It was widely thought that the Bulls were looking to the summer of 2019 to make a big splash in free agency, but the team might be looking to contend as soon as next season.

ESPN’s Adrian Wojnarowski reported on Tuesday night that the Bulls “are going to be sneaky in free agency. They’ve got a young core that people want to play with… they have sped up the rebuild.”

The Bulls will have enough flexibility that they can fairly easily free up enough cap space to sign a free agent to a max contract when free agency begins July 1. Right now I’m projecting them to enter July with just over $24 million in cap space. They can increase that amount by not signing several of their own free agents like David Nwaba, drafting a European player with the 22nd pick and agreeing to keep him overseas, waiving a player and ‘stretching’ his contract, or trading away salary to a team with cap space.

A ‘max’ salary is based on years in the league and the league’s actual cap. The latest projections have the cap for next season at $101 million. A 10-year vet like Lebron James will command a first-year salary of approximately $36 million. A player like Marcus Smart would be eligible for a first-year salary of around $26 million next season. That first-year salary is essentially the only number that matters when trying to fit a contract into a team’s cap space.

The centerpiece of last year’s Jimmy Butler deal, Zach LaVine, is a restricted free agent this summer, and the Bulls would wait to re-sign him until after inking a potential max free agent. LaVine’s cap hold is just $9.6 million this summer, and as long as they accounted for that amount, they could go over the cap in signing LaVine to a long-term deal.

 

Our Bulls pregame and postgame host Mark Schanowski pointed out several free agents the Bulls could pursue:

It is believed that the Rockets will match any offer that Clint Capela gets, but if general manager Daryl Morey is pursuing LeBron, It could open a window for the Bulls to swoop in and sign the Rockets center. Teams can negotiate with free agents starting July 1 with players eligible to sign contracts on July 6.