Speaking to K.C. Johnson of NBC Sports Chicago on the Bulls Talk Podcast, Bulls president and COO Michael Reinsdorf said the plan is to keep All-Star guard Zach LaVine in Chicago for “years to come” and reiterated that ownership is comfortable with becoming a taxpayer as long as the team is a legitimate contender.
“Absolutely,” Reinsdorf said. “All you have to do is go back and look at the last number of championship teams, how many of them were in the luxury tax? With the nature of the NBA and having a soft cap, if you want to compete for championships, you have to be willing to spend into the tax.”
“I think most people will tell you, ‘I don’t want to spend into the tax if we’re not competing for championships, if we’re not good enough. I don’t want to be the eighth seed or out of the playoffs and go into the luxury tax.’ But when it comes to a team like this, and if we can take the necessary steps next year that allow us to compete for a championship, then for sure we’ll go into the tax. It’s part of the nature of the NBA.”
The stance is one that Reinsdorf and his father – team owner Jerry Reinsdorf – have conveyed in the past. However, the franchise has a history of being relatively conservative in its spending, having paid the luxury tax just once. As Johnson points out, the club was on track to be a taxpayer for a second time in 2014, but traded away Luol Deng after Derrick Rose tore his meniscus in order to get below the tax line.
“That was a particular circumstance,” Reinsdorf said. “You’re not going to see us make trades like that when we’re competing for championships. That doesn’t make any sense.”
As Johnson acknowledges, the Bulls have shown an increased willingness to spend during the last year or two, expanding their player development and scouting departments and carrying full 15-man rosters. They also used a portion of their bi-annual exception to offer Tristan Thompson more than the minimum salary, ensuring they beat out other potential suitors on the buyout market.
Currently, the Bulls owe about $98MM in guaranteed money to nine players in 2022/23. That number would increase to $100MM if Tony Bradley exercises his player option.
A maximum-salary contract for LaVine, who will be an unrestricted free agent, would pay him a projected $35.7MM next season, or $41.7MM if he qualifies for a super-max. Theoretically, Chicago could give him a max deal and still remain below the projected $147MM tax line by filling out the roster with low-cost contracts.
Still, Reinsdorf’s comments suggest the Bulls could be willing to make moves – perhaps on the trade market or using their mid-level exception – that push team salary above that $147MM threshold if ownership feels the club is on the verge of title contention.
“We’re going to spend the money because you have to invest in your team,” Reinsdorf said. “I’m looking forward to it, because if we’re spending in the tax, that means we have a really good team.”