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Money talk: A financial primer for Bulls free agency

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Money talk: A financial primer for Bulls free agency

There will be no digital banners welcoming LaMarcus Aldridge or Marc Gasol to the United Center this July.

There will be no late-night dinners, and no drama over who did or did not attend.

This isn’t 2010, or even 2014 when we followed every visit and handshake on Twitter. No, this Bulls roster is about as flexible as a steel door — but there are moves that the front office can make to bolster a team that hopes to make a championship run before undergoing significant change in 2016.

Let’s start with the obvious question, and it’s really a rhetorical one: Will Jimmy Butler be a Bull next season? The short answer is yes, there is absolutely no chance that he plays for another team in 2015.

[RELATED - Could Rodney Stuckey be a fit off the bench for the Bulls?]

The real question is: How long will the contract be that Butler signs? There are reports that last year’s Most Improved Player is looking for a two-to-three year deal instead of the five-year max offer that the Bulls could give him. From a financial perspective, this would make a lot of sense. At 25, he could sign a three-year deal now and then sign a four-year max offer when he is an unrestricted free agent at 28 in 2018. The salary cap will see an unprecedented increase next summer, and if Butler continues to play at the level he did last season, he stands to make tens of millions more long-term by signing a shorter contract now.

Barring an unlikely trade, the Bulls will enter free agency with no cap space. Re-signing Butler was always the team’s top priority. After that domino falls, Gar Forman and John Paxson have to make a decision on free agent Mike Dunleavy Jr. Here is where the Salary Cap Exceptions come into play, and why the Bulls absolutely have to re-sign MDJ.

The salary cap for the 2015-16 season is projected to be $67.1 million. The luxury tax line is projected at $81.4 million, and the tax ‘apron’ is projected at $85.4 million (1 - below). These last two numbers are very important, and not just for Jerry Reinsdorf’s bank account. There are two main ‘exceptions’ that teams above the salary cap can use to add players: The non-taxpayer mid-level exception or the taxpayer mid-level (also called the mini mid-level) exception. Teams cannot use both and there are rules on which one can be used.

The non-taxpayer (full) MLE can be used to sign a player to up to $5.5 million; the mini-MLE can be used up to $3.4 million. The advantage is obvious, you can spend more, and hypothetically get, a better player using the full MLE (2). Re-signing Butler puts the Bulls into the luxury tax which mean's the Mini-MLE is the only exception available for them to use. It also means that they would have to choose between re-signing Dunleavy or signing a free agent at the veteran’s minimum. They are not going to get a player better than Dunleavy at the minimum. It’s a no-brainer from a roster and financial standpoint (3). They have to offer Dunleavy a more-than-fair deal because quite frankly, they can’t afford to let him walk.

[RELATED - Portis pick shows Forman, Hoiberg haven't lost sight of Bulls basics]

OK, boring CBA talk out of the way. We’ve established that the mini-MLE is the Bulls' only option and after drafting a ‘big’ in Bobby Portis, the team’s glaring need is backcourt depth. $3.4 million is not going to get the Bulls an impact player that will put them over the top in the East, but it will get them a good rotation player that solidifies them having one of the deepest teams in the league.

Let’s go over some of the top players who will be available (4). There are a lot of options for players that might be in the Bulls' price range. It is very important to keep in mind though that any player’s value is completely based on the market. If one team views Player A as worth $3 million a season, another team may have a need and view him as worth $7 million a season. It’s an agent’s job to get the best value for his client, and it’s the team’s job to get the best player at a fair price. On to our list, focusing only on the backcourt:

Rodney Stuckey, SG, unrestricted free agent (UFA) - Pacers

Our Bulls insider Vincent Goodwill does a great job breaking down why Stuckey may be the best player at the right price for the Bulls. Summary: He’s an efficient scorer that can also handle the ball. Prob-a-Bull odds: High.

Cory Joseph, PG, restricted free agent (RFA) - Spurs

Joseph is intriguing for several reasons. He’s improved in every aspect each of his four seasons in San Antonio and new Bulls associate head coach Jim Boylen is very familiar with Joseph having coached him the last two years. The Spurs are also unlikely to match an offer because they are pursuing LaMarcus Aldridge. Fun fact: Joseph was picked one spot before Butler in the 2011 draft. Prob-a-Bull odds: Very high.

Jameer Nelson, PG, UFA - Nuggets

The 33-year old is coming off his worst season as a pro. He was traded twice last year and that certainly hurt his ability to get comfortable in a system. He posted good numbers as a starter for the Magic in the 2013-14 season and he could still be a productive member of a playoff team coming off the bench. He declined his player option for this season, but that likely had more to do with location than salary. Prob-a-Bull odds: Average.

