The Chicago Bulls weren’t expected to be big-game hunting in free agency, but it’s not keeping them from being connected to players with upside who are about to hit the open market.
In a look around the league, The Athletic’s Shams Charnia reports the Bulls are “expected to express early interest” in Julius Randle, a free-agent forward coming off a career year in his first (only?) season with the New Orleans Pelicans. Randle, 24, possesses a unique inside-outside game that would make him attractive to any number of teams — including the Bulls.
Randle averaged 21.4 points and 8.7 rebounds in a career-best 30.6 minutes per game last season. The biggest improvement in his game came from his perimeter shooting, where he connected on a career-best 34.4 percent from the 3-point line.
There isn’t much to deny when it comes to Randle’s talent and upside. After all, we’re talking about the No. 7 pick in the 2014 NBA Draft who was a five-star recruit coming out of high school and was listed as the top power forward of his class. Between prospect pedigree, talent, age, and upside, it’s not too difficult to see where Randle fits on a rebuilding team looking to stockpile talent. HOWEVER, it is fair to think about Randle’s fit with the Bulls’ roster as currently constructed because of his position.
Lauri Markkanen and Wendell Carter Jr. aren’t just eating up space and minutes in the front court, they are viewed as foundation pieces of Chicago’s nucleus. Randle getting playing time would likely mean either Markkanen or Carter is on the bench. And while that could help bolster the second unit, it would come at the cost of losing developmental reps in which Markkanen and Carter could be working together. Those opportunities didn’t present themselves often enough last year as both players missed significant time due to injuries.
Chicago should want Markkanen and Carter working together as often as possible, but I suppose a little depth (with a hint of upside) never hurt anyone. But still … I’m not sure why the Bulls would want to create a log-jam up front. Then again, they could be positioning themselves to accumulate talent now and figure out what to do with it once the dust settles.
It’s worth noting Chicago has more financial wiggle room to play with after gaining $3 million in cap space with the NBA honoring the team’s request to take Omer Asik’s number off the books. In theory, the Bulls could fit a young veteran like Randle and two other pieces (perhaps one is Cory Joseph, a point guard Charnia also mentions as a possible Bulls target) to fortify the team’s depth.
Because Randle figures to have a market of teams interested in possibly giving him more playing time and money than the Bulls could offer, he isn’t a sure-fire bet to land in Chicago. But because Randle is young and has a certain amount of upside, perhaps there is a fit — even if it is tough to see right now.