The Bulls appear likely to be granted a disabled player exception by the NBA after Derrick Rose suffered a season-ending injury, as CBA expert Larry Coon noted earlier this week. Disabled player exceptions often go unused by NBA teams, and the Bulls may be reluctant to add another player who would increase an already pricey tax bill, but it’s still worth exploring.
A disabled player exception is a tool that allows an over-the-cap team to replace a player who suffers a season-ending injury. Teams can apply for disabled player exceptions up until January 15th each season, and will receive one if an NBA-designated physician determines that the player is extremely likely to be unable to play through June 15th.
If a team receives a designated player exception, it is allowed to sign a free agent for up to 50% of the injured player’s salary or for the amount of the non-taxpayer mid-level exception, whichever is less. A team is also allowed to trade for a player earning up to that salary plus $100K, but the player must be in the final year of his contract.
What does this mean for the Bulls? Well, since Rose is earning more than $17MM this season, half his salary would exceed the non-taxpayer MLE. So if Chicago were to receive a DPE, it would be worth the amount of that MLE: $5.15MM. The Bulls would then have until March 15th to use that exception to sign or trade for a player. If they don’t use it, it expires on March 15th. They also can’t split the money among multiple players.
Finding someone to use that exception on is easier in theory than in practice. If we assume that Chicago would target a guard to replace the injured Rose, there are some interesting names on the free agent market and in the D-League, such as Rodrigue Beaubois, Kendall Marshall, and former Bull Chris Duhon. But if the Bulls wanted to go that route, they could likely bring someone aboard using the minimum salary exception — no one on our list of free agents is worth $5MM per year.
The trade market is a more intriguing option, even factoring in the condition that any acquisition must be in the final year of his contract. Of course, the Bulls could make a trade without using a DPE, but the exception would allow the team to acquire a player without sending out any salary. Potential point guard trade candidates like Jameer Nelson or Kyle Lowry wouldn’t fit into the exception, but many others would.
Jordan Crawford, Ramon Sessions, Steve Blake, Jordan Farmar, Luke Ridnour, and Jimmer Fredette are a few of the guards on non-contending teams who fit the criteria and may become available. There are also several backups on teams expected to be in the playoff picture who could be shopped if those clubs fall out of the running or decide they’re expendable. Beno Udrih, Aaron Brooks, Shaun Livingston, Earl Watson, and Patrick Mills are among the guys who fit that bill. It’s still too early in the season to deduce plans for many teams, but it’s probably safe to assume the Bulls wouldn’t go after a player like Eric Bledsoe or Avery Bradley, whose trade cost would be significantly higher.
Obtaining a disabled player exception may not provide any form of solution for the Bulls, and it may ultimately go unused. But assuming the NBA grants a DPE, it will be one more tool at the Bulls’ disposal as they decide what direction to take in the wake of Rose’s second major injury in as many years.