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How the Bulls can land a max-salary free agent

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USA TODAY

How the Bulls can land a max-salary free agent

The Bulls will enter free agency with approximately $20 million in cap space. That’s far short of the amount needed to sign a max-salary player, but there is a path for the team to land a star — if one chooses to play in Chicago. With rumors out of Brooklyn that D’Angelo Russell would be on his way out if the Nets sign Kyrie Irving, coupled with the uncertain futures of both Klay Thompson and Kevin Durant, Bulls fans are wondering “what if.” I’ll let much wiser people debate if the Bulls should extend an offer to any of these players; I’ll outline how it could happen.

In terms of this discussion, it’s very important to note that not all free agents are eligible for the same max salary. The league has three tiers of max free agents, broken up by years of service. Players with 0-6 years of service are in one tier, 7-9 years in another, and 10+ years of service in the last.

Players in the more experienced tiers can get a much larger contract over players coming off their rookie contracts. The wonderful Larry Coon explains this in detail in his CBA FAQ. The exact 2019-20 salary cap will be announced at the end of the month. It’s currently projected at $109 million, and for this scenario, we use that number. Essentially, tier 1 players can get 25 percent of the cap, tier 2 30 percent and players with 10+ years of experience can get 35 percent of a team’s cap.

Russell would fall into the 0-6 years tier, earning him a first year salary (the one that matters in terms of cap space) of approximately $27.2 million. Klay Thompson has eight seasons of experience and is eligible for a first-year salary of about $32.7 million. His teammate Kevin Durant can sign a max deal starting at $38 million.

Step 1- Get medical waiver on Omer Asik’s $3 million cap hit.

The Bulls will find out by June 30 if the league approves their waiver request on Asik. The former Bulls big has a $3 million cap hit of guaranteed money on the books for the 2019-20 season. The team waived Asik back in October and it looks like his NBA career may be over after dealing with arthritis and Crohn’s Disease. The NBA is likely to approve the Bulls request, and they’ll get that money back in cap space for free agency.

Step 2- Waive and stretch Cristiano Felicio

The league allows teams to waive players and stretch their contracts over several years to lessen the immediate cap hit a team takes. Felicio is owed approximately $15.7 million over the next two seasons. The stretch provision means teams can spread out the cap hit of a waived player twice the years remaining on the deal, plus one. This translates to a cap hit of approximately $3.1 million over the next fives years instead of the amount he’s owed. This means the Bulls would gain an additional $5 million in cap space this summer.

Accomplishing steps 1 and 2 will clear enough cap space for the Bulls to sign a 0-6 year free agent, so if Russell wants to play for the Bulls and the front office feels he’d be a good fit, it would only take these two steps to sign him. It gets more complicated for the more experienced free agents.

Step 3- Trade Kris Dunn for a 2nd round pick.

Dunn is owed $5.3 million for the 2019-20 season. Trading him for a second round pick would net the Bulls a cap saving of $4.4 million. The reason the Bulls don’t get to keep the full amount is that teams have to account for a roster spot against the cap when they go below 12 players. Trading Dunn would get them into the 7-9 years tier and allow them to sign Klay Thompson (or any of the other free agents at that tier).

Step 4A- Trade out of the first round of the 2019 draft

Here is where it gets a lot more difficult for the Bulls if they want to sign a 10+ year free agent. They have to clear about $5 million more in cap space. Let’s safely assume they aren’t going to trade Zach LaVine, Lauri Markkanen or Wendell Carter for pennies on the dollar just to clear cap space. Otto Porter’s contract makes him a very unlikely trade candidate as well. Trading the No. 7 pick for a future first nets them another $4.4 million, close enough to get to that max slot with other small moves.

The major flaw with this is the draft is June 20 and free agency starts 10 days later. You’re not going to get a commitment from any superstar worth this amount until June 30, so essentially this option is off the table.

Step 4B- Trade Denzel Valentine and Chandler Hutchison for second round picks

This option is a lot more likely if the Bulls can sign a superstar in the 10+ years tier. Hutchison showed promise in his rookie season, and despite missing all of last season, Valentine should be able to get you something (especially if packaged with Hutchison). I doubt the team wants to punt on Hutchison after one season, but they'd have to, if this was the only thing in the way of signing a franchise changing star.

