If Stars Are Looking Elsewhere, the Chicago Bulls Should Too

(Photo by Katelyn Mulcahy/Getty Images)
(Photo by Katelyn Mulcahy/Getty Images) /

A familiar refrain of top-talent looking elsewhere is once again front and center. But that doesn’t mean the Chicago Bulls can’t add talent.

Chicago Bulls fans have heard it before. Former NBA champion forward Antoine Walker appeared on 670 The Score in his hometown Chicago on Tuesday and said elite players aren’t thinking of the Windy City as a prime destination. This isn’t news as their struggles in landing free agents have been well-documented and led to the deals that brought Zach LaVine and Otto Porter to town.

That hasn’t stopped folks from setting lofty goals for the Bulls in free agency. Anthony Davis, another Chicago native and All-World big man for the Los Angeles Lakers, stoked the fires when he left the door open to play for his hometown squad…down the road. But even if Davis never comes home (a very likely scenario) and Twig’s proclamation holds true, the Bulls can still add impactful and intriguing players.

One such player is Josh Jackson. A fourth-year forward out of Kansas, Jackson is already on his second team and has put himself in some precarious situations off the floor as well. He came out of college flawed offensively, particularly in his outside shooting. He is actually a league-average shooter inside the arc for his career (.460) so his three-point percentage (.298) is the real issue.

Jackson was traded to the Memphis Grizzlies this season and after they declined his fourth-year option, he has a chance not many with his years of service get. He gets to pick the place that gives him the best chance at reviving his young, once-promising career. What better place than Chicago, a team lacking wing depth and top-shelf talent?

No, Jackson is not a diamond in the rough superstar. But he was the fourth-overall pick just a few years ago. What is the harm in taking a flyer on a guy with that type of athleticism and hypothetical versatility? Little to none.

Again, his off-court issues (a concern even in college) will need to be looked into and he will have to assure whoever he plays for next that that sort of thing is in his past. But whichever general manager does decide to take that chance could be getting a steal. And you don’t have to just rely on projections to see exactly why.

During his rookie season with the Phoenix Suns, Jackson was subject to fluctuating minutes and starting on and off for a 21-win team. But he still managed five double-doubles, a high of 36 points, and ended the year with 12-straight games in double figures including scoring 20-plus in four of his last five games.

Jackson had 35 points and shot over 62 percent on 5-of-8 shooting from deep in a game against the Pelicans in 2018-19, showing even his janky shot is workable. His free throw shooting remains a big concern especially if he goes to a teal like the Bulls that struggled at the stripe themselves ranking 21st in free throw percentage and 26th in attempts.

For the Bulls, Jackson could be a hedge against the oft-injured Chandler Hutchison and perpetual dog-house dweller, Denzel Valentine (though who knows how the new regime views him). He would also be a good understudy for Porter. After he suffered a foot injury that cost him most of the season, it’s unlikely a team trades for Porter’s bloated contract but he also shouldn’t be in Chicago’s long-term plans.

It’s expected to be a rather docile free agency period with everyone is still reeling from the impact of COVID-19. Even if some are willing to spend, the crop of worthwhile players is small (even smaller when considering fits) and likely of the restricted variety. So while Brandon Ingram might be ideal, he will be highly sought-after.

Jackson is just 23 years old and came into the league with tons of promise. Certainly, he still has some of the same weaknesses to his game he came in with, but how much of that is on how he has been handled? He’s already begun his journey to redemption, playing in 26 G-League games and putting up a respectable 20.3/7.5/4.3 line on 44.7/38/60.3 shooting.

For a Bulls organization that’s ushering in a new era in the front office but it tight financially, the bargain bin is very appealing. It’s not often you find a player with the pedigree of Jackson who has flashed as he has in that pile. When you do, pounce. That’s why there are reports of the Cleveland Cavaliers and Miami Heat being interested in the former Jayhawk.

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New vice president of basketball operations Arturas Karnisovas and general manager Marc Eversley were brought in to fix this franchise on the floor, but also address the very issue Walker spoke of: their image around the league. Will Jackson be the sole reason that happens? No. But if the Bulls can tap into that potential, that could go a long way towards rebuilding the reputation.