2018-2019 Chicago Bulls free agency outlook: Stars

PHOENIX, AZ - APRIL 08: Klay Thompson #11 of the Golden State Warriors reacts during the first half of the NBA game against the Phoenix Suns at Talking Stick Resort Arena on April 8, 2018 in Phoenix, Arizona NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and or using this photograph, User is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement. (Photo by Christian Petersen/Getty Images)
PHOENIX, AZ - APRIL 08: Klay Thompson #11 of the Golden State Warriors reacts during the first half of the NBA game against the Phoenix Suns at Talking Stick Resort Arena on April 8, 2018 in Phoenix, Arizona NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and or using this photograph, User is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement. (Photo by Christian Petersen/Getty Images) /

What players should the Chicago Bulls direct their attention to in the 2018-2019 free agency? Notable options are KAT, Kristaps, and Kemba Walker.

The last edition highlighted role players Chicago could keep an eye on. In this edition, I emphasize stars available in the 2018-2019 free agency. Next year’s free agents are brimming with stars; Klay Thompson, Kristaps Porzingis, Karl-Anthony Towns, and Kemba Walker. As well, there is a player that—with an increase in minutes and usage—could emerge as a star: Justise Winslow.

Which of the aforementioned players fit Chicago’s timeline and scheme?

There are a few outstanding salary figures chronicled in the last piece that still hold weight in this one. First, the 2017-2018 free agency was a quiet endeavor for a Bulls team that is looking to rebuild through the draft.

  • The 2017-2018 cap space is set at $99.093 million.
  • The Jabari signing carries us over at $102.577 million for 2017-2018.
  • The 2017-2018 luxury tax threshold stands at $119,266,000.
  • Following the signing of Antonius Cleveland and Antonio Blakeney, Chicago’s roster is at the maximum of 15 players.

Next, the 2018-2019 free agency where management could look to move the needle through free agency. Assuming the core of Markkanen, Carter, Dunn, and Lavine are primed to compete for the playoffs, Chicago directs its efforts to ‘star hunting.’

  • 4 players come off the books next Summer; Bobby Portis, Robin Lopez, Justin Holiday, and Cameron Payne.
  • The  Jabari Parker signing ( two year-$40 million) works more like a one year-$20 million. Chicago makes the decision based on his bounceback from two major knee injuries and fit in Hoiberg’s offense and aside the youth foundation already in place.
  • Omer Asik and Cristiano Felicio are likely candidates to be bought out or packaged with a first-round pick.

How do the numbers crunch for next Summer?

  • Salary cap space skyrockets to $101.869 million.
  • Luxury tax line moves up to $123.733 million.
  • $26,218,046 million in projected cap space next Summer.
  • $8.9 million trade exception (Nikola Mirotic trade).

With all that in mind, which stars do the Bulls direct their attention to?

Klay Thompson

Imagine one of the Splash Brothers without the other. The thought is inconceivable. After all, the pairing has coexisted for the past 7 years. Howbeit, that dream may turn into reality since Golden State inching towards record-highs in the salary cap and luxury tax threshold. According to Spotrac, the organization stands $41.8 million over the salary cap and $19.9 million over the luxury tax. Retaining Draymond Green and Klay Thompson insinuates $300 million spent on player salaries. Klay seems to value winning over money. That narrative could flip like a switch in mere nanoseconds, though.

Players change their mind, and cities, like a tide, change. Lebron left Cleveland not once, but twice. Kevin Durant vowed a career mainstay in Oklahoma City. Kawhi—who seemed like a vintage lifetime Spur—sat out a whole year only to be traded to another country.

If history is any indication, loyalty is nonexistent in the NBA. Could Klay Thompson be the next superstar that jumps ship?

If he does, Chicago could reap the benefits of a superstar in his purest form, with more freedom to dominate the ball.

After all, Thompson is the king of minimizing his dribbles while maximizing his output. According to Synergy Sports, for players that played 50 or more games, Klay was the only player to record 1.5 dribbles (or less) per touch and score 0.4 points per touch. Not to be forgotten, Thompson held the ball for 90 seconds (and dribbled it only 11 times) on his way to 21 field goals and 60 points against the Pacers.

All the while, the former Washington State star is best utilized in an off-ball role. His 33.4% frequency in off-screen plays placed second only to Kyle Korver. To dig deeper, Thompson was second only to Korver for players that dressed in 50 or more games and had a 25% frequency rate (or higher) with a 55% effective field goal percentage.

In Hoiberg’s fast paced offense, plays like this one are quintessential to Thompson’s strengths.

It’s not out of the question to picture a Bulls version of the play above. Carter or Portis, two notorious hard screen-setters, could easily replicate the Kevon Looney role. Diving hard to the basket, defenders are forced to account for their touch around the basket.  Dunn, in the Curry role, is one of the faster guards in the league and an able passer. His hesitation catches the defenders off-guard while Thompson sets his feet for an open three-point shot. Swish.

