrong direction, but–hey–we can dream, can’t we?

Rob Wegley

TRS co-owner and resident draft aficionado.

Author of Extraordinary Girl.