Bulls Urged to Target ‘Sleeper’ Former Top-10 Pick in Free Agency

Chicago Bulls

Getty Zach LaVine #8 of the Chicago Bulls.

The Chicago Bulls need to add athleticism to the frontcourt and could find a bargain in a former top-10 pick.

“Frontcourt athleticism should be a priority for Chicago this summer,” writes Zach Buckley of Bleacher Report in an article from June 8 identifying ‘sleeper’ targets. “Jaxson Hayes hasn’t established much during his first four seasons—which is why he might be available for cheap—but the fact that he’s one of the Association’s more athletically gifted bigs is obvious.”

Hayes, 23, averaged just 5.0 points and 2.8 rebounds this past season, both significant steps back from 2021-22 when he averaged 9.3 points and 4.5 rebounds. But that can be attributed to a significant drop in his playing time.

He went from averaging 20.0 minutes per game in 2021-22 to 13.0 minutes this past season.

“He is sort of a blank slate,” Buckley writes. “His development kind of stagnated with the New Orleans Pelicans…With no notable numbers on his stat sheet, he could wind up in the clearance section.”

Hayes, the No. 8 overall pick in the 2019 NBA Draft, is a restricted free agent this offseason while New Orleans is just $4.6 million below the luxury tax apron, per Spotrac.

New Orleans has never paid the tax but general manager David Griffin says they would.

“We’re not bound by, ‘We won’t pay the tax,’ ” Griffin said in September, per Christian Clark of NOLA.com. “We will not frivolously pay the tax. If this team is in a position to be as good as we hope to be, I don’t think resources are going to be the reason we won’t get where we need to go.”

The Bulls could certainly test that theory armed with the non-taxpayers midlevel exception, which Spotrac notes is worth $12.2 million for 2022-23.

New Orleans has the right of first refusal and can match whatever offer Hayes receives. But doing so would put them into the tax before any other moves and they still need to improve their team after they lost to the Minnesota Timberwolves in the first round of the Play-In Tournament.

Jaxson Hayes Could Complement Andre Drummond if Nikola Vucevic Walks

Hayes’ budding ability to stretch the floor – 35.1% on a modest 57 attempts in 2021-22 – would go well off the bench behind Andre Drummond if he has to step in as the starter in the event unrestricted free agent Nikola Vucevic decides to leave. Drummond, 29, picked up his $3.3 million player option on June 7 to stick around for one more season.

Vucevic and the Bulls have already opened negotiations with Chicago eyeing a three-year commitment, per Joe Cowley of the Chicago Sun-Times.

A former two-time All-Star just like Drummond, Vucevic has said he will explore his options in free agency. Drummond could handle the minutes and rebounding duties while Hayes could provide the offense, assuming he can continue to develop in Chicago.

That has not been their strong suit with former second-round pick Marko Simonovic as the prime example, though Hayes was always the better prospect as reflected by their draft slot.

The Bulls also have plenty of other, more pressing needs to address.

Jae Crowder, Cory Joseph Listed as Potential Targets for Bulls

Buckley also named Milwaukee Bucks forward Jae Crowder and Detroit Pistons guard Cory Joseph as potential offseason targets for the Bulls.

The Phoenix Suns traded Crowder, 32, to the Brooklyn Nets who immediately flipped him to  Milwaukee at the deadline. He was scarcely used, leading to some frustration from the battle-tested veteran of 10 straight playoffs – one for each year he has been in the league.

“[The Bulls] still need a versatile, big wing defender,” Buckley writes. “The 6’6″, 235-pounder checks that box.”

Crowder averaged 6.9 points, 3.8 rebounds, and 1.5 assists while shooting 43.6% from deep splitting the 2022-23 campaign between the Bucks and Phoenix Suns. Meanwhile, Joseph, 31, averaged 6.9 points, 3.5 assists, and 1.7 rebounds and sunk 38.9% of his threes for the Pistons last season.

“With Lonzo Ball‘s present and future totally up in the air, the Bulls need to seek out other solutions at the point guard spot,” argues Buckley. “Cory Joseph might help with that.”

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