The 2021 free-agent point guard market is beginning to take shape.
Brooklyn Nets guard Spencer Dinwiddie plans to decline his $12.3 million player option for the 2021-22 season and enter unrestricted free agency this summer, ESPN’s Adrian Wojnarowski reported Sunday morning. Dinwiddie had until Monday to decide on the option after Brooklyn concluded its season Saturday with an epic Game 7 loss to the Milwaukee Bucks.
That’s a sizable domino to drop, and one in which the Bulls should have particular interest. It’s long been reported that the Bulls plan to upgrade the point guard position this offseason — a need only intensified by the recent shoulder injury that could cause Coby White to miss the start of next season — and Dinwiddie immediately becomes one of the best free-agent options available.
Dinwiddie, 28, missed all but three games of the 2020-21 campaign with a partially torn ACL, but had the best year of his career the season prior, averaging 20.6 points, 6.8 assists and 3.5 rebounds in 64 games (49 starts) to lead the team as Kevin Durant rehabilitated a torn Achilles and Kyrie Irving oscillated in and out of the lineup.
Still in his prime years, Dinwiddie is clearly hoping for a raise and long-term security in declining that player option. With Irving and James Harden now staffing the Nets’ backcourt, he can probably find a bigger role for himself on the open market as well.
The Bulls can offer that in the form of a starting spot if they see a fit. On paper, there could be a good one. In addition to his positional size (6-foot-5) and facilitating capabilities, Dinwiddie averaged 7.7 free-throw attempts per game in 2019-20, the fourth consecutive season he increased that average. He also ranked ninth in the NBA in drives per game (17.1) that season.
The Bulls in 2020-21 ranked dead last in the NBA in free-throw attempts per game (17.5) and 26th in drives per game (40.8) as a team. Generating rim pressure off the dribble was a consistent problem for Bulls not named Zach LaVine. And at his end-of-season press conference, Artūras Karnišovas highlighted the free-throw attempt statistic as indicative of a lack of team-wide assertiveness.
“Resilient and mature teams rise above challenges,” Karnišovas said. “Our three constant problems, actually indicated by (head coach) Billy (Donovan) as well, on the floor were turnovers — we were 27th in turnovers — fouling and not getting to the free-throw line. And we were last in the league in getting to the free-throw line, so that’s aggression.”
Dinwiddie shot just 30.8 percent from 3-point range that season, another oft-stated priority of this regime, but finished with a 34.6 percent assist rate that rated in the 97th percentile for his position and 11.3 percent turnover rate that rated in the 71st percentile, according to Cleaning the Glass.
So there’s something there. Depending on the price, it would take some maneuvering for the Bulls to get into the running for Dinwiddie’s services. Renouncing all their current free agents and waiving Tomáš Satoranský and his partially guaranteed salary would generate roughly $16.5 million in cap space; waiving Thad Young and his partially guaranteed salary on top of that would get them to $23.7 million.
(If Tuesday’s draft lottery nets the Bulls a top four pick, both of those figures change drastically, as they could be adding a cap hold between $7.2 million and $10.1 million to their books. But that would be good, potentially franchise-altering news.)
There’s also the possibility of a sign-and-trade, or the possibility that the Nets wind up bringing Dinwiddie back using his Bird rights, which allow them to go over the salary-cap line to re-sign him.
Regardless, with Sunday’s news, Dinwiddie moves from the uncertain bucket of free-agent point guards into the available category. That’s a notable development for the Bulls, who Karnišovas said will be aggressive in pursuing improvements for a roster that has thus far underachieved.