The 2019-20 NBA season finally ended last week as the Los Angeles Lakers took home the crown by defeating the Miami Heat in six games. As always, the end of one season brings up conversations about what each team needs to do to improve for the next one.
The Chicago Bulls are no exception, especially as they enter a new era with a new coach and front office. The additions of Arturas Karnisovas, Marc Eversley, and Billy Donovan have certainly helped the team and given fans some hope, but the Bulls still need to improve on the court after posting a 22-43 record last season.
Free agency is certainly an area in which teams can do that, especially in the NBA, and the Bulls are reportedly interested in signing the NBA’s reigning Sixth Man of the Year, Montrezl Harrell.
While it is more likely Harrell re-signs with the Clippers, let’s look at how Harrell would fit with the Bulls and what moves would need to be made in order for the signing to happen.
As mentioned, Harrell won the NBA’s Sixth Man of the Year Award in 2019-20. While his true shooting percentage did decrease (58%), Harrell posted career highs in points per game (18.6) and rebounds per game (7.1).
Offensively, Harrell hangs out near the rim most of the time, either looking for offensive rebounds (2.6 per game) or looking for his shot. Over 90% of Harrell’s shot attempts came from within ten feet of the rim.
The Bulls don’t need much more help with scoring in the paint as they averaged the fifth-most points per game in the paint throughout the league. However, Harrell’s rim presence offensively could pair nicely with a frontcourt of Lauri Markkanen and Wendell Carter Jr.
Markkanen’s three-point percentage will hopefully improve, causing teams to respect his shot which can help spread the court. An improved Carter Jr. jump shot would allow him to fit nicely into Bill Donovan’s offense, similar to the way Stephen Adams did when he was an integral part of Donovan’s offense playing near the top of the key. Harrell’s presence near the rim could be the final piece of a frontcourt that can attack opposing defenses in a variety of ways.
Defensively is where Harrell would help this Bulls team the most. He ranked 42nd in the league in Defensive Win Shares (2.5) and was 29th in overall Plus/Minus among players who played at least 41 games. He can guard up or down a position fairly effectively with his quick lateral movement combined with his upper body strength. This ability lent itself well to the Clippers — they frequently used Harrell in this fashion as they sometimes were very guard-heavy.
What the Bulls Would Need To Do
First things first, finances. And this topic is even more tricky given the uncertain nature of the salary cap moving forward due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Harrell made $6M per year over the last two seasons and will certainly want way more than that in his next contract. He most likely will command something in the $20M a year range but it’s looking like he may have to settle for something in the $12M range.
The Bulls don’t have that cap space and would have to move some pieces around. Most likely, two things would need to happen. First, the Bulls would have to trade Otto Porter Jr. and the nearly $28.5M he’s owed this season. Porter Jr. has been hampered by injuries over the past couple of seasons and I’m unsure what value he would bring back to the Bulls in a trade.
Second, Cristiano Feliciano’s contract would most certainly need to be bought out. He’s owed just over $7.5M this upcoming season and that additional cap space could help get a Harrell deal over the line.
Free Agent Grade: C+
While Harrell would certainly improve the Bulls on the court, this grade is a bit low for a variety of reasons. The first is a financial one. The uncertainty of the player cap makes this year’s free agency period much more difficult to navigate. On top of that, the Bulls would need to move some pieces around.
While I do think Harrell would fit in nicely with Markkanen and Carter Jr. in the Bulls frontcourt, I believe the modern NBA game calls for a player who can provide more of an outside shooting threat, especially due to the regression of Markkanen and the uncertainty of Carter Jr.’s perimeter game.
Harrell could certainly help on defense, but the Bulls were actually a pretty solid defensive team under Jim Boylen and should continue to improve under a coach who guided the Thunder to top-ten finishes in team defensive rating over the last four seasons.
I think the Bulls should look to bring in value via the draft, a role player in free agency, potentially trade Zach LaVine, and wait for next offseason to go after top free-agent talent.
Featured Photo: Courtesy of Bleacher Report