The Bulls And The Salary Cap

July 14 at 10:32am CST By Chuck Myron

The Bulls didn’t end up with Carmelo Anthony, but they still wound up making moves that seemingly foretell the end of Carlos Boozer‘s tenure in Chicago. Boozer remains on the roster for now, and it would seem like the Bulls, who prefer to trade him rather than use the amnesty clause to remove his $16.8MM cap hit, will continue to pursue opportunities to make a swap between now and Wednesday, the final day that teams are allowed to use the amnesty clause this year. Still, unless they’re able to trade him or make other drastic moves between now and the end of Wednesday, the Bulls won’t be able to finalize the free agent deals they reportedly have in place unless they go the amnesty route.

Chicago hasn’t officially announced any of its deals since the July moratorium ended, so the team still has $66,277,115 of guaranteed salary on its books, leaving it above the $63.065MM salary cap. That doesn’t count first-round draft pick Doug McDermott, who has a cap hold of $1,898,300 and will almost certainly sign for a salary of $2,277,960. The most powerful weapon the Bulls have as a capped-out team is the non-taxpayer’s mid-level exception, which calls for a starting salary of $5.305MM.

The Bulls have an agreement with Pau Gasol on a three-year deal for more than $22MM, and presuming that figure is accurate, his starting salary wouldn’t fit into the mid-level. The Bulls were apparently pursuing a sign-and-trade for Gasol, but the Lakers renounced his rights to accommodate their trade for Jeremy Lin, which became official Sunday. That doesn’t necessarily preclude the Lakers from signing-and-trading Gasol, but it would make it more difficult, and that’s apparently a route the Bulls and Lakers are no longer pursuing, anyway.

Nikola Mirotic has a deal with the Bulls for three years and more than $17MM, and that figure, too, would require a starting salary of more than the mid-level could provide. Chicago’s other free agent deal so far, a two-year, $5.6MM agreement with Kirk Hinrich, could be completed using Hinrich’s Early Bird rights. Instead, it’ll reportedly be for the room exception, a tool only available to under-the-cap teams. It’s not set in stone that the Bulls will use the room exception on Hinrich, but the report from TNT’s David Aldridge that they intend to do so sheds light on Chicago’s plans.

We don’t know exactly how much Gasol and Mirotic will make next season, but assuming the numbers that have been reported are correct, they’ll likely wind up with at least a combined $12MM for next season. That means the Bulls would have to remove about $17.1MM worth of salary, plus all of their non-guaranteed contracts and all of their cap holds except McDermott’s, to accommodate those deals. That $17.1MM figure is almost identical to Boozer’s salary, so it would be make the math rather simple if Chicago waived Boozer via the amnesty clause. Hinrich’s cap hold, and thus Chicago’s Early Bird rights with it, would be erased in this scenario, but the Bulls could still re-sign him using the room exception, which they evidently plan to do.

Still, Chicago appears to be at work on other fronts, including a trade that will send Greg Smith and his guaranteed salary, worth slightly more than $948K, to the Mavs for little in return. That would make up the difference between Boozer’s salary and our $17.1MM estimate for the amount of salary the Bulls have to clear for Gasol and Mirotic. The Bulls are also apparently continuing to shop Anthony Randolph, according to K.C. Johnson of the Chicago Tribune (Twitter link). Randolph, whom the Bulls acquired when they traded up to nab McDermott on draft night, has a guaranteed salary of more than $1.825MM. The salaries for Randolph and Smith come to about $2.773MM, and if the Bulls could find a way to dump Tony Snell and Mike Dunleavy without taking back any salary, either, they could knock off about $7.527MM. That still wouldn’t take them far enough under the cap to allow them to officially sign Gasol and Mirotic and avoid giving up Boozer one way or another without touching the core of Derrick Rose, Joakim Noah, Taj Gibson, and Jimmy Butler.

So, it’s a safe bet we’ll be passing along the news that Boozer is no longer a Bull sometime between now and the end of Wednesday. Chicago will surely continue to attempt to trade his salary in a deal that doesn’t bring nearly as much salary back, but with Wednesday’s amnesty deadline looming, the Bulls must negotiate against a clock as well as against other teams.

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