Whenever the 2020-21 season tips off, the Bulls’ standing as #financialchamps could be in peril.
That’s a lighthearted reference to a fan-created hashtag alluding to the perception that the Bulls, rightly or wrongly, at times prioritized profits over winning.
It perhaps reached its peak in 2017 when the Bulls sold the draft rights to Jordan Bell to the Warriors for $3.5 million. Never mind that Bell is on his third team, not the fast track to the Hall of Fame. Or that then-executive vice president John Paxson classified the move as building equity with ownership.
Some still concluded: The Bulls are cheap.
It’s why this offseason has been such a revelation. And why the hire of Billy Donovan is important for reasons beyond Xs and Os.
Think about it: At a time when the Bulls have lost their most significant source of income — game day, and all its inherent revenue streams — they have spent generously to address what ailed the franchise.
They hired four executives — one of whom, in Artūras Karnišovas, didn’t come cheaply — and paid another in Gar Forman to leave. They not only ate the two remaining seasons on Jim Boylen’s contract, but hired the most expensive coaching candidate on the market to replace him. Donovan almost certainly will want to hire some assistant coaches of his choosing, and some current Bulls assistants under contract could be leaving.
And Karnišovas has been given the green light from ownership to address the roster as he sees fit moving forward.
This isn’t to say the Bulls are about to become a perennial luxury tax team. They’ve only crossed that threshold once in franchise history, and dipped back below in 2014 with the surprising, ownership-mandated trade of Luol Deng after Derrick Rose went down with another season-ending knee injury.
There can be a misplaced sense of activity or accomplishment placed on being a tax team. Our ownership will do anything to win. Plenty of sub-.500 teams pay the tax.
But teams can be aggressive while still being financially responsible. And that’s the current path which ownership appears to be taking. Building a sound infrastructure, one more in step with today’s NBA of player empowerment, can pay dividends in myriad ways.
Look, the new regime of Karnisovas and general manager Marc Eversley will benefit from Paxson and Forman’s bookkeeping. Save for the ill-advised Cristiano Felício contract, which expires after this season, the Bulls rarely burdened themselves with cumbersome contracts.
Depending on what steps Karnisovas and Eversley take to address the roster, the Bulls project to own extremely clean books next offseason. They can be major players in free agency should management choose that route. Or maybe management will look to upgrade the roster using trades.
Whatever the case, Donovan’s hiring only continues the positive momentum — and significant financial outlay — surrounding the Bulls.
Bulls chairman Jerry Reinsdorf is on record as saying he’ll pay the luxury tax for a team in a championship window. The Bulls are far from there.
But you remember when they were. That’s when they paid Michael Jordan $63 million over two seasons in the late 1990s — which translates to $100 million in today’s dollars. Or extended Rose to the tune of $95 million over five seasons.
Nobody needs to pass the tip jar for such moves. At Forbes’ last valuation, the Bulls ranked fourth in the NBA at $3.2 billion. That’s quite the return from Reinsdorf’s original investment of $9.2 million to purchase a controlling stake in 1985, a commitment to which he has added to over the years.
But the point is: The Bulls will spend when warranted. And three years of wandering in the wilderness has led them to this point, where the hope is success follows significant financial commitment.