With NBA free-agency about to begin, Bulls should hit brakes on backup center
With the start of NBA free-agency looming, the Bulls were waiting for one small detail and it arrived Tuesday.
Backup center Tony Bradley picked up his contract option for next season, according to ESPN's Adrian Wojnarowski, which is worth just over $2 million. That means the Bulls have 11 players on the payroll, including draft pick Dalen Terry, and re-signing Zach LaVine is a high priority.
The primary tool for the Bulls to add players this summer is the midlevel exception. If they can stay below the luxury tax apron with LaVine's new salary, they can use the non-taxpayer MLE worth roughly $9.5 million.
There's been speculation about the Bulls targeting a backup center. General manager Marc Eversley mentioned on draft night the need for rim protection and someone to complement center Nikola Vucevic. Two potential targets are New York's Mitchell Robinson and the Clippers' Isaiah Hartenstein.
First, here are some stat comparisons for Bradley, Robinson and Hartenstein per 36 minutes last season:
Bradley: 10.7 points, 12.2 rebounds, 2.2 blocks
Robinson: 11.9 points, 12.0 rebounds, 2.6 blocks
Hartenstein: 16.7 points, 9.8 rebounds, 2.3 blocks
And now, some advanced stats, via nba.com:
Bradley: 105 defensive rating, 16.1 rebound percentage
Robinson: 111.2 defensive rating, 15.8 rebound percentage
Hartenstein: 105 defensive rating, 13.0 rebound percentage
These numbers lead to a theory: There's not a big enough difference between Bradley, Hartenstein and Robinson to spend the full midlevel exception on a backup center. The Bulls will get a better return on their limited funds by looking elsewhere.
Now, if they are able to split the midlevel and land one of those centers, plus another player, that's a different story. But that's also a tough path. There aren't a lot of teams with cap space to spend on free agents, but many will use the midlevel.
A couple versatile forwards who could fit well with the Bulls are Memphis' Kyle Anderson and Toronto's Chris Boucher.
The 6-9 Anderson, 28, is one of those guys who does everything well, maybe nothing great. He was a starter for Memphis two years ago, moved to a bench role last season and played with LaVine at UCLA. He'd bring some veteran savvy and winning experience.
Boucher is 6-9 with a huge wingspan, which allows him to block shots and battle for rebounds inside, and be a pest defensively on the perimeter. He's been inconsistent in Toronto, but also hasn't gotten regular playing time.
Both guys could, in theory, play next to Patrick Williams in small lineups, which were especially popular in this year's playoffs. Now, it's tough to tell how hard their current teams will pursue new deals, but it's conceivable these players could be on the move this summer.
The Bulls need to add size to the front line, so the two backup centers mentioned above are also solid candidates, as is Phoenix' JaVale McGee. There are no correct answers at this point. New additions could be good, bad, in between or miss the entire season with an injury.
Another item on the wish list is more 3-point shooting. There aren't many obvious answers, but the Martin twins could be worth a look as value signings. Caleb shot 41.3% with Miami and Cody 38.4% with Charlotte.
The Knicks are expected to make a big run at Dallas guard Jalen Brunson, the Stevenson High School grad, and could be looking to unload Alec Burks or Cam Reddish to clear cap space. Reddish has just shot 32.5% from 3-point land in the NBA.
The Bulls might try to add a veteran who can push them toward a longer playoff run. P.J. Tucker will be tough to pull out of Miami. Orlando's Gary Harris is coming off a big contract and is a career 36.3% from 3-point range. Bryn Forbes, another Michigan State guy, has shot better than 40% from long range for the past four seasons.
Some ex-Bulls veteran might be worth a call, including Thad Young, since Toronto may not sign both Young and Boucher. Taj Gibson is likely to be cut loose by New York, though he doesn't have much left in the tank at 37. Otto Porter Jr. would be a nice role player, but he's not coming back for a second stint.