The Final Piece
Who will join Chicago’s quest for a title?
by Dave Spahn / @davespahn
As happy as I am for the NBA lockout to be behind us (for now), am I the only one getting sick of seeing “Chris Paul to ___?” or “Are the Magic sending Dwight Howard to ___?” Twitter has become one big mess of hypothetical trades, rumors and non-entertaining Skip Bayless/Stephen A. Smith feuds. I forgot how nice fans felt not having to listen to the constant shuffle of new trade gossip and hypothetical team changes. I just cannot deal with all of the rumors. The season needs to hurry up and start before people run out of things to tweet and someone tweets something along the lines of “Wade, LeBron ask for package deal trade” or “Metta World Piece has announced the revival of his rap career.”
But with the free-agency period right around the corner, one cannot help but think of possible destinations for many of the top free agents. The 2011 free-agent pool obviously lacks the depth that the infamous 2010 class possessed, but a few pieces in this class have the potential to help a team chasing a title run.
No team may need a solid free-agent signing more than the Chicago Bulls. All Bulls fans painfully watched Carlos Boozer let the “Big Three” drive by him like a Spanish bullfighter waving a red flag and screaming “Ole!” They even more painfully witnessed an entire season of Keith “4 Points Per Game” Bogans start 82 games. (Somewhere, Bulls fans are throwing their remote through the TV.) A historic year from Derrick Rose, the ‘10-11 NBA MVP, saved the Bulls’ season and brought a No. 1 Playoff seed to Chicago. In order to beat the Heat in the ‘11-12 season, the Bulls absolutely need a scoring 2 guard. There really isn’t any other way around it. Without another perimeter player who can take the scoring load off Rose, the Bulls will be lucky to even reach the Eastern Conference Finals again, especially if the Knicks can pull of a trade for Chris Paul.
If the Bulls’ front office is serious about a run at an NBA title this season, they will need to pick up a free agent 2 guard this season. So, here are my five best options at the 2 guard spot for the up-and-coming Bulls in descending order. And yes, all five options are better than the current Bulls’ current roster.
5) Vince Carter, Phoenix Suns, Age 34
OK, OK. Maybe this option isn’t better than Bogans. But even the suggestion of adding Air Canada at this point in his career shows how desperate the Bulls really are for perimeter scoring.
4) Nick Young, Washington Wizards, Age 26
Make no mistake about it—Young puts points on the board in a hurry. Last season, Young constantly passed the 20-point mark, dropped over 30 points a handful of times, and even went for a 43-point outburst against the Kings. He posted season averages of 17.4 ppg, shot 44.1 percent from the field and 38.7 percent from three, and was an 81.6 percent free-throw shooter. The good news: The Bulls need that extra 17.4 ppg Young brings to the table. The bad news: Young doesn’t defend at a high level and takes way too many shots. He played on a Washington Wizards team that ranked bottom five in the NBA for most of the season, and he essentially had the green light to launch up whatever shot he wanted in their “We give up; go boost your stats” type season. He will need to drastically tone down his shot attempts and become more under control on all cylinders, which will most likely affect his points per game. Again, Young would be an improvement from Bogans, but he brings a lot of flaws to the table.
3) Arron Afflalo, Denver Nuggets, Age 26
Afflalo would easily be the number one guy on this list if the Bulls had enough money to spend on him this season. But the Bulls are well over the salary cap already and will need to use the mid-level exception on their next free agent. Afflalo is a restricted free agent, which Denver can match any offer he receives from other teams and essentially guarantees he will be nearly doubling what the Bulls are able to shell out. Unlike most guys on this list, Afflalo dedicates himself on both ends of the floor. His length disturbs shooters, and he would be the perfect guy to guard Dwyane Wade in the Playoffs. Afflalo can really light it up from beyond the arc too, something the Bulls are in dire need of from someone not named Kyle Korver. In a perfect world, the Bulls would snag Afflalo and make a serious run at the title. Wait, who am I kidding? In a perfect world, the Bulls would definitely not have Bogans in the first place. They would have signed LeBron last summer. (Just kidding Bulls fans.) But seriously…
2) Jamal Crawford, Atlanta Hawks, Age 31
A Bull to start his career, Crawford improved leaps and bounds after his initial time in the Windy City. He averaged over 14 ppg last season coming off the bench for an Atlanta Hawks team that gave the Bulls a decent amount of trouble in the second round of the Playoffs. For better or worse, Crawford established himself as a one-dimensional player with one distinct skill—scoring. He definitely lights up the nets when focused, but his defense has proven to be suspect at best. The Bulls’ defense anchored their Eastern Conference Finals run, so adding a piece like Crawford would definitely be a blow to their defensive prowess. But his added scoring and his ability to stretch the defense would be worth it for the Bulls. A player like Crawford would stretch the floor enough for teams to stop double teaming Rose every single possession. More room for Rose means an even higher flying, more explosive offense than what we saw last year from the Eastern Conference champs. Crawford falls under the mid-level exception category and would be a solid piece to the Bulls.
1) Jason Richardson, Orlando Magic, Age 30
The best realistic option in this year’s free-agent pool for the Bulls, Richardson brings most of the pieces the Bulls need into one player. Richardson would likely need to take a pay cut since the Bulls can only offer the mid-level exception, but he has expressed his interest in winning a title over cashing in on a huge paycheck. Unlike guys such as Nick Young and Jamal Crawford, Richardson can actually defend the opposing team’s guards. An athletic freak, the average fan knows Richardson mostly for his NBA Dunk Contest championship performances. He rebounds well for his position and would leave fans on their feet with his thunderous alley-oops courtesy of the reigning MVP. He doesn’t shoot the ball like Kyle Korver, but his 15.6 points per game are enough to keep the defense honest and release a whole lot of pressure off Rose. I can already picture teams running double teams at Rose as Richardson cuts to the basket and throws down a game changing dunk with authority.
What makes Richardson the best choice of the group is his ability to score and defend throughout the whole game. No longer will the Bulls need to play musical chairs with the three shooting guards (Bogans, Brewer and Korver). Like Afflalo, Richardson plays both sides of the ball as well or better than either of those three play either side of the ball. He will be the best option to guard Dwyane Wade in the Finals and, most importantly, will make Derrick Rose’s job 10 times easier night in and night out. Derrick Rose quite simply cannot keep shouldering the entire scouring load for the Bulls. His career will be much too short if he takes all of the workload during the regular season every year. A guy like Richardson will create so much space for Rose and will only add to Rose’s growth as a player.
Bulls fans, say a prayer or two before you go to bed that Richardson will opt to spend the next few years in the Windy City. If he does, the Miami Heat and the rest of the League will be a little more nervous when they enter the United Center.