Bulls weighing up free agent calls
Having selected Arkansas power forward Bobby Portis with the number 22 pick in this year’s NBA Draft, the Chicago Bulls are now deciding whether to keep or cut a host of their free agents this summer. On the back of a successful season in which they made it through to the Conference semi-finals, the Bulls are expected to be one of the busier franchises in the NBA this summer. But before general manager Gar Forman can really start making moves in the free agency, he is going to need to decide what to do with the quartet of free agents already on his roster in the shape of Jimmy Butler, Mike Dunleavy Jr, Aaron Brooks and Nazr Mohammed.
Kirk Hinrich was another player who could have theoretically become a free agent if he opted against taking up his player option next season worth $3million, although the 34-year-old eventually opted into this deal, which was likely the smart move given his age. With the likes Derrick Rose, Pau Gasol and Joakim Noah all contracted to the Bulls next season, the franchise are looking to add to their already talented squad with new players. But before any new arrivals are thought about, the management need to make a call on whether to cut or keep those members of the current roster who are now out of contract.
Nazr Mohammed: If you take away the sentimentality that comes with the fact Mohammed is a Chi-Town native, there won’t be too many Bulls fans upset at the prospect of the 37-year-old packing his bags this summer. The veteran is coming off the back of a season in which he only played 26 games, averaging just 1.2 points and 1.7 rebounds in 5.6 minutes per appearance, and it was clear to a lot of NBA fans that Mohammed was no longer the player he once was. While the center, who was the 29th overall pick in the 1998 Draft, has made it known he is keen on playing an 18th season in the NBA next year, it would be a surprise if he was wearing a Bulls jersey when he was.
But while Mohammed didn’t have much of a role to play on court last season, his influence in the locker room shouldn’t be underestimated. It’s well known that the experienced Naz is highly-respected in the game, but that’s not going to be enough for Chicago to be able to challenge for the NBA title next year. With the addition of another big man in Bobby Portis to a roster already containing Noah, Gasol, Nikola Mirotic, Cameron Bairstow and Taj Gibson, it’s hard to see just how the Bulls would be able to fit Mohammed into any of their plans, especially considering his age and recent form. But Chicago fans will always remember Naz fondly from his time with the franchise, not least for his shove, albeit costly, of LeBron James in 2013.
Aaron Brooks: The problem for Brooks could well be that he performed too well this season. The Bulls have made a habit of signing cheap backup point guards who go onto establish themselves as a key part of the rotation, and Brooks followed in the path of Nate Robinson and D.J. Augustin last season. It didn’t take long for Brooks to start out performing his pay-grade following his arrival, racking up over 11.6 points per game and shooting 38.7 percent from the perimeter. The Bulls management will have felt bittersweet about seeing just how well the 30-year-old adapted to life in Chi-Town.
While 2010’s Most Improved Player undoubtedly played a part in the franchise making the playoffs, Brooks’ form made it almost impossible for the Bulls to keep the back-up point guard due to the pay-rise he will be looking for this summer. Despite spending the majority of the season as a reserve, Brooks started 21 games during Rose’s absence with his continuing injury problems. He produced a string of impressive performances through March, averaging 15.5 points and 4.7 assists in 15 starts. If the Bulls are going to continue their tradition of signing cheap back-up point guards, Brooks isn’t going to fill that quota. His lack of defensive attributes won’t help his case for a new deal.
Mike Dunleavy Jr: While he might not be one of the higher profile members of this Bulls roster, Dunleavy is an important one. As tough a player as you’ll find in the league, someone capable of putting in a shift at both ends of the court and a useful scoring option, the 34-year-old has brought a lot to this team during his two seasons in Chicago. Having started 63 games, the versatile forward averaged a decent 9.4 points with an impressive 40.7 percent shooting from the perimeter, hitting a real purple patch during the playoffs at a time when his team desperately needed him.
Playing in his fourth postseason, Dunleavy shot an incredible 48.9 percent overall in the playoffs, including a 48.2 percent from distance, and playing a huge role in the Bulls making it through until the semi-finals. Allowing Dunleavy to leave would see an inconsistent Tony Snell and a still green Doug McDermott as the likely small forward pairing, and Chicago wouldn’t feel confident going into a season without replacing the veteran. For the Bulls, it won’t be a huge investment to sign the former Bucks man to a new deal, and Dunleavy has hinted he is keen to stay with a Chicago team who at the time of writing are 12/1 with betfair and other bookmakers to win the NBA Championship.
Jimmy Butler: Barring being used as a make-weight in some mega-trade, it really is a no-brainer for the Bulls to hang on to Butler. He may have been viewed as a role player before the start of last season, but the 25-year-old ended the 2015 campaign as an All Star and was named as the NBA’s Most Improved Player. The Bulls have been trying to agree a new deal with Butler since the end of last year, but a failure to tie the former 30th overall Draft pick means he is the franchise’s sole restricted free agent this summer. Perhaps more important than any other piece of business the franchise do between now and the beginning of the new season, the Bulls need to pull out all the stops to keep Butler in Chi-Town.
While other teams are able to make a move for Butler during the offseason, the Bulls retain the right to match any offer, and you’d expect that to happen. Boasting a team-leading 20-points a game average, this really was the Texan’s stand-out season in the NBA. Now one of the team’s most dangerous offensive players, Butler has really worked on his defensive game over the past couple of years, and it’s clear to see that the Bulls know they have a real all-round superstar on their hands. It’s not surprising to see a host of NBA teams already sniffing around Butler, in particular the Los Angeles Lakers, but Chicago need to pay whatever it costs to keep their best player of last season in a Bulls jersey.