Kevin Anderson

How the Bulls can land a max-salary free agent

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USA TODAY

How the Bulls can land a max-salary free agent

The Bulls will enter free agency with approximately $20 million in cap space. That’s far short of the amount needed to sign a max-salary player, but there is a path for the team to land a star — if one chooses to play in Chicago. With rumors out of Brooklyn that D’Angelo Russell would be on his way out if the Nets sign Kyrie Irving, coupled with the uncertain futures of both Klay Thompson and Kevin Durant, Bulls fans are wondering “what if.” I’ll let much wiser people debate if the Bulls should extend an offer to any of these players; I’ll outline how it could happen.

In terms of this discussion, it’s very important to note that not all free agents are eligible for the same max salary. The league has three tiers of max free agents, broken up by years of service. Players with 0-6 years of service are in one tier, 7-9 years in another, and 10+ years of service in the last.

Players in the more experienced tiers can get a much larger contract over players coming off their rookie contracts. The wonderful Larry Coon explains this in detail in his CBA FAQ. The exact 2019-20 salary cap will be announced at the end of the month. It’s currently projected at $109 million, and for this scenario, we use that number. Essentially, tier 1 players can get 25 percent of the cap, tier 2 30 percent and players with 10+ years of experience can get 35 percent of a team’s cap.

Russell would fall into the 0-6 years tier, earning him a first year salary (the one that matters in terms of cap space) of approximately $27.2 million. Klay Thompson has eight seasons of experience and is eligible for a first-year salary of about $32.7 million. His teammate Kevin Durant can sign a max deal starting at $38 million.

Step 1- Get medical waiver on Omer Asik’s $3 million cap hit.

The Bulls will find out by June 30 if the league approves their waiver request on Asik. The former Bulls big has a $3 million cap hit of guaranteed money on the books for the 2019-20 season. The team waived Asik back in October and it looks like his NBA career may be over after dealing with arthritis and Crohn’s Disease. The NBA is likely to approve the Bulls request, and they’ll get that money back in cap space for free agency.

Step 2- Waive and stretch Cristiano Felicio

The league allows teams to waive players and stretch their contracts over several years to lessen the immediate cap hit a team takes. Felicio is owed approximately $15.7 million over the next two seasons. The stretch provision means teams can spread out the cap hit of a waived player twice the years remaining on the deal, plus one. This translates to a cap hit of approximately $3.1 million over the next fives years instead of the amount he’s owed. This means the Bulls would gain an additional $5 million in cap space this summer.

Accomplishing steps 1 and 2 will clear enough cap space for the Bulls to sign a 0-6 year free agent, so if Russell wants to play for the Bulls and the front office feels he’d be a good fit, it would only take these two steps to sign him. It gets more complicated for the more experienced free agents.

Step 3- Trade Kris Dunn for a 2nd round pick.

Dunn is owed $5.3 million for the 2019-20 season. Trading him for a second round pick would net the Bulls a cap saving of $4.4 million. The reason the Bulls don’t get to keep the full amount is that teams have to account for a roster spot against the cap when they go below 12 players. Trading Dunn would get them into the 7-9 years tier and allow them to sign Klay Thompson (or any of the other free agents at that tier).

Step 4A- Trade out of the first round of the 2019 draft

Here is where it gets a lot more difficult for the Bulls if they want to sign a 10+ year free agent. They have to clear about $5 million more in cap space. Let’s safely assume they aren’t going to trade Zach LaVine, Lauri Markkanen or Wendell Carter for pennies on the dollar just to clear cap space. Otto Porter’s contract makes him a very unlikely trade candidate as well. Trading the No. 7 pick for a future first nets them another $4.4 million, close enough to get to that max slot with other small moves.

The major flaw with this is the draft is June 20 and free agency starts 10 days later. You’re not going to get a commitment from any superstar worth this amount until June 30, so essentially this option is off the table.

Step 4B- Trade Denzel Valentine and Chandler Hutchison for second round picks

This option is a lot more likely if the Bulls can sign a superstar in the 10+ years tier. Hutchison showed promise in his rookie season, and despite missing all of last season, Valentine should be able to get you something (especially if packaged with Hutchison). I doubt the team wants to punt on Hutchison after one season, but they'd have to, if this was the only thing in the way of signing a franchise changing star.

If you want to dream for the Bulls, our friends at NBC Sports Boston put together a list of the top free agents available. The likelihood is that the Bulls will use their cap space to sign a few veteran free agents to give them some much needed depth, but should they dream big, there is a path to be in play for a star.

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Pippen: Zion Williamson should sit out rest of the season

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USA TODAY

Pippen: Zion Williamson should sit out rest of the season

Pro Basketball Hall of Famer and 6-time NBA champion Scottie Pippen knows a few things about success and talent, and the former Bull thinks consensus top pick Zion Williamson should sit out the rest of Duke’s season and prepare for the NBA draft.

Speaking on ESPN’s ‘The Jump’ on Tuesday, Pippen was asked about the Duke freshman, “I would shut it down… I would stop playing because I feel that he could risk a major injury that could really hurt his career.”

