Offseason Outlook: Chicago Bulls

May 25 2013 at 3:52pm CDT By Chuck Myron

Guaranteed Contracts

Options

  • None

Non-Guaranteed Contracts

Free Agents / Cap Holds

Draft Picks

  • 1st Round (20th overall)
  • 2nd Round (49th overall)

Cap Outlook

  • Guaranteed Salary: $73,044,288
  • Options: $0
  • Non-Guaranteed Salary: $4,884,293
  • Cap Holds: $8,982,965
  • Total: $86,911,546 

Considering Derrick Rose never played a single game, the season went about as well as could be expected for the Bulls. Even if Rose had made it back from his injury, Chicago may not have done better than winning a playoff series and putting a scare in the Heat, considering the turnover they suffered on the bench coming into 2012/13. Coach Tom Thibodeau deserves credit for developing an overachieving supporting cast, many of whom wound up starting and playing prominent roles in the playoffs while Luol Deng and Kirk Hinrich joined Rose on the bench with injuries.

Presumably, Rose will return healthy for the start of next season, and the central question for John Paxson, the team's executive VP of basketball operations, and GM Gar Forman is whether that's enough to give Chicago a shot at the championship. The Bulls entered the playoffs as the top seed the last two seasons in which Rose played, but they've won a total of just two playoff series with Rose in uniform. Part of the reason that's the case is the team's inability to get past the Heat, and that obstacle could be gone after next season, when LeBron JamesDwyane Wade and Chris Bosh can all opt out of their contracts. They could also all choose to stay with the Heat, or one or more of them could go elsewhere and form another superteam that erects another barrier for the Bulls.

LeBron and company passed on Chicago in the summer of 2010, and there's no pressing reason to suspect they wouldn't do so again, making the specter of a superteam in Chicago far-fetched. In 2010, the Bulls instead went with Carlos Boozer, who has drawn criticism ever since. Boozer has never been the most consistent of producers, and some of his numbers suggest this season was another dip on his personal rollercoaster. He recorded career lows in shooting percentage (.477) and PER (17.1), even as his scoring and rebounding went up from last year. His numbers held steady in the playoffs, unlike his first two postseason runs with the Bulls, and that may be enough to spare him from becoming an amnesty victim.

The Bulls owe him $32.1MM over the next two seasons, making him the highest paid player on their roster aside from Rose. His presence as a playoff force will be critical to the team's ability to get past Miami or other elite teams, and if Paxson, Forman and company feel they can't get that sort of performance from him, there's little reason to keep him around. His amnesty represents the easiest way for the Bulls to avoid paying the tax next season after having done so for the first time in franchise history this year. 

Still, if the Bulls are confident Boozer can produce in the postseason, they're probably better off keeping him, since amnestying him wouldn't create enough cap room to replace him with a player who's likely to do any better. The Bulls reportedly reached out to the Raptors and others about trading Boozer before the deadline this past season, but found no takers. A trade could be the most viable option the team has of either upgrading its roster, avoiding the tax, or both.

Writers have batted around a trade idea that would send Kevin Love to the Bulls in exchange for Boozer, Jimmy Butler, former first-round pick Nikola Mirotic and a future first-round pick that the Bobcats owe Chicago. That one seems a non-starter now that new Wolves exec Flip Saunders has worked to strengthen the team's relationship with Love, and it doesn't sound like a proposal the teams ever considered anyway.

The Bulls played well in the postseason without Deng, leading to speculation that he could be the centerpiece of a deal this summer. The Cavaliers and Pistons have apparently expressed interest in Deng already, but it's unclear what it would take to get a deal done. The Bulls would probably want to reduce their payroll, and both Cleveland and Detroit will have the cap room to facilitate an uneven exchange of salaries. I'd be surprised if Chicago gave up Butler, who emerged as a force on the perimeter this season and has two more years left on his rookie deal. Mirotic is another young, cheap asset, even if it's unclear when he'll make the move to the NBA.

Butler's emergence helps make parting ways with Richard Hamilton an easy choice. The Bulls are expected to waive the 35-year-old former All-Star by July 10th, allowing them to save $4MM on his cap hit for next season. Injuries held Hamilton back from becoming the reliable starting two-guard the team signed him to be, but even when he was healthy and the Bulls were in need of help in the postseason, Thibodeau rarely called on him.

With Rose and Hamilton out of the picture and Butler pressed into duty at small forward in place of Deng, the Bulls rode with Nate Robinson and Marco Belinelli as their starting backcourt in the playoffs. Both exceeded expectations, particularly Robinson, who was a minimum-salary signee. The Bulls have Non-Bird rights on both, allowing them to go no more than 120% over their salaries from this past season to re-sign them, unless Chicago dips into its mid-level exception. As a team in line to pay the tax, the Bulls will only have the $3.183 taxpayer's mid-level, which might be enough for one of them, but not both. Chicago has Non-Bird rights on backup center Nazr Mohammed, too, but he's unlikely to return unless he agrees to another minimum-salary deal.

The Bulls would have to make a drastic move to significantly improve their roster this summer. Forman identified a return to health as the team's primary offseason goal, and the return of Rose should vault the Bulls into some level of title contention. If they keep the core of the team together, they won't enter next season as favorites, but they'll probably have a chance. Unless they get a trade offer they can't bear to turn down, the Bulls seem like they'll give this group one more try and gauge a changing NBA landscape next summer.

Cap footnotes

  1. Hamilton's contract becomes fully guaranteed if he's not waived on or before July 10th.
  2. Thomas' contract becomes guaranteed for $250,000 if he's not waived on or before July 24th, and for $500,000 if he's not waived on or before December 9th.
  3. The cap hold for Mirotic, the 23rd pick in the 2011 draft, is equal to 100% of the rookie scale amount for the 23rd pick in this year's draft. 
  4. No, Scalabrine isn't on the Bulls' payroll, and he wasn't last season, either. He's still listed as a cap hold because Chicago has yet to renounce his rights after he played on a minimum-salary deal in 2011/12. The Bulls were over the cap last summer, and it's likely they'll remain so this offseason. Unless they intend to dip below the cap line and use their space, there will be no reason to renounce their rights to Scalabrine, or any of their free agents who go unsigned this summer.

Storytellers Contracts and Sham Sports were used in the creation of this post.

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