Not to mention, decoy plays were essential to the three-point shooting prowess of Thompson.

A Draymond screen before half-court, Thompson backcourt screen, and an Iguodala down screen, acted as a facade for one significant portion behind the moving pieces. A hard pin-down screen for a wheeling Thompson opened a closing window for the specialist. Splash.

Those two plays just graze the surface of Thompson’s efficiency and ability off-screens.

Considering the inevitable improvement of Markkanen, Carter, and Portis as low and high-post presences, a consistent guard is in the works. A guard that can hit a profusion of threes while still allowing young players to receive touches is, simply put, a match made in heaven.

Kemba Walker

With the burgeoning news Walker plans to end his career in Charlotte, the light shines dim on a future Bulls pairing. Still, it is conceivable to imagine Kemba in red and white. I have questioned Kris Dunn’s potential before and with this addition, it would be valid to do the same. All the while, Kemba can play next to Dunn.

Dunn is, by all means, a defensive stalwart. He could be Walker’s defense, at the 2 or backup point guard spot. It could be a reverse replication of the Pelicans, who moved Jrue Holiday to the 2 and 3, with Rondo playing the 1. Of course, that line of action worked quite well for the most recent rendition of the Pelicans—who pushed the Warriors to 5 games in the second round of the playoffs. In positionless basketball, anything is possible. Even the playoffs are within reach for a potentially quirky Bulls backcourt.

While not mentioned in most top 5 point guard discussions, Kemba’s three-year statistical peak is striking. He’s played more games than Kyrie and shot better from deep than Dame in that span. So is he a superstar? In a bigger market, he may be portrayed as one. Chicago is the quintessential spot for an underrated player like Walker.

Walker instilled fear into Chicago fans’ souls with this double move on Mirotic.

Justise Winslow

To place Winslow with the players named above is borderline insanity. Although there is a reason he is not mentioned in the role players edition. Winslow is a representation of a player that faces significant (if not career-defining) season. For the most part, Winslow’s skills are diverse. His impact is felt across every facet of the stat-sheet.

And even though his basic statistics (points, rebounds, and assists) took a nosedive last season, his advanced metrics shed light on his amelioration. The influx of minutes to wings hampered Winslow. Howbeit, Winslow flashed enough potential to land on the radar of teams looking for a wing.

In a league where wings are valued, Winslow is a boon. He can defend at a high level. Some of his best defensive plays came against Ben Simmons in their first-round matchup. While many young players would shy away from a matchup with the 6’11’’ point guard, Winslow took the mantle and ran with it.

For forwards that played in at least 50 games, Justise’s defensive rating ranked 11th at 102.1.

In a mash-up of plays against the Raptors, Winslow wields his swiss-army knife ability. DeMar Derozan—who is widely lauded as a mid-range savant—struggles to get to his favorite spots in the 18 feet range. Winslow does a spectacular job of shuffling his feet as to stay with DeRozan and ultimately falls back for a charge that youth coaches admire.

The underrated play sparks a team and switches the ball to the home team’s side just like that. DeRozan’s inability to create shots by himself leads to a domino line of screens. Winslow fights through and around the smorgasbord of screens. He is not afraid to scrap on the ground for a loose ball—a play more befitting to role or end of the bench players. Ultimately, that’s a trait he prides himself on. Even in a more potent role, Winslow is a lock to find himself on the floor, rummaging for a loose ball, or flailing from a charge.

Winslow’s gritty defensive characteric embodies Chicago Bulls culture. Ever since Rodman threw on a jersey (and dyed his hair) there have been a series of mimickers. Taj Gibson, Nate Robinson, Kirk Hinrich, Andres Nocioni, Luol Deng, and Joakim Noah, just to name a few. If Winslow can add offense to his defensive spunk, all the better.

Winslow is not the James Harden (without a jump-shot of course) that many scouts dubbed him coming out of Duke. Still, he rarely finds himself sped up in guard-like features.

In this pick and roll set, a defender shadows Winslow, intent on getting in front of him. If Winslow tried to speed past him, the defender would ultimately find a way to chase-down him and alter his shot. So, he slowed down and probed his defender, careful not to lose or impede ground. Not to mention, Winslow looked up to a brick wall of a defender stand ready to contest.

Then, Winslow’s peripheral vision came into play. Out of the corner of his eye, he saw a Tyler Johnson, who slid to the corner and spot-up, and his defender over-helping. Winslow chucked it cross-court right into Johnson’s shooting pocket.

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Surmising, there are a handful of small-forwards in today’s league that could make this play. With the size of a power forward, the gracefulness of a shooting guard, and vision of a point guard, Winslow has the potential to be a real versatile player.

Kristaps Porzingis and Karl Anthony-Towns

These two superstars deviate from the typical NBA player. Yes, they are both tall bigs. But they can do so much more; put the ball on the ground, stroke it from deep, and defend a little bit. Instead of going into specifics, I’ll let the fans decide. Do you think these two fit on the Bulls, who already employ Markkanen and Carter (two similar talents)?