Even before Wednesday’s NBA Draft, the Bulls are making their philosophy known under new management and coaching.
Barring a last minute change, they plan to let Kris Dunn and Shaquille Harrison become unrestricted free agents, sources said, and will make Denzel Valentine a restricted free agent by tendering him his $4.7 million qualifying offer.
The moves underscore Artūras Karnišovas’ desire to fill the roster with two-way players with an emphasis on passing and shooting.
"I like high pace, moving the ball,” Karnišovas said back in April upon his hiring. “We were a very good passing team in Denver. It’s a very entertaining brand of basketball. I like multi-positional players. I like guys with high basketball IQ that play off each other, a read and react offense."
Dunn, whose 2019-20 season ended after 51 games because of a knee injury, finished second in the NBA last season by averaging two steals per game. He received four first- and 23 second-team votes for the two All-Defensive teams, recording the most points for a non-qualifier.
But 25.9 percent 3-point shooting, a regression from his career average, limited his offensive impact. Oftentimes, defenses would completely sag off Dunn in the half court, clogging driving and passing lanes in the process.
Dunn was the only player not to attend the Bulls’ voluntary minicamp in September, a move that general manager Marc Eversley chalked up to health. However, a source said the sprained right MCL in Dunn’s knee is fully healed and he’s expected to draw significant interest in free agency.
The Los Angeles Clippers are among several teams that are expected to show interest in Dunn, who was acquired from the Minnesota Timberwolves in the franchise-altering Jimmy Butler trade. Then-executive vice president John Paxson engaged in serious trade talks with the Boston Celtics in 2016 with an eye on drafting Dunn out of Providence, then found his trading partner a year later.
In 149 career games with the Bulls, including 119 starts, Dunn averaged 10.7 points, 5.1 assists and 1.8 steals.
As for Valentine, whose news was first reported by The Athletic’s Darnell Mayberry, he entered last season with high hopes after missing all of the 2018-19 season following reconstructive ankle surgery. But he landed in then-coach Jim Boylen’s doghouse and only permanently emerged late in the season.
Valentine's offseason commitment featured a strong showing in the Bulls’ bubble, where sources said his shooting, passing and leadership stood out. While not known as a lockdown defender, he has shown the ability to play solid team defense at times. And he’s a career 36.6 percent 3-point shooter with passing skills to boot.
Should Valentine accept his qualifying offer, he’ll be able to veto any trade he’s involved in this season. And though the Bulls lose the right to match any offer sheet Dunn signs by not extending the qualifying offer, they still own his Bird rights, meaning that, in the unlikely event they re-sign him (to a figure less than the qualifying offer), they could go over the salary cap line to do so. The Bulls do not own Harrison's Bird rights.
Assuming Valentine returns, Dunn signs elsewhere and the Bulls add a first-round pick Wednesday, they’ll have 14 guaranteed contracts. That had to factor into the decision on Harrison, which was first reported by ESPN’s Adrian Wojnarowski. Since the Bulls are rumored to be in the mix for free agency with their mid-level exception -- and own a second-round pick (No. 44 overall, which could very well turn into a draft-and-stash candidate) -- that means roster spots are at a premium.
The Bulls could create an additional roster spot by waiving seldom-used center Cristiano Felício. However, his expiring contract could come in handy at this season’s trade deadline.