- Nick Friedell, ESPN Staff Writer
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CHICAGO -- Who will be the Chicago Bulls two-guard on opening night?
It's the most pressing question Bulls fans have had all summer. It's the one that seemingly everyone in Chicago has an opinion on. Many believe the Bulls are just one sharp-shooting two-guard away from toppling the Miami Heat in the Eastern Conference Finals and winning the NBA Finals.
"They met us in the Eastern Conference finals, and they were one player away from making it a very, very, very tough series," Miami Heat guard Dwyane Wade told ESPNChicago.com during an event for his "Wade's World" charities in August. "Derrick Rose is evolving into a phenomenal player. You could look and see they're one player away from being there every year."
So what kind of player do they need?
"It would have to be a player that can take the pressure off him from making every play," Wade said. "As a point guard, when you have to score so much and have to make every big shot and have to make all the passes, eventually it takes a toll on you throughout the season, no matter how phenomenal you are."
So who is the missing piece the Bulls need to find before opening night? Is the difference maker even available right now? General manager Gar Forman's fear has to be that he won't be able to find an upgrade for Keith Bogans as the starting two-guard (heck, giving Ronnie Brewer and Kyle Korver more of Bogans' minutes would be an upgrade), and that no matter who he brings in that player still may not push the Bulls past Miami in a seven-game series.
Let's take a look at some of the options for the Bulls at two-guard:
Age: 26 | Team: Nuggets | Contract status: Restricted free agent
Is he the guy?: The UCLA product would fit in nicely playing alongside Rose. He would fit into the Bulls' young core, and he can play the type of defense Tom Thibodeau demands. He's also a career 41 percent three-point shooter who would most likely get lots of open looks playing with Rose. He also seems keen on the possibility of playing for the Bulls. "Oh yeah, my agent [Sam Goldfeder] brought that up to me before the lockout," he told SI.com recently, regarding the possibility of playing in Chicago. "He definitely mentioned the Bulls as a dream that would be great for me based on fit."
Issues: There are two issues with Afflalo. He hasn't exactly proven he can create his own shot. And second, and most important, is that he is a restricted free agent. The Nuggets can match any offer he gets. Considering a chunk of the Nuggets roster is playing in China until at least March, it figures he would get a big offer from them. Afflalo may simply be out of the Bulls' price range whether he stays in Denver or not.
Age: 30 | Team: Magic | Contract status: Unrestricted free agent
Is he the guy?: The veteran swingman said over the summer that he wants to go somewhere and win. “I want to go to a great place for my family,” Richardson told The Saginaw News in July. “I’ve been blessed by God to play in the NBA for a lot of money. I’d like to go someplace that has a chance to win a championship.” That place would figure to be Chicago if Richardson is willing to take what would most likely be a smaller offer from the Bulls. Richardson isn't as explosive as he used to be and has bounced from team to team, but he still scored almost 16 points a game last season. He can hit an open three when needed.
Issues: Can he play the type of defense Thibodeau wants? Can he take over a game when Rose is off? The Orlando Magic thought he was an upgrade from Vince Carter and figured he would shine playing with Dwight Howard in the playoffs after coming over in a trade last winter. Richardson only scored 50 points in five playoff games and managed to get suspended for one crucial Game 4 contest as the Magic ultimately lost their first-round series to the Atlanta Hawks.
Age: 32 | Last team: Pistons | Contract status: Unrestricted free agent
Is he the one?: ESPN analyst Stephen A. Smith recently told ESPN 1000's "Waddle and Silvy Show" that McGrady would become a Bull as soon as the lockout ended. That's interesting on many levels, most of all being that McGrady wanted to come to the Bulls badly last year and the Bulls decided not to sign him. McGrady can still score sometimes, but the burst that made him so special early in his career is gone. The good news for Forman is that it wouldn't cost the Bulls much to sign him, and he has a pre-existing relationship with Thibodeau because of their time spent with the Houston Rockets.
