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Remedial Chaos Theory: The NBA cap spike and how it impacts the Bulls

Remedial Chaos Theory: The NBA cap spike and how it impacts the Bulls

There is an iconic line from "The Matrix" where Morpheus tells Neo, “Unfortunately, no one can be told what the Matrix is. You have to see it for yourself.” That line also applies to this year’s NBA free agency. You’ll read dozens of articles over the next few days talking about the salary cap spike and how it’s going to impact the league, but none of us really know what to expect on July 1. We’re going to have to see it for ourselves, and that includes the front office of every team in the league.

Gar Forman told CSN Chicago on Thursday night after the draft, “I don’t think anybody knows what’s going to happen come July 1 because there’s never been anything like this where there’s been such a spike in the cap.” The salary cap is going to increase from $70 million in 2015-16 to $94 million in 2016-17. That’s a nearly 35 percent increase in one season -- by far the biggest in league history.

The Cauldron's NBA salary cap expert Nate Duncan says to expect chaos for not just one, but two years: “I expect it to be completely insane, not only since there is a ton of space this year but because with the cap spiking to a projected $107 million next year (pending a new CBA) these ridiculous contracts could actually end up looking good by comparison with what is handed out a year from now.” (1)

Nate makes a fantastic point because we’re in store for two years of a completely unknown market. The best teams will plan for 2016 and 2017 simultaneously. How many free agents this year will opt for a two-year deal with a player option on the second year? We could witness a situation in which many top tier free agents this year go through the same process again next July.

Perhaps the most crucial aspect of the cap spike is the sheer number of teams that will have room to sign a player to a max salary. (2) RealGM.com projects that 13 teams will likely have space to sign a Tier 1 free agent to a max deal. In addition to the 13 teams that will likely have that amount of cap space, BasketballInsiders.com projects that up to 25 teams could hit that mark.

 In 2010, the year of one of the greatest free agents classes in history, just eight teams had space to sign a max player. Outside of Kevin Durant, this year’s class is not particularly strong, and there will be 20+ teams looking to spend a lot of money. There is no way a player is going to meet with 10 teams, let alone 20. There are going to be many teams who can’t even get a sitdown with a player they are interested in.

We were already going to see eye-popping contracts this summer just based on the cap spike. A player who would have made $12 million per season before is projected to make $16 million per season just based on the percentage increase. But the real wild card is the sheer number of teams with cap space. Duncan says the most intriguing part of free agency for him will be the secondary market: “I want to see what some of the role players get. How low do you have to get in the market before the money finally starts running out?” And to borrow from Donald Rumsfeld, this is the biggest known unknown. What happens when teams start to panic? You may see players eighth in a rotation get $10 million+ per season.

Think of it this way: Let’s say you and 20 of your friends have brand new iPhones and gift cards to get the premium versions of apps. But in this scenario, each app is only available to download once. Furthermore, that gift card expires after one week. Waze, Spotify, and Snapchat are going to go early and kudos to those of you who downloaded them. Then Instagram, Facebook and Pinterest get downloaded. At some point, one of you is going to get desperate, panic, and download the Meow Meow Beenz app you really didn’t want. (3)

Mentally prepare yourself for seemingly outrageous contracts. Harrison Barnes, despite struggling mightily in the playoffs, is going to get a max deal. Kent Bazemore is probably going to get $15 million per season, and E’Twaun Moore is probably going to get $7 million a season. I may even be low on those numbers. This is part of the "unintended consequences" that Adam Silver referenced in his annual All-Star address last February.

Let’s narrow the focus on how this impacts the Bulls. I’m projecting them to have approximately $24 million in cap space to spend.

That number could increase if they are aggressive in trying to trade Mike Dunleavy Jr, Tony Snell, or Taj Gibson (4).

The Bulls will be looking to add an impact player to the roster this July, but they face several challenges.

The Bulls will go after top-tier players, but a more realistic expectation is to sign two rotation players. Forman said this about his team’s strategy July 1: “My guess would be as opposed to one guy we’ll probably look to fill some holes and look for some guys that fit the plan moving forward.”

The key part of that quote is the “fit the plan moving forward” line. Forman has to plan for 2016 and 2017. Overpay for a marginal free agent now and that could greatly limit flexibility next summer. The 2017 free agent class may be better than 2010 and the 2017 draft will be one of the most talented in nearly a decade.

I think the smart play for the Bulls is to either overpay on a one-year deal for a starter, or sign two rotation players to a relatively team-friendly deal. They will want to maintain cap flexibility next summer.

The challenge for the Bulls (and every team) is finding the right player without getting into a bidding war that causes a team to overpay. I actually think the second and third wave of free agents signings will cause more people to be shocked than the “who got a max deal?” signings.

Teams have to be flexible and be willing to adjust course instantly. As long as the Bulls don’t remain rigid and treat free agency like Rickon running from Ramsey, they should be able to add quality depth to the roster. (5)

Footnotes

1. There is an opt-out in the current Collective Bargaining Agreement that allows either side—the owners or players—end the current CBA next July.

2. NBA free agents max salaries are based on their years of service in the league. Tier 1 free agents are 0-6 years. Tier 2 is 7-9 years. Tier 3 is 10+. First year max for Tier 1 in 2016-17 is $22.2m, Tier 2 is $26.6m, and Tier 3 is $31.1m. Please visit Larry Coon’s amazing CBA FAQ for more info

3. Downloading Meow Meow Beenz is only done on the Darkest Timeline.

4. The Bulls could also save a small amount of cap space but waiving two players with non-guaranteed contracts: Spencer Dinwiddie or Christiano Felicio. They could also save the salary of second-round pick Paul Zipser by entering an agreement that he play in Europe next season.

