The Chicago Bulls are limping to the finish. They are closing out the 2018-19 season with seven inactive players, all of which would be in the normal, healthy rotation. That leaves a squad of eight reserves, two two-way contract players, and a hardship exception signee to play out the remainder of this woeful campaign.
This is playing out about the same as the end of the 2017-18 season: A large number of key players sidelined, forcing fans to take second glances at their programs to know who is on the court. But even if fans know who they are, it’s hard to get attached to them. Only two of the 11 currently active Bulls have guaranteed deals for next season. With so many changes likely to come, which players have the best chances to don a red and black uniform next fall?
Signed, Sealed, Delivered
Of the two guaranteed deals, center Cristiano Felicio has the more lucrative contract. The 26 year-old Brazilian will receive $15.2 million through 2020-21. It’s surprising to see that much money thrown his way because of his career numbers. He averages only 4.6 points on 59.9 percent true shooting and 4.1 rebounds per game over his four year career. Nevertheless, with the Bulls on the hook for his contract, there’s a good chance Felicio will be on the Bulls roster next year.
The other guaranteed reserve is 2-guard Antonio Blakeney. He’ll receive $1.6 million next year. Blakeney averages 7.5 points and 1.8 rebounds per game over two seasons with the team. Recently, he closed out March with four double-digit scoring games. However, Blakeney has been a healthy scratch in each of the last three games. That could be a sign that either the team is looking to move on, or the they are setting him aside to audition other players.
Blakeney’s deal is cheap enough that the Bulls could part ways with him without too steep of a penalty. For now, though, he is under contract with the team, so we can expect him to return next year.
Likely On the Way Out
The Bulls have inked up Felicio and Blakeney for next season. However, there are several players that don’t have a clear path back to the Windy City.
Two-way contract players Brandon Sampson and Rawle Alkins aren’t on the fast track for guaranteed deals with the Bulls. Both have the tools to be productive players, but they’re still pretty rough around the edges. They may need more time in the G League to polish their game before they get call-ups that stick.
Meanwhile, wings Wayne Selden Jr. and Timothe Luwawu-Cabarrot are basically this year’s Sean Kilpatrick and David Nwaba. That duo was also replacement-level fill-in wing players that looked to convey their play into new deals elsewhere.
As an unrestricted free agent, Luwawu-Cabarrot will certainly seek a better situation than what’s happening in Chicago. Selden, meanwhile, is a restricted free agent. However, the Bulls may not want to put in the $1.9 million qualifying offer to keep him on with so many wing players already on the roster.
A Seat at the Table
Lastly, this group of active Bulls will also be free agents this summer. However, they have played well enough to potentially run with the Bulls again in 2019-20.
Walter Lemon Jr. and JaKarr Sampson were late-season call-ups, basically rewarded for their play with the Windy City Bulls, their G League affiliate. Both have fared well during this stint in the big leagues. Sampson is averaging 20.0 points on 63.3 percent true shooting and 8.0 rebounds per game. Lemon is averaging 13.2 points, 5.2 assists, 4.2 rebounds, and 2.2 steals per game.
As a South Side Chicago native, a lot of Lemon’s on-court mannerisms are similar to Derrick Rose. The Bulls need of point guard depth, so he has a chance to make next year’s roster. If he does, it would match the path of Ryan Arcidiacono.
Speaking of “Arch”, he is a restricted free agent this summer. Holding the right of first refusal, the Bulls will almost certainly attempt to retain his services. According to BBall Index, he leads the active Bulls with 1.92 wins added on the season. Arcidiacono has a 57.6 true shooting percentage and 4.25 assist-to-turnover ratio over the last six games, indicating that he is still producing in these dire times.
Fellow guard Shaquille Harrison could also end up on the roster next season. His deal runs through 2020, but next year’s money is currently non-guaranteed. The amount — $1.59 million — is the same that Blakeney is owed. The team could conceivably waive Blakeney then guarantee Shaq’s deal.
It wouldn’t be a surprise, as Harrison is a Jim Boylen type of player. A recent Zach Lowe article showed the coach’s and player’s mutual appreciation for one another. He certainly fits the mold: he’s a pest on defense and hustles on both ends of the floor. Harrison struggles on the offensive end. He inefficiently attacks the paint (54.9 percent on 246 restricted area attempts) and lacks a consistent jump shot (26.5 percent beyond the charge circle). Still, if Boylen is the coach in Chicago next season, Harrison will likely be there, too.
Lastly, there’s Robin Lopez. He’s an unrestricted free agent this summer, and his late season resurgence has likely afforded him more opportunities to play elsewhere. Felicio is the only backup center under contract next year, and the upcoming draft class is a little thin at center spot. Therefore, it wouldn’t be surprising to see the Bulls attempt to bring Robin back.
There are certainly deficiencies in his game, like his inability to defend on the perimeter. However, he has been a great locker room presence for a team that needs to turn their attention towards developing stability and team chemistry. If they aren’t able to pull in spryer veteran center this summer, it wouldn’t be surprising — or all that bad — to see Robin Lopez back with the Chicago Bulls next season.