The Bulls made their first significant move of the NBA trade deadline, trading for Blazers power forward Noah Vonleh. The Bulls sent the draft rights to Milocan Rakovic in what was essentially a salary dump for the Blazers, and an audition for the Bulls and Vonleh.
The Charlotte Hornets draft Vonleh with the No. 9 pick in the 2014 NBA Draft and dealt him a year later to the Blazers in a package for Nicolas Batum. Vonleh was considered a project coming out of Indiana, where he played one season and was named the Big Ten’s Freshman of the Year. He measured extraordinarily well in pre-draft workouts, with a 7’4.25” wingspan and the second widest hands ever measured at the NBA Draft Combine (11.75 inches).
But the stout rebounder has yet to turn that athleticism and length into anything sustainable at the NBA level. In two-plus seasons with the Blazers he’s averaged 3.9 points and 4.6 rebounds in 15.8 minutes. He’s seen his role reduced from last season with the addition of Jusuf Nurkic, and he’s been largely out of the rotation since mid-December behind the likes of Nurkic, Ed Davis and rookie Zach Collins.
So it wasn’t surprising to see Portland ship him to Chicago, but it had much more significance than just the depth chart. The Blazers were $2.3 million above the luxury tax after handing out massive deals to Evan Turner and Moe Harkless two offseasons ago.
Dealing Vonleh to the Bulls and receiving draft rights that don’t count against the cap drops them below the luxury tax by $711k. This saves Portland plenty of money in luxury taxes this offseason and allows them to improve their roster by signing another player. They’re currently 29-25 and sitting in seventh place in the West. This past offseason the Blazers dumped Allen Crabbe's salary to the Nets that saved them more than $40 million in luxury taxes.
Trading Noah Vonleh drops the Blazers from $2.8M above the tax line to $711K below it, enough to add a 14th player and stay below the tax even if Mau Harkless earns his $500K bonus. They also get a $3.5M trade exception.— Albert Nahmad (@AlbertNahmad) February 8, 2018
It was also an easy decision for the Bulls, who entered today’s deadline $14.8 million under the salary cap. They’re able to take on Vonleh’s expiring $3.5 million contract and get closer to the salary cap floor, and would have first dibs on bringing back Vonleh if they choose to sign the will-be restricted free agent to an offer sheet.
The Bulls get a free look at Noah Vonley (expiring contract with the ability to make him a restricted free agent if they so choose) and creep $1.2M closer to the salary floor.— Albert Nahmad (@AlbertNahmad) February 8, 2018
It’s uncertain how Vonleh will fit in. He’s not a threat from the outside (2-for-6 on 3-pointers this season) though has shot 10 of 24 on mid-range shots this season, per basketball reference. He’s a capable defender and strong rebounder, and most importantly for the Bulls is 22 years old. He’ll come off the bench behind Lauri Markkanen and Bobby Portis, but the Bulls essentially get a free look at a lottery pick from four years ago who’s never really received any significant playing time.
Realistically, the Blazers needed to shed some salary and the Bulls needed to take some on to hit the salary cap floor. Nothing more, nothing less, though getting two free months to look at an athletic power forward doesn’t hurt.
Raković, 32, is a 6-foot-10 center that has never appeared in an NBA game. The Bulls acquired him from the Magic in 2014 in the Anthony Randolph deal that cleared space for the Bulls to trade for Doug McDermott.