Chicago Bulls: Al Harrington Should Be On Their Radar

The Chicago Bulls haven’t made much noise in the offseason with any big free agency signings. Sure, they upgraded their perimeter shooting by signing Mike Dunleavy and drafting Tony Snell, but any splash those moves made was understandably dwarfed by acquisitions of Fat Albert cannonball proportions made by the Los Angeles Clippers and Houston Rockets. Even the people of a bankrupt city have something to be excited about after the Detroit Pistons revamped their starting five. But for the Chicago Bulls, it’s been business as usual: Swap a few pieces to fit the team’s chemistry and mentality and hope Derrick Rose will lead them to the promised land. But with a couple of free agents like Al Harrington and Antawn Jamison still available, the Bulls shouldn’t call it a summer just yet.

When the Orlando Magic released Al Harrington last week, they weren’t giving up much in terms of production. After all, Harrington was only able to play 10 games last year and averaged a measly 5.1 points and 2.7 rebounds per game. But that certainly doesn’t mean a healthy Harrington has nothing to offer, as evidenced by the number of potential suitors interested in striking a deal with him. ESPN Insider’s Joe Kaiser already identified those interested teams last week, but the Bulls were only mentioned for their supposed interest in a similar free agent, Antawn Jamison.

So the question has to be asked: should the Bulls be chasing Antawn Jamison? Or should they drop that pursuit and look into adding Al Harrington? Both would fulfill that coveted “stretch 4″ role that so many teams are looking for now. For those of you unfamiliar with the Miami Heat and the “stretch 4″ position, it refers to a lengthy, tall forward who can stretch the defense with perimeter shooting. Basically, a small-ball lineup that can still defend their opponents in the paint on the other end. So basically, the question at hand is: would the Bulls rather have Harrington or Jamison for their “stretch 4″?

For starters, let’s take a look at their career numbers:

Al Harrington: 13.7 ppg, 5.7 rpg, 1.7 apg, 45.2 FG%
Antawn Jamison: 18.8 ppg, 7.6 rpg, 1.7 apg, 44.5 FG%

From the basic career numbers, Jamison looks like the clear winner. Through his 15 years in the league, Jamison’s been a better scorer, shooter and rebounder. But therein lies Chicago’s biggest logical fault if they end up ignoring Harrington: Jamison’s been in the league for 15 years. Although Harrington’s stats from last year are pathetic in comparison, Jamison wasn’t exactly turning any heads with the Los Angeles Lakers last year either. Harrington didn’t play because of injury problems; Jamison didn’t play because coach Mike D’Antoni ended up liking Earl Clark more. One more time: An NBA head coach, incapable though he may be, favored Earl Clark over him. Red flags, anyone?

It’s not Jamison’s fault. Father Time has and always will be undefeated when it comes to professional sports. Jamison is 37 years old now, making him one of the oldest players in the league. Harrington isn’t exactly a spry young fellow himself at 33 years old, but at this point, has WAY more potential to offer a team a few more quality seasons. He’s not a starter-caliber player, but off the bench, Harrington has a lot to offer.

On paper (and to the untrained eye on the court), Jamison seems like the better choice. Jamison can score from anywhere on the court and although he was miserably underutilized with the Lakers, he could still provide some team with instant offense off the bench. Jamison is capable of scoring in the paint and also isn’t afraid to launch 3s  when the defense gives them to him. One could easily make the argument that the sometimes offensively inept Bulls should favor Jamison over Harrington if only for his broader range of offensive skills.

Except for one problem: this is Tom Thibodeau’s gritty, defense-first Chicago Bulls team. And on that roster, Antawn Jamison makes ZERO sense. I’m not going to say Jamison is a defensive liability, but even Spanish bullfighters think he needs to play better defense. With Harrington, the Bulls would be getting a guy whose defense would undoubtedly improve and he’d be able to hold his own in limited minutes off the bench. Though Jamison would also see limited minutes behind Luol Deng and Carlos Boozer, even Thibodeau couldn’t teach this old dog a new trick called defense.

Furthermore, if we’re operating under the (correct) premise that the Bulls could do with a stretch-4 who could knock down perimeter shots off the bench, Al Harrington is still the better choice. Jamison is a career 34.7 percent shooter from 3-point range, while Harrington has posted a slightly superior career average of 35.2 percent. That 0.5 percent doesn’t seem like a lot, but over the course of around 1,000 games? That’s quite a difference in the number of 3s each would make for Chicago over the course of an 82-game season.

Will Harrington stay healthy? That’s probably the biggest question, and one that may prevent the Bulls from seriously considering him. But if Chicago is looking to stay true to its defensive, hard-working identity, Jamison is not the answer. A versatile guy like Harrington is exactly the kind of player that could quickly fit right in with Chicago’s basketball culture and bolster the bench of an Eastern Conference contender.

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