Best 2014 Free Agents for Chicago Bulls to Pair with Derrick Rose
The Bulls should have some financial flexibility this summer, particularly if they utilize the amnesty clause on Carlos Boozer.
They still may have to get creative in terms of a sign-and-trade deal (or potentially trade a player to free up more cap space), but Chicago has the opportunity to make noise in the offseason.
The Bulls' tenacious defense keeps them competitive despite their unfortunate injuries. Imagine how scary this squad would be if they could net an All-Star-caliber weapon who brings life to their inconsistent offense. They would instantly be title contenders.
Let's examine who the Bulls should soon target.
A couple of notes:
1. You will not find LeBron James, who has an early-termination option, on this slideshow because the chances of him joining the Bulls appear slim to none.
2. You will also not see foreigner Nikola Mirotic, who Chicago could lure over the summer but they have the rights to him. He's not a free agent on the open market.
Free-Agent Type: Restricted
Utah Jazz guard Gordon Hayward is having a breakout season in what's his fourth year in the league. His value is certainly rising for his upcoming free agency.
Hayward's worth is seen in his multi-faceted arsenal. He averages 15.8 points per game, 5.5 rebounds per game and 5.1 assists per game. His ability to score and distribute would greatly benefit the Bulls' limited offensive attack.
There are downsides to chasing Hayward, though. First of all, he will be pricey. He is just 23 years old and contributes across the board. He could receive close to a maximum contract, and since he's restricted, Utah could decide to match a given offer.
Secondly, could he be overvalued? His game lacks efficiency, as he's shooting 39.9 percent from the field and 29.4 percent from distance. He's also averaging nearly three turnovers per outing. While Hayward has a decent skill set, his numbers could be inflated while playing for lowly Utah.
Therefore, while the Bulls should keep an eye on his price tag, they should be leery of throwing a hefty offer at him. Hayward would be a nice piece, but there are definitely better options to explore.
Free-Agent Type: Unrestricted
Come the offseason, it's doubtful that Pierce will join a lackluster team who offers the best money. He'll likely want to join a contender. The Bulls could be a potential option considering that Pierce is familiar with coach Tom Thibodeau from their days with the Boston Celtics.
Furthermore, Pierce's offensive skills would enhance Chicago's output, and he could reveal distinct value as a spot-up shooter and sneaky shot creator.
The concerns with "The Truth" center upon what type of contract he'll desire and if he would bolster Chicago's offense significantly enough. He would be beneficial, but come the age of 37, could he really be their missing piece?
Pierce, like Hayward, is another guy to monitor, but he would be a consolation prize considering the other names on the market.
Free-Agent Type: Unrestricted
Maybe Luol Deng will realize how much he thrived with the Bulls and yearn for a return to the Windy City.
Since being traded to the messy Cleveland Cavaliers, Deng has experienced life with a dysfunctional team. Earlier this month, Mitch Lawrence of the New York Daily News reported that Deng is not happy about the Cavs' culture.
Keep in mind that Deng rejected a three-year, $30 million extension before being dealt to the Cavs. He's obviously looking for more than that, but maybe he'll be content with less if he could rejoin the Bulls, where his talents were used effectively.
Compare his statistics during 2013-14 between his 23 games with the Bulls and 23 games with the Cavs:
Not only could Deng be convinced that Chicago is a more rewarding environment for his efforts, but his value in free agency could be decreasing due to his recent struggles in Cleveland. He may not be deemed as a guy fit to command $12-14 million per year, especially considering the wear-and-tear he has accumulated in his ten years of NBA experience.
Therefore, the Bulls could consider bringing back Deng if he would be willing to sign for around $10 million per season. He knows their schemes and provides decent production on both ends.
However, Deng would also be a consolation prize. While he is an above-average offensive player, he's by no means elite. They need more offensive firepower than what he supplies. Plus, they're now 18-8 since dealing him, raising awareness that they can fill his void sufficiently.
Deng would be a noteworthy addition, but hopefully the Bulls can make a bigger splash come the summertime.
Free-Agent Type: Unrestricted
Lance Stephenson was an All-Star snub and currently sits in the thick of the conversation for Most Improved Player. The 23-year-old has emerged as an all-around threat in his fourth NBA season.
Stephenson is currently stuffing the stat sheet with averages as follows: 14.2 PPG, 7.3 RPG and 5.1 APG. He's also shooting a stellar 50.0 percent from the field.
Stephenson would be a superb running mate to D-Rose in Chicago's backcourt. There are numerous reasons why this duo could be the ideal pairing.
For one, Stephenson can instigate offense off the dribble, something the Bulls have lacked outside of Rose. He's aggressive in attacking the rim and is also more than capable of being a distributor. His ball-handling skills are like that of a point guard, and he's the type of player who enhances the play of those around him.
What's more, he's also a pesky defender who is already flourishing in the Indiana Pacers' suffocating defense. It would be easy for him to adjust to coach Thibs' rigorous defensive system.
Overall, there's no question that Rose and he could establish solid on-court chemistry together on both ends of the floor.
It's also worth noting that Stephenson is young and is just hitting the front-side of his prime. He has plenty of quality years ahead of him.
Lastly, this move would considerably bolster Chicago's outlook against their division rivals from Indiana. Stephenson's current team is a title contender, and it sure wouldn't hurt for the Bulls to swipe one of their current core members.
There are limited concerns when it comes to pursuing Stephenson. An inevitable question is his price tag, which should be expensive but likely not a maximum contract. He would be an outstanding investment if they could snag him for $10-12 million, but his value could easily skyrocket if a bad team with cap space throws giant numbers at him.
If the Bulls land Stephenson over the summer, they've done well. He's a two-way guard who's just finding his stride in the league. He could be their best and most logical free agent to chase.
Free-Agent Type: Early-Termination Option
Speculation about Carmelo Anthony leaving the New York Knicks should run rampant over the next few months. A reasonable destination for the seven-time All-Star is Chicago.
Anthony could provide Rose and the Bulls with the secondary superstar they've needed. Due to the Bulls' frequent offensive struggles, Melo's top-notch scoring abilities would be welcomed.
It almost seems that the Bulls desperately need Anthony, and Anthony desperately needs the Bulls. He needs to be surrounded by a nucleus who defends and does the intangibles while he scores, scores and scores.
Thibs could likely even find a way to develop Anthony as a defender, or at least strategically hide him like he has done with Carlos Boozer.
The bottom line is that Bulls fans would have to be excited about a core of Rose, Anthony and Joakim Noah. Between this star power and Thibodeau's defense, the Bulls should be able to contend with anybody.
A couple of worries do arise, though, when considering luring Melo. First of all, he will cost a lot. He should expect a long-term, maximum contract. Since he will be 30 come next year, there's risk in throwing big money his way.
Secondly, things get complicated when envisioning this financially. A sign-and-trade would be the ultimate scenario, but no matter what, bringing aboard a beastly contract would force the Bulls to move a current asset or two, potentially Taj Gibson.
Melo could legitimately be the Bulls' missing piece, and perhaps he will conclude that Chicago gives him the best chance to win. One thing we know for sure is this: The Bulls have some big decisions to make over the summer, and the right maneuver could vault Rose and company towards the NBA pinnacle.
Haddon Anderson is a Chicago Bulls Featured Columnist for Bleacher Report. You can follow him on Twitter here.