Looking to fill in the pieces
By Mike McGraw Daily Herald Sports Writer
Posted on July 01, 2002
When the Bulls pulled off their two most successful free-agent signings - taking center Brad Miller and forward Eddie Robinson away from Charlotte on both occasions - they could offer the lure of playing time and also pay more money than the Hornets.
Neither of those factors exists this year.
The Bulls will head into next season with an established top eight of Jalen Rose, Robinson, Tyson Chandler, Eddy Curry, Marcus Fizer, Jamal Crawford, Trenton Hassell and Jay Williams. Unless something unexpected happens, no starting positions are available.
But the Bulls still plan on keeping busy during the NBA's free-agent negotiating period, which begins today. Players can be signed starting July 17.
The Bulls could have more room under the salary cap - about $5 million if they don't keep Travis Best - than any team but the Clippers.
But that's not enough to make much of an impact. And this summer's free-agent class is not very strong. The Bulls will be seeking role players and veteran role models.
"We've got our list made up, and we have certain people we're going to target," general manager Jerry Krause said. "On Monday morning, phone calls will be made.
"There won't be a lot of people on that list; certain people we think are very good for our circumstances. There will be character people. There will be veteran-type guys that understand the league, and that's about all I can say about it."
Coach Bill Cartwright said the team has discussed adding a veteran point guard, veteran inside player and defensive small forward.
The top two candidates for an inside player are Denver's Scott Williams and Washington's Popeye Jones.
There figures to be some competition for Jones, an effective rebounder and spot-up shooter, so it might benefit the Bulls to try to quickly lock up Williams, who is very interested in returning to Chicago.
"The Bulls are one of six teams I'm hoping contact me," Williams said. "My wife's family lives in the Chicago area. We're going to make a decision that works for us as a family."
When Williams was a Bulls rookie during the 1990-91 season, his nickname for Cartwright was "Teach." There would be a perfect symmetry to Williams' career if he finished by serving as a mentor for the younger Bulls with Cartwright as coach.
"They can look at me not only for leadership but to teach the younger players how to be professional," Williams said. "That's what Bill Cartwright and John Paxson did for me. I owe a lot of my success to Bill and the other veterans I played with in Chicago."
Williams, 34, appeared in just 41 games for the Nuggets last season because of a back injury, but he feels the time off rejuvenated his body. He would like to play two more years.
The Bulls are not likely to pursue Toronto restricted free agent Keon Clark. The Raptors would likely either match an offer or want to do a sign-and-trade. Clark could be a starter in a place like New York, so there is little motivation for him to be a Bulls reserve.
As a backup big-man plan, the Bulls might consider Brian Skinner or Michael Doleac, two restricted free agents Cleveland does not plan to bring back.
For a defensive-minded small forward, the Bulls might make a play for some lesser-known names. One is Atlanta's Ira Newble, a 27-year-old former teammate of Wally Szczerbiak at Miami of Ohio.
Newble was in the starting lineup when the Hawks finished the season strong. In two games against the Bulls last March, Newble scored 24 points and made Rose work hard to get his points.
Another candidate is Tremaine Fowlkes, a 6-foot-8 forward who starred in the NBDL before being signed by the Clippers.
Fowlkes and Newble are restricted free agents, but considering that the Clippers have other free agents to re-sign and Atlanta is close to the luxury-tax threshold, the Bulls might have a chance at either one if they're willing to spend more than the minimum salary.
The best free-agent small forwards are not likely to leave their current teams. This includes Seattle's Rashard Lewis, San Antonio's Bruce Bowen, Utah's Donyell Marshall, Cleveland's Ricky Davis and the Lakers' Devean George. The Bulls probably won't bother pursuing those players.
The Bulls may be interested, though, in two Orlando forwards, Pat Garrity and Monty Williams. Garrity, one of the league's best 3-point shooters, is restricted, but if the Magic plans to save enough cap room to pursue a free-agent center next summer, it can't spend much money now.
The presence of Jay Williams, the No. 2 pick in Wednesday's draft, and Crawford on the Bulls roster makes Best expendable. But Cartwright said he still would like to have a veteran point guard to show the younger players the ropes.
"We had it at the start of last season with Greg Anthony," Cartwright said. "We had it with Kevin Ollie. That's something we don't have now."
Plenty of point guards are available, but they're not going to line up for the chance to be third string on the Bulls. If Indiana hesitates to sign Ollie, the Bulls would gladly bring him back. Some other veteran possibilities include Atlanta's Jacque Vaughn, Detroit's Dana Barros or Utah's John Crotty.
Look for the Bulls to wait on a point guard to see who is still available in September. If the right guy doesn't sign on, there is still a chance they could keep A.J. Guyton for another season.
Re-signing Best is a longshot for the Bulls, just because he deserves more playing time than the Bulls will be able to dole out. He figures to draw interest from Detroit, Miami, Denver, Golden State, Minnesota and maybe a few others.
There is an outside possibility that the Bulls could do a sign-and-trade with Best and get a small forward such as Denver's James Posey or Philadelphia's Matt Harpring in return.
Don't forget, Krause has been perfectly happy to use the Bulls' cap room to make trades for unwanted veterans. This is how Charles Oakley, Anthony and Bryce Drew landed in Chicago.
In addition to their salary-cap space, the Bulls also can use two exceptions this summer, one for $4.7 million and one for $1.4 million. Both of the exceptions can be spilt among multiple players.
About half the teams in the league are not planning to use their exceptions for fear of having to pay the luxury tax next year, which is expected to kick in for teams with payrolls above $54 million.