Nate Robinson, PG, UFA - Clippers

This of course would be a popular pick with the fan base. The Seattle native was ironically traded for Nelson to the Celtics but was waived immediately. He signed on with the Clippers late in the season and he can still score in bunches, but does he fit in with Fred Hoiberg’s new vision of the Bulls? Prob-a-Bull odds: Very Low.

Gerald Green, SG/SF, UFA - Suns

Green can flat out score. Like Butler, he can play the 2 or 3 spots and he has great size at 6-foot-8. If he was unhappy with limited minutes in Phoenix, would he accept a reserve role in Chicago? The Bulls may also find themselves getting outbid by a significant amount to land him. Prob-a-Bull odds: Low.

[SHOP BULLS: Get a Bulls draft hat right here]

Alan Anderson, SG/SF, UFA - Nets

Anderson has a player option for next season that he expected to decline. The 32-year old is a decent outside shooter who could provide some good bench scoring. Prob-a-Bull odds: Average.

Arron Afflalo, SG/SF, UFA - Blazers

Afflalo was linked to the Bulls last summer but like Green, could be outside of their price range. He declined a player option for $7.75 million. Even putting him on this list is a stretch, but I think he’d be a great fit here in Chicago. Prob-a-Bull odds: Very low.

Leandro Barbosa, SG, UFA - Warriors

The 12-year NBA veteran was a good bench contributor for the NBA champs last season. He’s a good perimeter shooter and would certainly fit the Bulls budget. Prob-a-Bull odds: Above average.

This is certainly not an extensive list, so feel free to add your own ideas or questions in the comment section. And for those of you wondering, the Bulls will likely have roughly $30 million in cap space in the summer of 2016, so get those digital banners of Kevin Durant ready.

Footnotes

1 - We’ll know the exact cap and luxury tax numbers when the league releases that information in early July.

2 - Larry Coon has a wonderful CBA FAQ explaining all of this in detail.

3 - Eric Pincus has very accurate league salary information at BasketballInsiders.com.

4 - NBA.com has an extensive list here.

It's Bobby's World in Bulls' lottery-improving loss to 76ers

It's Bobby's World in Bulls' lottery-improving loss to 76ers

The final 25 games was supposed to be all about the development of the Bulls’ recent acquisitions and securing a record worthy of one of the last three envelopes at the NBA Draft Lottery.

Only Zach LaVine, Lauri Markkanen and Kris Dunn seemed to matter, with Cameron Payne and Cristiano Felicio being the perfect window dressing for development as opposed to just saying a team is tanking.

But Bobby Portis is making a case that he isn’t to be forgotten in the big picture, that his worth is more than just being a punchline to the jokes that followed his incident with Nikola Mirotic.

The only thing Portis didn’t do right in the Bulls’ 116-115 loss to the Philadelphia 76ers was missing a point blank shot that would’ve given the Bulls an improbable and unwanted win, and it would’ve given him 40 points.

Instead he had to settle for a career-high 38 as Joel Embiid was bearing down on Portis when he caught a diagonal pass from Dunn with 1.1 seconds left, having the shorter T.J. McConnell on him and taking a power dribble to gather himself.

“If I could go back I would’ve just went up the first time off the glass like I always do,” Portis said. “We just have to try to close out games better.”

Embiid showed he’s worth all the trouble with his health problems, scoring 30 with 13 rebounds and five rebounds while Ben Simmons put up 32 with 11 assists and seven rebounds as the 76ers improved to 31-25, good enough for seventh place in the East.

In a game that featured remarkable resolve from a purposely undermanned Bulls team as they sat Robin Lopez and Justin Holiday, they put themselves in position to win after trailing by 18 early. After leading by five courtesy of a LaVine walk-down triple with 1:02 left, they made a couple critical errors that allowed the 76ers to steal a game the Bulls won’t mind them taking at the end of 82.

Denzel Valentine’s inbounds pass with 5.9 seconds left was intended for LaVine, but Embiid stepped in front for a steal as they were in position to make it a free-throw game the rest of the way.

Similar to the Bulls’ unlikely win over the Orlando Magic before the All-Star break, they returned the favor as 76ers rookie Ben Simmons made free throws after the steal to give the visitors a one-point lead, setting the stage for the final play.

If learning lessons is what the last 100 quarters of basketball is supposed to be about, the Bulls got a big-time lesson in a game that ultimately means nothing.

