The Bulls ‘rebuild’ seems to be just a one-year experiment after the team signed Chicago native Jabari Parker to a two-year, $40-million dollar deal on Saturday. Although on first look Parker’s contract would seem to restrict what they can do in free agency next summer, the reality is that the 2nd year team option gives the Bulls plenty of flexibility with—or without- Parker next year.
If the Bulls pick up the option on Parker, they will still be able to sign a max free agent next July if they make the right moves between now and July 1, 2019.
The NBA projects the 2019-20 cap will rise to $109 million, up from $101.9 million for the upcoming season. The league bases a ‘max’ salary on years of service. A 10-year vet like Kevin Durant is eligible for more ($38.2 million) than his teammate Klay Thompson ($32.7 million), an 8-year vet. If the Bulls keep Parker, they’ll enter free agency with approximately $15.4 million next summer—far short of the cap space needed for a player like Durant or Thompson, but that number is misleading. The $15.4 million also includes cap holds (salary slots assigned to a player based on several factors including previous year’s salary). The cap hold is designed to prevent teams from completely circumventing the soft cap model the league uses. The cap holds for Bobby Portis ($7.5 million) and Cameron Payne ($9.8 million) are just theoretical if the Bulls don’t sign either to a contract extension before the October 31, 2018 deadline.
Let’s say the Bulls are in line to sign a star free agent like Thompson; all they would need to do is rescind any qualifying offer to Payne or Portis, and then renounce them as free agents. This would effectively take the cap holds off the Bulls’ cap sheet and give them approximately $32.7 million in cap space. Coincidently (or perhaps it’s no coincidence), that’s the exact salary a 7-9 year free agent like Thompson would command.
In order to create enough space for Durant and his increased ‘max’ slot, they would need to waive and stretch a player like Cristiano Felicio or incentivize a trade involving a player by attaching another asset in the deal, like a future 1st round pick.
If the Bulls decline the team option on Parker, then they will enter free agency with anywhere between $35 million and $53 million.
It was widely thought that the Bulls were looking to the summer of 2019 to make a big splash in free agency, but the team might be looking to contend as soon as next season.
ESPN’s Adrian Wojnarowski reported on Tuesday night that the Bulls “are going to be sneaky in free agency. They’ve got a young core that people want to play with… they have sped up the rebuild.”
The Bulls will have enough flexibility that they can fairly easily free up enough cap space to sign a free agent to a max contract when free agency begins July 1. Right now I’m projecting them to enter July with just over $24 million in cap space. They can increase that amount by not signing several of their own free agents like David Nwaba, drafting a European player with the 22nd pick and agreeing to keep him overseas, waiving a player and ‘stretching’ his contract, or trading away salary to a team with cap space.
A ‘max’ salary is based on years in the league and the league’s actual cap. The latest projections have the cap for next season at $101 million. A 10-year vet like Lebron James will command a first-year salary of approximately $36 million. A player like Marcus Smart would be eligible for a first-year salary of around $26 million next season. That first-year salary is essentially the only number that matters when trying to fit a contract into a team’s cap space.
The centerpiece of last year’s Jimmy Butler deal, Zach LaVine, is a restricted free agent this summer, and the Bulls would wait to re-sign him until after inking a potential max free agent. LaVine’s cap hold is just $9.6 million this summer, and as long as they accounted for that amount, they could go over the cap in signing LaVine to a long-term deal.
Our Bulls pregame and postgame host Mark Schanowski pointed out several free agents the Bulls could pursue:
It is believed that the Rockets will match any offer that Clint Capela gets, but if general manager Daryl Morey is pursuing LeBron, It could open a window for the Bulls to swoop in and sign the Rockets center. Teams can negotiate with free agents starting July 1 with players eligible to sign contracts on July 6.
New York Times veteran NBA writer Marc Stein tweeted late Friday that multiple teams were interested in fourth-year swingman Rodney Hood.
We know that the Jazz are one of the rumored teams interested in embattled forward Niko Mirotic and while it wouldn’t seem to make sense on the surface, Rodney Hood could be a good fit for the Bulls.
Hood will be a restricted free agent this summer and the Bulls would retain the rights to match any offer if they felt like the former Duke Blue Devil was the right piece to join the new core of Zach LaVine, Lauri Markkanen, and Kris Dunn.
There is one complication in a potential Mirotic for Hood deal; the salaries don’t quite match. Utah would need to send another player like Alec Burks to Chicago in the deal. The Bulls would have to be OK taking on Burks’ $11.5 million salary for the 2018-19 season and his cap hit in free agency. Good news though, the free agent class this summer is very thin at small forward, the main position the Bulls have a need for.
Another road block, the Bulls are set to max out LaVine this July, and they may be wary on tying up a good part of their cap space for the next four years on two players.
Acquiring Hood hurts the ‘tank’ but you’d have a three-month audition of a 25-year old shooter that on paper would seem to work with the current rotation. If the Bulls felt like Hood wasn’t a good fit, let him walk in free agency. They would then keep their cap space intact for the 2019 super free agent class.