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.
- Mike Dunleavy: Two years, $6.51MM. Signed via mid-level exception.
- Mike James: One year, $1.4MM. Signed via minimum salary exception. Non-guaranteed.
- Nazr Mohammed: One year, $1.4MM. Signed via minimum salary exception.
- Tony Snell (Round 1, 20th overall). Signed via rookie exception.
- Erik Murphy (Round 2, 49th overall). Signed via minimum salary exception. First year is partially guaranteed for $250K. Second year is non-guaranteed.
Rookie Contract Option Decisions
For the last couple years, Bulls fans have been waiting on the team’s front office to make the move that will turn Chicago from a perennial contender into an Eastern Conference powerhouse. While the Heat have come out of the East in each of the last three seasons, the Bulls finished atop the regular season standings in two of those seasons, only dropping off in 2012/13 when Derrick Rose was sidelined for the year. The perception is that if the Bulls could find one more star to complement Rose, it may be Chicago, not Miami, that enters the playoffs as the odds-on favorite for the title.
But multiple offseasons have come and gone without the Bulls trading or amnestying Carlos Boozer. Luol Deng‘s contract inches closer to its end date. And future assets like 2011 first-round pick Nikola Mirotic and a future Bobcats’ first-rounder remain unused. Are the Bulls failing to take advantage of what could be a fleeting championship window, or is the front office simply biding its time, waiting for the best opportunity to strike?
I’m inclined to give the Bulls the benefit of the doubt, and assume that any major changes the club plans to make will happen next summer. Deng’s contract expires at that point, while Boozer’s becomes an expiring deal, making it easier to move, or at least easier to swallow via amnesty. There’s a chance Mirotic will finally come stateside for the 2014/15 season, and the club will have a clearer idea of when that Charlotte pick will finally change hands (it’s top-10 protected in 2014, top-8 protected in 2015, and unprotected in 2016).
Since the opportunity to make the biggest possible splash is still a few months away, it comes as no surprise that this past offseason was a fairly quiet one for Chicago. Despite not having Rose for the 2012/13 season, the Bulls still managed win 45 games and a playoff series. Re-adding a former MVP to a team that performed admirably without him qualifies as a big enough splash to make the Bulls a legit threat to topple the Heat and Pacers and win the conference.
Although much has been made about the lack of a second star to play alongside Rose, it’s worth noting that Deng is now a two-time All-Star, while Joakim Noah is coming off a top-five finish in Defensive Player of the Year voting. Throw in a still-productive Boozer, a solid third big man in Taj Gibson, and a rising star in Jimmy Butler, and there are certainly enough pieces here to compete. The Bulls may have missed out on putting together a Heat-like Big Three of their own when LeBron James hit free agency in 2010, but the current roster compares favorably to recent Finalists like the Mavericks and Spurs.
So with the promise of a returning superstar, the Bulls’ summer was about making small tweaks here and there. Mike Dunleavy was one of the first free agents off the board in July, and he’s an excellent fit for a team that lost Marco Belinelli. The veteran Dunleavy is said to be a fan of Chicago’s work ethic under head coach Tom Thibodeau, and the fact that he can make a three-pointer doesn’t hurt, since that’s not a huge strength for the Bulls’ starting wings — over his last three seasons, Dunleavy has averaged 1.6 threes per game on 41.1% shooting from downtown.
The return of the Bulls’ star point guard meant there wasn’t a strong need to retain Nate Robinson, who was likely out of the team’s price range anyway. In his place, the club re-acquired Mike James, a veteran who is already familiar with Thibodeau’s system and one who was willing to sign for a non-guaranteed minimum salary. Nazr Mohammed was also re-signed, and the Bulls added a pair of rookies in the draft, though neither Tony Snell nor Erik Murphy figure to get big minutes anytime soon.
The Bulls have always been a cost-conscious franchise, paying the luxury tax last season for the first time in club history. That’s likely a big reason why Chicago is one of only two NBA teams carrying the minimum 13 players into the regular season. Nonetheless, the club is well into the tax again this year, with $78MM+ in guaranteed salaries. Sneaking below the threshold looks nearly impossible, barring a huge salary dump, so it appears ownership is willing to pay those penalties again. I’d guess Bulls ownership would even be willing to use those open roster spots to add a veteran or two to fill out the roster in the second half, when they wouldn’t be earning full-season salaries.
Outside of the excitement of seeing Rose return to the court, it wasn’t a dramatic summer for the Bulls, but that’s not necessarily a bad thing. Some of the league’s most successful teams are the ones with the least amount of annual roster turnover, and Chicago has enough talent to be a serious contender without any major changes. If the Bulls fall short again in the postseason in 2014, the club could seriously shake things up next July, but the decision to stand relatively pat this time around makes sense.