Issues: Is McGrady, at age 32 and entering his 15th NBA season, really going to make much of a difference? Are his balky knees going to hold up again? Maybe in short bursts off the bench, but not as someone who can consistently create his own shots and play the type of solid defense Thibodeau desires. His best days are behind him.
Age: 24 | Team: Grizzlies | Contract status: Will be restricted free agent at the end of season unless he signs extension.
Is he the one?: He can score and the Bulls obviously need more of that. He's young, and he still figures to get better having just turned 24. The Bulls have talked about trying to acquire him in the past, but were unwilling to pay the Grizzlies' price.
Issues: Several. The biggest one being that Mayo is going to want a big contract once his rookie deal expires. And once the Bulls extend Rose's contract, they are not going to have much cap space to work with. Secondly, Mayo never has been known as a great defender and has had issues in the Memphis locker room, two things that won't sit well with Thibodeau. It also doesn't help Mayo's cause that he has gone from scoring almost 19 points a game in his rookie year to 11 just a year ago while mostly coming off the bench. He's still on the Bulls' radar, but there are clearly more easily attainable options.
Age: 24 | Team: Kings | Contract status: Restricted free agent
Is he the one?: He averaged 13 points and almost four rebounds last season splitting time in New Orleans and Sacramento, but Thornton really took off after becoming a starter in Sacramento, averaging 21 points a game. He's a career 37 percent three-point shooter.
Issues: Given the burst he showed last year after becoming a starter, the Kings will surely make a strong offer. Like Afflalo, he may be out of the Bulls' price range.
Age: 26 | Team: Rockets | Contract status: Restricted free agent at end of season.
Is he the one?: The Bulls could have had him at the trade deadline last year, but they did not want to part with rookie center Omer Asik. Lee is a solid defender who can hit three-pointers, connecting on 41 percent from beyond the arc last season.
Issues: He only averaged 8.3 points a game a year ago and struggled to find playing time in Houston. Is he really going to be the type of game changer Rose needs? Or is he just a solid young player still trying to find his niche in the league? Probably more the latter than the former.
Age: 33 | Team: Pistons | Contract status: Signed for two years and over $25 million.
Is he the one?: He's made a living of hitting mid-range jumpers during his career. He has won a title before and knows what it's like to play in big games. He would bring a veteran presence into a young Bulls locker room.
Issues: He would have to be amnestied by the Pistons to become available. He balked when the team tried to trade him to Cleveland last season and wasn't able to work out a buyout after that. He reportedly became a locker room cancer last season with former coach John Kuester. After averaging between 18-20 points a game for the past decade, Hamilton managed just 14 per game in 55 games last year? Like most others on the list, the defense is a question given Thibodeau will be as demanding as ever in this lockout-shortened season.
Age: 34 | Last team: Suns | Contract status: Unrestricted free agent
Is he the one?: Carter can still score, averaging 14 points last season playing with Orlando and Phoenix. He would probably play for a small contract given he still hasn't won a title and is in the twilight of his career.
Issues: Like his cousin, McGrady, Carter looks like a shell of the player he used to be. Last year, he looked overweight and didn't show much desire to play defense. He was supposed to help Howard win a championship in Orlando, but he never came close to living up to that promise. Ten years ago, Carter would have been a great fit alongside Rose -- not now.
Age: 31 | Last team: Hawks | Contract status: Unrestricted free agent
Is he the one?: Crawford has never had a problem putting up points. He would give Rose some relief on the wings.
Issues: He has never been a good defender. Crawford is just a 35 percent three-point shooter during his career. Will he sign for whatever the Bulls can pay him? That's very questionable given he made almost $11 million last season. There should be several teams interested in his services.
Out of the realistic options the Bulls have at the moment, I'm not sure there is a player who could instantly put them over the top. There's still lots of time for Forman to figure out his next move and there is certainly still time for him to make a deal for someone not on this list in the future. But out of all the possibilities, I don't think any of these guys (at least the ones the organization has a legitimate shot at) could improve the Bulls to the point that they get past Miami this season.