Offseason Outlook: Chicago Bulls

May 8 at 2:00pm CST By Chuck Myron

Guaranteed Contracts

Options 

  • None

Non-Guaranteed Contracts

Free Agents / Cap Holds

Draft Picks

  • 1st Round (16th overall)
  • 1st Round (19th overall)
  • 2nd Round (49th overall)

Cap Outlook

  • Guaranteed Salary: $63,951,756
  • Options: $0
  • Non-Guaranteed Salary: $4,069,062
  • Cap Holds: $14,578,358
  • Total: $82,599,176

The possibilities for the Bulls offseason resemble the playoff scenarios for five teams separated by half a game at the top of the standings on the final day of the regular season. The summer ahead could break in myriad conceivable ways for Chicago, most of them giving the team a better shot at contention than seems fitting after the team spent the last three postseasons with with their title hopes, like Derrick Rose‘s knees, in tatters.

The most compelling outcome this summer would no doubt involve the acquisition of Carmelo Anthony, who appears to have put the Bulls atop his list of non-Knicks options for next season. Chicago’s cap commitments make any pursuit tricky, but the latest salary cap projection of $63.2MM has left the Bulls more confident they can pull it off. It would almost certainly have to involve removing Carlos Boozer‘s contract from the books, be it by amnesty or, as the Bulls appear to prefer, trade. Few teams would be willing and able to take on Boozer’s deal, even though it expires after next season, without sending back a significant chunk of salary in return, which would render moot Chicago’s rationale for trading Boozer in the first place. The possibility of a sign-and-trade with the Knicks involving Anthony exists, but Knicks president Phil Jackson might not be willing to play along and facilitate the departure of his team’s star.

The Bulls may find it impossible to trade Boozer, forcing owner Jerry Reinsdorf to either approve an amnesty or kiss goodbye to the team’s chances of landing ‘Melo. Reinsdorf has long been reluctant to spend, and an amnesty of Boozer, which removes him from the team’s cap but not its payroll, would likely force the owner to shell out more money on the Bulls roster than he ever has.

Even if the team sheds Boozer’s entire salary from its cap figure, the rest of Chicago’s salaries would eat up all but about $16.4MM under the projected cap. That number that would be further reduced to about $13.8MM, thanks to roster charges worth the rookie minimum salary that the Bulls would incur for having fewer than 12 players under contract. That would be well short of the nearly $22.5MM starting salary for which Anthony is eligible. The Bulls would have to find trade partners willing to absorb other assets without sending salary in return, though the team probably wouldn’t have a hard time divesting itself of its pair of first-round picks, which represent more than $2.7MM in cap holds. The Rockets were able to find a home for Thomas Robinson and others last year as they cleared the way for Dwight Howard to sign a max deal in Houston, so there’s reason for optimism that the Bulls can relieve themselves of Mike Dunleavy and perhaps Tony Snell.

Lopping the two first-rounders, Snell and Dunleavy off their books would give the Bulls about $17.6MM in flexibility, so perhaps Anthony would be willing to accept a deal of that size to allow the Bulls to have more than just the room exception and the minimum salary to fill out their roster. Any discount Anthony takes in his starting salary affects the money he can make over the course of the deal, since his raises would be limited to 4.5%. So, Anthony would likely have to make a financial sacrifice of somewhere between $10-20MM over the course of a four-year contract if he heads to Chicago.

Signing Anthony would probably keep Nikola Mirotic overseas for at least one more year. Mirotic appears to be the team’s priority if it can’t strike a deal with ‘Melo, though there have been conflicting reports about just how much it would take to buy him out of his Spanish league contract and bring him stateside. If it takes more than the mid-level exception, removing Boozer’s salary from the cap once more becomes critical. The 6’10” forward is widely considered the best player outside of the NBA, but his ability to contribute to a team with designs on a championship next year is a question. The Bulls may decide they’re better served chasing NBA free agents, like Lance Stephenson and Pau Gasol, in whom Chicago appears to have interest.

The team also has choices regarding its own free agents, including guards Kirk Hinrich and D.J. Augustin. GM Gar Forman won’t rule out re-signing both of them, but it appears that Augustin has the inside track to become Rose’s backup next season. The renaissance that Augustin, a 26-year-old former ninth overall pick, enjoyed this season after signing with the Bulls in December figures to make him fairly valuable on the market, though he’s said he’d like to remain with Chicago. Jimmer Fredette, another midseason backcourt signing, saw even less playing time with the Bulls than he did before engineering his release from the Kings, so he seems unlikely to return.

Forman and executive VP of basketball ops John Paxson made a flurry of late-season moves to maximize the team’s flexibility going forward. They released Erik Murphy, correctly surmising that a team would claim him off waivers and wipe his salary off Chicago’s books. That almost certainly leaves the team enough room below the tax line in case Taj Gibson or anyone else on the roster triggers an unlikely bonus. That means the Bulls, who paid the tax last season, won’t be in line for repeat offender penalties if they jump back into the tax next season. The team signed Mike James, Louis Amundson and Ronnie Brewer to cheap prorated deals that carry into 2014/15 with non-guaranteed salary, giving Forman and Paxson tools to help make salaries match in a trade.

The front office’s most significant task between now and the draft might involve coach Tom Thibodeau. The Lakers and Warriors would reportedly like permission to speak with Thibodeau, who’s in the midst of a long-term contract. Another report has suggested the team is eyeing Fred Hoiberg as a potential replacement. The loss of an elite coach, particularly if the Bulls replace him with someone like Hoiberg who doesn’t have NBA head coaching experience, could complicate the team’s free agent pursuits. So, I’d be surprised if the tension between management and Thibodeau manifests itself in a divorce. Still, the departure of Doc Rivers from the Celtics last season seemed to open the door for coaching “trades,” and perhaps the Bulls view Thibodeau as a fungible asset they can pawn off if necessary.

The Bulls also face a key decision regarding Jimmy Butler, who’s up for a rookie scale extension. Butler finished a tick behind ‘Melo for the highest minutes per game average in the NBA this season, establishing himself as an indelible part of the team. He shot much more poorly from the outside this season than he did in 2012/13, but he’s otherwise improved markedly during his tenure in Chicago. Hedging against a further breakout with an extension might help the Bulls keep long-term costs in check, with the prospect of free agency for the underpaid Joakim Noah looming in 2016.

The most important addition for next season would undoubtedly be a healthy Rose, who holds the key to the team’s title hopes. Just about any outcome for this summer would put Chicago in title contention if Rose returns to form, but it would be tough to envision the Bulls playing in June if his athleticism is compromised or he gets hurt again. The hands of Forman and Paxson will surely not be idle this summer, but their fingers will be crossed.

Cap footnotes

* — The Bulls waived Hamilton in July of 2013 and used the stretch provision to spread his remaining $1MM in guaranteed salary over three seasons.
** — The Bulls hold the draft rights to Mirotic, who’s yet to sign an NBA contract. He was the 23rd overall pick in 2011, and his cap hold is equal to 100% of the rookie scale for the 23rd overall pick in this year’s draft.

ShamSports and Larry Coon’s Salary Cap FAQ were used in the creation of this post.

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