If you want to dream for the Bulls, our friends at NBC Sports Boston put together a list of the top free agents available. The likelihood is that the Bulls will use their cap space to sign a few veteran free agents to give them some much needed depth, but should they dream big, there is a path to be in play for a star.

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Why Coby White is the most important Bull to watch down the stretch

Why Coby White is the most important Bull to watch down the stretch

The All-Star break has come and gone, and the Bulls’ rebuild remains in relative disarray. A combination of injuries, individual regression and daunting opponents on the horizon leaves little hope for a playoff push in the short-term, and uncertainty regarding crucial pieces in the long-term.

For those reasons, all eyes will be on Coby White down the final 27-game stretch of the season. Or at least, they should be.

The Bulls, after all, are just eight months removed from investing the No. 7 overall pick in the 2019 draft on White — the same number selection they used on Wendell Carter Jr. and Lauri Markkanen in each of the two years prior. At the time, White profiled as a perfect last addition to a burgeoning core four of Zach LaVine, Markkanen and Carter — a lightning-rod scorer the team could bring along slowly off the bench with veteran Tomas Satoransky in tow. All while straddling dual objectives of winning and developing.

But, to borrow an old quarterback adage: Sometimes if you have two objectives, you really have none. The Bulls haven’t won. And White’s rookie season has been turbulent. In flashes, he’s inspired attention, respect and even awe — his first month in the NBA featured a record-smashing seven 3-pointer (all in the fourth quarter) performance against the Knicks, a six 3-pointer outing his next time on the floor and four 20-point games, overall. Seventeen games in, averages of 13.9 points, 3.6 rebounds and 2.4 assists with 35.6% long-range shooting (on good volume) seemed an exciting base from which to work.

Since the early going, however, those aforementioned outbursts have become fewer and farther between. White has just one 20-point game since Nov. 23 (averaging 9.9 points per game), and his numbers across the board have cumulatively either stagnated or dipped. A perusal of his basic month-to-month offensive splits reveals noticeable choppiness, both in production and opportunity:

Month Games Minutes per game Points per game Assists per game FG% 3P%
Oct. 5 23.3 12.6 2.8 40 30.8
Nov. 15 26.1 13.1 1.9 35.7 33
Dec. 14 22.6 9.4 2.4 37.7 40
Jan. 17 23.3 10.3 1.9 39 33.3
Feb. 4 29.1 11.5 6 30.8 27.6

“I think today's natural point guard — scoring, playmaking, being a leader, and just holding everybody accountable,” White said, when asked what his vision for himself as a lead guard is.White pointed to his on-ball work as the area he most wants to see improvement from himself for the rest of the season. Evolving into a true point guard is a strident aspiration of his. The Bulls, for their part, would gladly sign on for that outcome.Some of that is out of White’s hands. When Kris Dunn was forced into the starting lineup by injuries to Otto Porter Jr. and Chandler Hutchison in November, White was asked to play the part of a lead-guard and facilitator with the second unit to varying success (his most efficient offense comes in spotup scenarios). Coming off the bench all season, his running mates have been in constant flux, which has undoubtedly hurt his severely unflattering on/off splits. Still, White has handled every challenge hurled at him with unflinching professionalism, humility and determination.

“At the beginning it was kind of difficult,” White added of finding the balance between scoring and playmaking for others at the NBA level. “But now I'm starting to get better at it and making the right reads and just making the simple plays. I think ultimately, it's just making the simple plays and reading the defense.”

Here lies an area he has improved recently. Small sample size alert, but in the five games since Dunn sprained his MCL (including the game in which the injury occurred), White is averaging five assists per game — leagues above his season-long average of 2.4 — and his body control, patience in the halfcourt and finishing through contact have all steadily improved over the course of the season. The game is beginning to slow down for him.

 

“I think just playing consistently has been big for me. Being on the floor as a rookie and whatnot,” said White, who is averaging 28.2 minutes since Jan. 31. “I've made a lot of progress from when I was at Summer League until now. I think controlling the game a lot better, putting my teammates in position to succeed. So I feel like I've been doing that a lot better. I still have a long way to go, but I'm continuing to work at it.