“These are learning opportunities for our team,” Bulls coach Fred Hoiberg said. “I couldn’t be happier, the way we went out and competed. We dug ourselves an 18-point hold and (fought) our way back—have complete control of the game.”

Control was wrestled from the 76ers by Portis’ able and quick hands. Taking more of a scoring posture since Mirotic’s departure, Portis has never been shy about being aggressive.

But now he’s being encouraged in that department, playing a big part in the Bulls’ tying their franchise record of 18 triples with six of his own, scoring 21 in the first half and not backing down one step from the massive Embiid.

“I kind of struggled from (three) in the last six, seven games,” said Portis, who didn’t take much time off during the All-Star break. “I think I’ve shown this entire year, trying to stay consistent and be a spark off the bench.”

Counting the last two games before the break, Portis has been on the best scoring binge of his career—cementing his place in the league when just a few months ago, many were questioning if the Bulls should’ve actually picked up his player option following the Mirotic incident.

His 25.0 points in the last three, along with scoring in double figures for seven straight games are career-bests. With every flex, every energetic plea to the crowd and resourceful score underneath the rim, Portis is becoming a player the Bulls can’t afford to plan without.

The stage was set for a Portis breakout shortly after the incident, when he was serving his suspension to start the season. When the Bulls traveled to Miami and Orlando, he flew on his own to Orlando for dinner with his mentor, former NBA veteran and Magic assistant coach Corliss Williamson.

Williamson, a player who was not to be trifled with during his career, told Portis essentially, “this too shall pass”.

“Just play your game,” Williamson told NBCSportsChicago.com recently. “Don’t put any pressure on yourself about what’s gonna happen after this year. What’s got him here is hard work, how hard he plays in the game. He continues to do that, he’ll be successful.”

Portis recalled the dinner where he was finally able to confide and unleash after weeks of frustration. Calling Williamson a father figure dating back to their Arkansas roots, where Portis played on Williamson’s AAU teams in middle school, Portis put his trust in him and came back reinvigorated.

“We talked for hours about the whole situation,” Portis told NBCSportsChicago.com “He told me when I come back to come 10 times harder. When people play this game and play the right way, they forget about the other stuff. That’s what I’m trying to do.”

Scoring 38 tends to remake a narrative.

“Bobby just continues to improve,” Hoiberg said. “He’s a confident kid that goes out and plays with a ton of swagger and toughness. You need that, to go out and play with that type of effort. He’s tenacious on the glass. He’s getting the crowd into the game.”

When speaking of Portis, Hoiberg’s face went from flush to beaming, knowing how far Portis has come in his three years—being a player who wouldn’t take 3-pointers with confidence to now unleashing them whenever a defender’s feet shows the slightest hint of leaning back.

No hesitation.

“Regardless if I’m making shots, I try to leave it all out on the floor,” Portis said. “It felt good making shots, being able to help the team. I wanted the win tonight.”

Portis helped make up for the Bulls not getting their usual production from Dunn, who struggled guarding the bigger Simmons and Lauri Markkanen, who missed all five of his 3-pointers and made just one field goal in 32 minutes.

“You can put he and Lauri together,” Hoiberg said. “It gives you two guys that can stretch the floor and space it, two guys that can rebound, two that can put it on the floor. It’s exciting to think about when Kris gets his rhythm back.”

And now, Williamson’s words have proven to be prophetic for his pupil, because if the Bulls aren’t seeing Portis as a key part of their future, there’s about 25 other teams who’ll be lining up for his services this summer.

“I told him don’t even worry about it,” Williamson said. “Let your game speak for itself. People who really know you, know what type of person you are. You start producing people will forget about it and love you for what you do on the court.”

His game is talking, even if the Bulls’ loss was one they’d rather have taken in silence.

Bulls Talk Podcast: Projecting the Bulls’ future

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USA TODAY

Bulls Talk Podcast: Projecting the Bulls’ future

In the latest edition of the Bulls Talk Podcast, Mark Schanowski, Will Perdue and Kendall Gill recap the Bulls’ 116-115 loss to the Philadelphia 76ers, look at the continued growth of Zach LaVine, Lauri Markkanen and Kris Dunn, and discuss if Bobby Portis is part of the Bulls’ long term future.

They also check in on LeBron James and the new-look Cleveland Cavaliers, discuss whether or not the Golden State Warriors can make another title run and the latest on the status of San Antonio Spurs guard Kawhi Leonard. The guys also discuss how Oklahoma guard Trae Young could look in a Bulls uniform if he’s available for them in the draft.

Listen to the full episode at this link (iOS users can go here) or in the embedded player below. Subscribe to the podcast on Apple Podcasts.