Hoops Rumors is in the process of looking back at each team's offseason, from the end of the playoffs in June right up until opening night. Trades, free agent signings, draft picks, contract extensions, option decisions, camp invitees, and more will be covered, as we examine the moves each franchise made over the last several months.
Trades and Claims
Rookie Contract Option Decisions
Few NBA teams have faced more scrutiny for their offseason moves than the Chicago Bulls. After posting the Eastern Conference's best record for back-to-back seasons in large part due to the play of their reserves, the Bulls broke up their "Bench Mob" over the summer. Kyle Korver was dealt to the Hawks, Omer Asik's offer sheet with the Rockets wasn't matched, John Lucas III signed with the Raptors, and Ronnie Brewer and C.J. Watson had their options turned down by Chicago. Both players eventually signed minimum-salary deals to play for New York clubs -- Brewer with the Knicks and Watson with the Nets.
On one hand, it's not hard to see the Bulls' case for letting all those bench players walk. Asik would have earned $5MM this season, and a lot more than that by 2014/15, given Houston's backloaded offer. Korver is also earning $5MM, while Brewer's and Watson's non-guaranteed salaries were worth $4.37MM and $3.2MM respectively. Retaining all those players, even if the team could have brought back Brewer and Watson at slightly reduced rates, would've been pricey, and would have pushed the team well into the luxury tax with an extension for Taj Gibson looming.
Could the big-market Bulls have afforded that tax hit? Most likely. But the club has always displayed a reluctance to venture into the tax, and even if that habit changes, this wasn't the year it was going to happen. Not with Derrick Rose still recovering from ACL surgery and out of action until sometime in 2013. With the health of their star player up in the air, it didn't make sense for the Bulls to load up and try to make a run right now.
That also explains in part why the Bulls didn't use their amnesty clause on Carlos Boozer in July. Amnestying Boozer now would have allowed Chicago to bring many of the pieces of that Bench Mob back for this season, but most of those guys would have been in the last year of their contracts anyway. And the flexibility created by eliminating Boozer's deal wouldn't have been significant enough to sign an impact free agent. It's not clear the team would have been much improved with Boozer gone and guys like Korver, Brewer, and Watson around for one more year.
Still, while some of the Bulls' offseason choices are defensible, there's still plenty about the team's summer that doesn't make sense. Notably, Chicago's decision to give Kirk Hinrich nearly $4MM in mid-level exception money ensured that the Bulls would be hard-capped this season, unable to pass $74,307,000 in team salary at any point. While I recognize that the Bulls liked Hinrich and were willing to pay the price it took to get him back, there were ways around the hard cap.
For instance, the Bulls traded Korver to Hinrich's old team, the Hawks, shortly after completing their deal with Hinrich. As Mark Deeks of ShamSports and others have noted, the teams could have reworked the two moves into one, sending Hinrich to Chicago in a sign-and-trade transaction. Had they done that, the Bulls would've retained their mid-level exception and avoided the hard cap, unless they committed more than $3.09MM of that MLE to another player.
The Korver deal did give Chicago a $5MM traded player exception that the team will have until next summer to use, but it came at a cost. First-rounder Marquis Teague had to accept a lesser percentage of the rookie scale amount than the other 29 first-round picks, and the Bulls were unable to carry more than 13 players on their opening-day roster, given how close they were to scraping up against that hard cap. Now that the veteran's minimum amount has pro-rated a little, the Bulls have a tiny bit of breathing room to sign a free agent, but if the club is hit hard by injuries later in the season, there will be virtually no flexibility to bring in additional bodies.
Like the Thunder, the Bulls may have taken a step back this summer in order to maintain a strong long-term core. Oklahoma City will miss James Harden, but the team did what it had to do to maintain cap flexibility, avoid a big tax hit, and add assets for the future. Similarly, Chicago may regret not finding a way to hang on to Asik, but with assets like Nikola Mirotic, the Bobcats' future first-rounder, and a newly-extended Gibson still in the fold along with Rose, Joakim Noah, and Luol Deng, the team isn't in danger of a severe drop-off anytime soon.