Williamson is averaging 21.2 points per game and 9.4 rebounds per game for the top-ranked Blue Devils. Most NBA experts, including our own Mark Schanowski, have the 6-foot-7 forward as the NBA Draft’s top pick this June.

Fellow Hall of Famer Tracy McGrady added “Football players are doing it, why not? College football players are skipping bowl games and they’re getting ready for the combine.”

The Chicago Bulls currently hold the second worst record in the league at 10-34. New NBA lottery rules go into effect this season that give the three worst teams in the league the exact same odds of landing the top pick — 14 percent.

 

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The 3 trades involving Jabari Parker that make the most sense for the Bulls

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The 3 trades involving Jabari Parker that make the most sense for the Bulls

On the heels of Thursday’s report by ESPN’s Malika Andrews that the Bulls are taking Jabari Parker out of the rotation that caused most of us (especially Horace Grant) to react in disbelief, the Tribune’s KC Johnson reported Friday that the Bulls are actively engaged in trade talks involving the former Simeon star.

Parker’s $20 million in salary this season makes it difficult for the Bulls to trade him. League rules state that a team trading for Parker would have to either absorb that salary into cap space or send back salary that closely matches what Parker is owed. Basically, the Bulls need to take on a salary of $16 million or greater if they trade just Parker away to a team over the cap. It gets more complicated if you try to package a deal involving multiple teams or other players like Justin Holiday.

With that said, here are my top 3 trades (and one wild one) that make the most sense for the Bulls.

Trade 1: Bulls trade Parker to the Knicks for Courtney Lee, Lance Thomas, and the Knicks 2019 1st round pick (top 8 protected).

Positives

The Bulls get a good asset in the Knicks 1st rounder and the Knicks clear Lee’s salary off the books to help in their pursuit of Kevin Durant. We know the Knicks desperately want to land a superstar next summer and Lee is owed $12.8 million in 2019-20. Thomas is a solid defensive player who can play small forward but he’s currently dealing with a knee injury that has sidelined him since early November. Thomas is essentially playing on an expiring deal with a non-guarantee for next season.

Negatives

Lee is under contract through the 2019-20 season and is owed $12.8 million next season. That money will eat directly into the Bulls cap space but it also gives them an expiring deal heading into Anthony Davis’ free agency summer.

Trade 2: Bulls trade Parker to the Heat for Tyler Johnson and the Heat 2019 1st round pick (top 8 protected)

Positives

Like New York, Pat Riley and Miami would love to clear more cap space to land a star next summer. Johnson has a player option of $19.2 million for next season that he almost certainly will pick up.  This move alone won’t clear enough space for the Heat to land a max player, but it puts them on the right path. Johnson can play either guard position and would serve as a solid backup for Dunn.

Negatives

Just like with the Knicks potential trade, the Bulls would take on salary for next season. Again, this isn’t the worst idea. If the Bulls feel they will be unable to attract a max free agent next summer, Johnson still gives you flexibility for the summer of 2020.

Trade 3: Bulls trade Parker to the Hawks for Kent Bazemore and the Hawks 2019 1st round pick (top 8 protected)

Positives

Let’s be honest, they won’t be getting the Hawks pick next summer. Like the Bulls, the Hawks are almost a lock to be drafting in the top 5, but they could end up getting a lottery pick from the Hawks in 2020 or 2021 when the protections lessen. Bazemore, who has a player option of $19.3 million for next season, is a very good defensive player. Although he’s struggled with his perimeter shot this year, the Bulls could insert him into the starting lineup immediately. This move would also give the Hawks close to $70 million in cap space next July.

Negatives

The Bulls won’t be seeing the Hawks 1st round pick for at least one more season. They’re also taking on Bazemore’s salary for the 2019-20 season.

The common theme with the three trades above is that the Bulls get an asset while taking on more salary. This is the right move to make for an organization that’s rebuilding and that is unlikely to contend for a star player next July. Of course, all three of these trades carry some risk, but they are much safer than the ‘let’s get nuts’ trade I would consider.

The Wild One: Bulls trade Jabari Parker and Cristiano Felicio to the Wizards for Otto Porter

Positives

The Bulls find a home for Felicio and his contract that pays a back-end-of-the-bench player an average of $8 million a year over the next three years.The Bulls also get a player in Porter that fits perfectly with this roster. He’s a 3-and-D small forward that’s only 25 years old. He fills a huge position of need for the Bulls and he’s under contract through the 2019-20 season with a player option for 2020-21. This will allow him to grow with the already excellent young core of LaVine, Markkanen and Carter Jr.

Negative

Yeah, about that contract.

Porter is owed an average of $27.2 million over the next three years. That is A LOT of money for a player averaging 10.7 points per game in his career. There is no question he is one of the most overpaid players in the league, but his contract also expires the same summer a certain superstar in Milwaukee is due to hit free agency. However, free agency has long been thought of as ‘fool's gold’ when it comes to building a championship team. Why not trade for a solid player like Porter that you can build around?