Bulls “Are Open to Adding a Backup Center,” So Let’s Take a Look at Who Might Be Available

Long-term injuries to Lonzo Ball, Alex Caruso, Patrick Williams, and Derrick Jones Jr. have put the Bulls in a vulnerable place, as they try to stay near the top of the Eastern Conference. So while the “Big 3” may still be intact (*knocks extra hard on all the wood*) the front office must determine whether or not they should add healthier re-enforcements ahead of the trade deadline or ride out what has otherwise been a pretty good thing.

To that end — and by now — you know that the Bulls have been connected to Pistons forward Jerami Grant multiple times this trade season, but frontcourt help doesn’t necessarily have to come with an upgrade at the four. While finding a more physical and defensive-minded forward to play next to Nikola Vucevic is an understandable route, the front office may also have their eyes on the backup center market.

Indeed, according to Michael Scotto of HoopsHype, Chicago has come up as an organization with its eye on available centers.

Some other stuff I’ve heard out there is there are a few teams looking for centers. The Hornets, Raptors, and the Bulls, who are open to adding a backup center.

Oh, okay then.

As you’ll recall, the Bulls handed Tony Bradley a two-year deal worth $3.8 million this offseason to fill the cheap bench big role. While he’s appeared in 33 games so far, Bradley has averaged just 12 minutes of action a night. Part of that is due to the fact that head coach Billy Donovan has opted for a small-ball approach, but perhaps he’s relying on that approach more than he wants to because of the personnel available to him. Yes, Bradley has been solid at times, but solid enough to force his way into more playing time or help improve the team’s rim protection (10th-most point in the paint)? I’m not so sure.

So here are some options the Bulls can explore if this is the route they choose to explore this season.

You Up, Kings?

Richaun Holmes ($10.3mil, 2025 UFA)
Tristan Thompson ($9.7mil, 2022 UFA)

The Sacramento Kings have taken their name out of the Ben Simmons sweepstakes, but they have made it known they remain open for business. Harrison Barnes has been the most popular name on the market, but guys like Marvin Bagley III, Tristan Thompson, and Richaun Holmes reportedly remain on the market, according to Hoop Wire’s Sam Amico.

While technically all three would fill a frontcourt void, Holmes and Thompson are the two names that stand out. Holmes, specifically, is by far the best name in this article. A starting-caliber big man who is on a surprisingly inexpensive four-year, $36 million deal, Holmes is a wildly efficient interior scorer whose 78 percent field goal percentage at the rim this season has ranked in the 91st percentile. On the other end, he would provide a team that averages the 3rd-fewest rebounds a game with an active presence on the glass that has averaged at least 8.0 boards per game over the past three seasons. Not to mention, he would immediately become the team’s best and most physical rim protector.

I know all of that sounds great, which is exactly why it seems very unlikely the Bulls land him in the coming weeks. Holmes will likely see interest from teams who hope to make him their starting center, and those teams will likely be ready to offer a far more intriguing package than the Bulls would be willing to give up (would the Hornets offer someone like Kelly Oubre or P.J. Washington?). So … cue Tristan Thompson.

The 11-year veteran would provide the Bulls a playoff-tested big man who has long been viewed as a reliable rotation player. I also can’t help but think this front office could be attracted to his potential “chip-on-his-shoulder” mentality. Averaging no more than 15 minutes per game for a losing team, Thompson could be eager to, once again, contribute to a winning team. The question is whether or not he is a significant enough upgrade over Bradley at this point in his career, but it might be worth a shot if all the Kings are looking for is a second-rounder, per Bleacher Report’s Jake Fischer.

What About You, Mavs and Thunder?

Derrick Favors ($9.7mil, 2023 Player Option)
Mike Muscala ($3.5mil, 2023 Team Option)
Maxi Kleber ($8.7mil, 2023 non-guaranteed)
Dwight Powell ($11mil, 2024 UFA)

Derrick Favors and Mike Muscala have played minimal roles for a youthful Thunder team, but it’s been just enough to show they can bother still provide value to playoff contenders.

Once able to play the power forward position, Favors’ inability to stretch the floor on the offensive end has turned him into a full-time five. A bit undersized at this position, he still crashes the glass hard and serves as a fearless, somewhat versatile defender. Much like Thompson, there is a question about exactly how much better he would be than Bradley on this roster, but he does provide that playoff experience a team like this Bulls might covet.

Any Muscala interest from the Bulls would be less about his defensive capabilities and more about what he does behind the arc. Similar to Vucevic, this is a 6’11” big who has a rare ability to stretch the floor. He is shooting 43.3 percent from behind the arc this season and has shot 39.2 percent from long range over the past three seasons. Again, he may not be the most high-upside defender, but it doesn’t come for a lack of trying. He knows where to be and stays engaged, and while it may be in a limited role, he has a surprising +1.7 defensive plus-minus, per Dunks & Threes.

Speaking of shooting the ball well, the Bulls might as well keep their eye on a Mavericks team potentially interested in dumping salary. Rumors have already swirled that Dallas could be interested in offloading Jalen Bruson or Dorian Finney-Smith, and there is reason to believe they could do the same with Maxi Kleber or Dwight Powell. Kleber is another sharpshooting big man who hit 41.0 percent of his 3’s last season while grabbing 5.2 rebounds. Powell isn’t a long-range threat, but he would give the Bulls a solid pick-and-roll lob threat off the bench. For what it’s worth, both are currently plus-defenders.

Others Friends

Robin Lopez ($5mil, 2022 UFA): Hello, old friend! Robin Lopez is a potential buyout candidate thanks to his 22 games played for a tanking Orlando Magic team. We all know what the big man brings to the table as an in-your-face defender, solid passer, and generally expert role player. I’d be up for a reunion (I’m sure Benny would be happy!).

Nic Claxton ($1.7mil, 2023 RFA): The Brooklyn Nets have reportedly shown an openness to deal 22-year-old Nic Claxton at the deadline with a payday coming up this summer. Claxton would provide the Bulls the kind of rim protection they desire with a 6’11” frame and a block percentage that ranked in the NBA’s 90th percentile last season. They would also be able to keep up the switchable defense they like to play with a smaller lineup on the floor. Who knows what the Nets asking price would be, but they are likely looking for an immediate contributor of some kind.

Thomas Bryant ($8.7mil, UFA): Former Bulls center Daniel Gafford appears to be the big man of the future in Washington, leaving Thomas Bryant on the outside looking in. Bryant has shown he can be a solid two-way center, but he is stuck trying to prove himself yet again after an ACL ended his 2020-21 campaign short. He’s played just seven games so far this season, and he’s also on an expiring deal.

Khem Birch ($6.3mil, 2024 UFA): No one exactly knows which direction the Raptors will go this deadline, but the acquisition of Precious Achiuwa this offseason from the Miami Heat has potentially made Birch expendable. He’s a limited offensive player, but he can rim-run and is one of the more naturally athletic options on the market.

written by

Elias Schuster is the Lead Chicago Bulls writer at Bleacher Nation. He started with BN full-time in 2019 immediately after graduating from the University of Illinois Urbana Champaign with a degree in Journalism (yes, he started with the Jim Boylen Era). Since joining, Elias has been the driving force behind Bulls and NBA content for both the site and social accounts. You can follow him on Twitter/X @Schuster_Elias.

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