Zachary Rainey

Zachary Rainey

A week removed from the NBA draft, the Chicago Bulls are definitely a team looking up. But it doesn’t stop there. More important questions arise as we approach free agency that starts on July 1st; such as whether they want next season to be another rebuild season, or a season spent fighting for the No. 8 seed in the Eastern Conference, or as I call it; NBA purgatory.

The answer to that question could very well hinge on what other teams offer Chicago Bulls guard Zach LaVine and whether they would match it. If they elected not to and let LaVine leave for another team, it would likely become a rebuilding year, developing young players and vying for a top draft pick.

In that case, the Bulls would need a shooting guard in free agency to play in the backcourt beside Kris Dunn. One player the Bulls have been linked to is Cleveland Cavaliers guard Rodney Hood. Hood was part of the deal that the Utah Jazz sent to the Cleveland Cavaliers as part of a three-team deal with the Lakers.

But once Hood got to Cleveland, his usage plummeted, as the Cavs elected to give the guard reps to George Hill, Jordan Clarkson and J.R. Smith. In 29 games with Utah before the trade, Hood, who had dealt with injuries that caused him to miss over 40 games over the prior two seasons, was averaging a career-high 16.8 points per game on 14.2 field goal attempts per game and 87 percent from the free-throw line.

Upon getting to Cleveland, his minutes per game only went down by two, from 27.8 with Utah and 25.3 for Cleveland, but his shots went down by almost five per game. Hood’s ceiling may not be as high as LaVine’s but he likely won’t be demanding the same money as LaVine will. But at just 25 years old, there’s the chance he could reach another level if he can stay healthy and get consistent playing time.

Money likely won’t be an issue for the Bulls when it comes to free agency however, as they have the second-highest available cap space at $41.5 million. That’s despite having some bad contracts on their books, such as having to pay Robin Lopez $14.3 million and Omer Asik, who they took in the Nicola Mirotic trade with the New Orleans Pelicans, $11.2 million and likely another $11.97 million the following year the next season, as he likely will opt-in and not take his early termination option.

If the Bulls decided to try and go for a playoff spot last season, they could make a play for Isaiah Thomas, who was mentioned in the aforementioned three-team trade with Hood . While there are still some questions surrounding Thomas’ durability long term after playing in only 32 games last season recovering from hip surgery. he could still be the player who was averaging 28.9 points in 2016-17 with the Boston Celtics to just 15.2 points for the season with the Cavs and the Los Angeles Lakers. But the case could be made that he never got the chance to build chemistry within the offense.

If Chicago did elect to sign the seven-year veteran, he could be a starting point guard or one of the best off-the-bench options in the league with his ability to get going quick. However, Thomas will likely search a for a big pay day and a long-term deal, something the Bulls might not want to do for an aging player with a hip injury history.

But they could decide to go young at the two guard and wing position for cheap money and potentially a shorter contract, they could sign former Orlando Magic guard Mario Hezonja.

Hezonja, who is preparing to enter his fourth NBA season, has been widely looked at as a bust since the Magic took him with the No. 5 pick in the 2015 NBA draft. He averages 6.9 points for his career, but did take a small step forward from year two to year three, as well as increasing his shooting percentage by nine points while flashing some of that athleticism that led the Magic to take him with the high pick. His shooting percentage did increase around Since Hezonja will be just 23 next season, he could be worthy to take a short-term flier on him.

One player that the Bulls could afford to overpay that would make the Chicago faithful happy would be to bring home former Simeon High School standout and McDonald’s All-American Milwaukee Bucks forward Jabari Parker.

While Parker has been plagued with injuries over his four-year career that caused him to miss 51 games last year and 31 games the season before. But in 2017-17, it looked like Parker was really starting to put it together. He scored 20 points and pulled down six rebounds a game in 50 starts for the Bulls while shooting three more 3-pointers a game and increased his percentage by almost 11.

Once returning from injury late in the season, interim Milwaukee Bucks head coach Joe Prunty, who took over after Jason Kidd’s firing at the end of January elected not to mess with his lineup, in turn not giving Parker many reps in their playoff series and starting him in just three regular season games.

There’s obvious risk giving Parker a long-term, high-paying deal, as they would have to offer more than whatever the Bucks would be comfortable spending with him being a restricted free agent. But Parker could make a solid small forward, but he played most of his minutes at the power forward position on the like-position Bucks.

It’s also noting Parker and Hood went to college at Duke together.

It remains to be seen what the Bulls elect to do in the next week, but when they make their moves, they will largely be indicative of the direction and goals for the franchise, short and long term.

NOTE: Zach Rainey is a sports reporter for the Effingham Daily News. He can contacted at zachary.rainey@effinghamdailynews.com or 217-347-7151, ext. 123.