That “long way to go” is mainly in shooting efficiency, a point White acknowledged. Of 272 players that have taken 200 field goal attempts this season, White is 261st in true shooting (47.7%) and 257th in effective field goal percentage (45.2%). In his last 11 games, he’s reached 50% shooting from the field only once, when he shot only six times in 19 minutes against the Pacers on Jan. 29. Generally speaking, the Bulls are 8.4 points per 100 possessions worse with him on the floor, per Cleaning the Glass, by far the lowest on the team of those that have logged over 1,000 minutes this season.

So is the song and dance of analyzing White. His virtues are tantalizing, the areas to improve inescapable. But if the Bulls make one thing their priority over the last 27 games of the season, it should be clearing up as much murk as possible around evaluating him. White and Markkanen represent the two players on the team that are simultaneously the most important to the Bulls’ future while also being shrouded in the most uncertainty, at present. They can’t afford to go into year four of this rebuild without clarity on both.

And in terms of White, specifically, the Bulls owe it to themselves to have as much information as possible at their disposal with another top-ten draft pick likely in the cards, and a top-heavy, guard-heavy 2020 class looming.

The opportunity to collect that information is nigh. As of Thursday, Dunn is set to miss at least four to six more weeks with an MCL sprain before being reevaluated; Hutchison will miss the team’s first game back post-All-Star with a flare-up in his shoulder; Carter and Porter are inching closer to returns, but neither have concrete timetables; and Markkanen and Denzel Valentine remain out, ambiguously. White, meanwhile, is one of just three Bulls — along with LaVine and Satoransky — to appear in all 55 games this season, though he has yet to make a start.

For now, Boylen said his development plan for White hasn’t changed in light of that brutal spate of injuries. But one way or another, he’ll get his shot.

“He cares, he wants it,” Boylen said. “Like all young players he's trying to establish himself in the league, and I just keep telling him he's doing that and just keep it simple and keep playing… He's a high character dude, so the future's bright.”

“The rookie experience is definitely humbling. It humbles you. It's up and down,” White said. “Patience – a lot of people just tell me patience, my time is coming.” 

Whenever that time comes, it will be worth watching.

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John Beilein reassigned to a different role within Cleveland Cavaliers organization

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USA TODAY

John Beilein reassigned to a different role within Cleveland Cavaliers organization

Coaching in the NBA is hard, even if you are one of the best college basketball coaches in the nation. It is something that basketball fans—especially those in Chicago—are reminded of time and time again, and John Beilein is the latest in the line of NCAA-to-NBA head coaches to make a failed transition. Shams Charania of The Athletic reported on Wednesday that the Cleveland Cavaliers and Beilein were parting ways after he resigned as head coach of the team. Charania later added that for the time being, Cleveland will be reassigning Beilein to an alternate role within the franchise. 

Beilein's NBA coaching career lasted 54 games, 216 games less than current Nebraska head coach Fred Hoiberg, who lasted 270 games with the Bulls after leaving the Iowa State program in 2015. Beilen's struggles were similar to Hoiberg in the fact that they both struggled to transfer their college coaching styles to the NBA, where they would be dealing with grown men rather than young college students. During Hoiberg's tenure with the Bulls, Jimmy Butler infamously called him out, stating that the Bulls needed to be "coached a lot harder at times," and that incident looks a lot like the dispute between Cavs center Tristan Thompson and Beilein, which boiled over during a game this season. 

There was also an incident this season in which Beilein mistakenly referred to his Cavaliers players as "thugs" in a film session, reportedly leading to the team intentionally playing songs with the word "thug" in it, further exacerbating an already difficult situation.

The big takeaway here is that there is a lot more than the X's and O's that goes into NBA coaching, and with player movement at an all-time high, college coaches are finding NBA roles more challenging than ever.

Beilein was one of the hottest coaching names in the business in 2019, coming off yet another successful season at the helm of the Michigan Wolverines, who were coming off of an Elite 8 appearance after making the National Title game the year before. Now Beilein is back out of NBA coaching, and the Bulls' rivals in Cleveland are now even more firmly entrenched in the rebuilding phase than they were before with relatively young (40 years old) J.B. Bickerstaff taking over. 

Beilein has three years and $12 million left on his Cavaliers contract, and sources have told ESPN's Adrian Wojnarowski previously that the Cavaliers and Beilein have agreed on a deal to pay him a portion of his 2019-20 salary. It has not yet publicly been stated what Beilein's new title within the Cavaliers organization will be. 

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