5. Don’t even get me started on why he was running in a straight line. I could write 1,000 words on that scene alone.

Wichita State's Landry Shamet could give Bulls backcourt versatility they desperately need

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USA TODAY

Wichita State's Landry Shamet could give Bulls backcourt versatility they desperately need

The Bulls are in need of talent. That much is clear after a 27-win campaign in which they finished ranked 28th in both offensive and defensive efficiency. They’ll add a pair of prospects next month, with two selections in the first round, and presumably take the next step in their rebuild. Talent is important, that can’t be overstated. The Bulls should stick to their board and take the best player available nine out of 10 times.

But as much as the Bulls need an influx of talent, versatility in the backcourt might be a close second. And while there isn’t really any player at No. 7 that would fit that bill – they could reach for Collin Sexton – there are a number of versatile guards, in a class dominated at the top by bigs, who could be there when the Bulls are on the clock at No. 22.

Meet Wichita State guard Landry Shamet. That classic NBA buzzword “versatile” is thrown around more often than ever before. The idea that a player can play multiple positions, can defend 1-3 or has the potential to learn two spots at the next level. Then there’s Shamet. He’s actually done it.

He arrived in Wichita as a shooting guard, the Shockers’ highest-rated recruit in nine years. A broken foot cost him all but three games of his freshman season, but he returned in 2016 and made an immediate impact, including a shift to point guard midway through the season; the move went seamlessly, as he led the Shockers in assists (3.3) and was 14th in the country in assist-to-turnover ratio (3.00). He matched Kentucky freshman point guard DeAaron Fox in the second round of the NCAA Tournament, scoring 20 points on 7 of 14 shooting in a loss.

He remained at point guard in his sophomore season and dominated, earning an honorable mention All-American nod while leading the team in points (14.9) assists (5.2), and 3-pointers (2.6) per game for a Shockers team ranked in the top 25 all year, and as high as No. 3 in December.

He had the ball in his hands plenty at Wichita State, but his shooting hardly suffered. A point guard in name, his shooting may be his best attribute. In his final two seasons Shamet shot 44.1 percent from deep on 354 attempts. He was the nation’s best spot-up shooter when Greg Marshall used him off the ball, and made multiple 3-pointers in 23 of 32 games.

His versatility can best be explained as such: He was the only player in the country – and just the 13th since 1992 – to average at least five assists, 2.5 3-pointers per game and shoot 44 percent from deep. The 6-foot-5 guard brings shooting, facilitating and length defensively to the table. It’s no cliché.

“I feel like I can step in and do whatever a coach needs me to do, whether it’s playing on the ball being a facilitator/playmaker/initiating offense, or a guy you’ve got to honor off the ball (as) a spot-up shooter,” Shamet said Friday at the NBA Draft Combine.

He struggled shooting in the 5-on-5 scrimmages over the two-day span, but also noted that he accomplished his main goal of defending well. His 6-foot-7 wingspan will be looked down upon in an era where measurements mean more than ever, but he also had a 39-inch max vertical (12th best) and a 3.11 three-quarters court sprint (10th best).

He admitted he’s more athletic than some give him credit for – as his vertical would suggest – but that his game is more “cerebral” and making the right decisions.

“I feel like I have a high IQ, a cerebral player,” he said. “I’m not going to wow you with crossing people up and doing things that a lot of the guys in the limelight do all the time. I feel like I’m a solid player, pretty steady across the board.”

It’s a skill set the Bulls could use. His numbers and measurements look similar to Denzel Valentine, who has drawn mixed reviews in two NBA seasons and is really the closest thing the Bulls have to a “versatile” guard; Valentine was one of 21 players with 140+ 3-pointers and 240+ assists, 12 of whom were All-Stars.

Shamet also has seven inches of vertical leap and a quicker sprint as far as Combine times are concerned, and he’s a more natural fit as a point guard than Valentine. Shamet said two players whose games he studies include Malcolm Brogdon, a less-than-flashy guard who won 2017 Rookie of the Year making just about every correct play. Brogdon possesses the same sneaky athleticism – ask LeBron James – has shot 40 percent from deep in two NBA seasons and has a 2.62 A/TO ratio.

“You don’t want to step out of your comfort zone and be somebody you’re not, so out here I’m trying to be me, be solid, (and) make the right play all the time,” he said. “I don’t rely on my athleticism, I like to think the game. So I try to just be myself.”

Kris Dunn is cemented as a point guard for the Bulls’ future, and the front office sang Cameron Payne’s praises at season’s end, though he’ll be a free agent after next season. But Dunn, Payne and Jerian Grant combined to shoot 33.6 percent from deep, and even Payne’s 38.5 percent shooting came in a limited, 25-game span.

Shamet wouldn’t be a home-run pick, and certainly not a sexy one. Those picks have burned the Bulls in the past with players like Tony Snell, Doug McDermott and even Valentine. Shamet is 21 years old and has had two major foot surgeries. But the skill set is one the Bulls have needed for some time. And in a draft where the Bulls will be searching for talent, adding a player who fits the bill as a team need as well makes sense.

Versatility is Wendell Carter Jr's calling card

Versatility is Wendell Carter Jr's calling card

Wendell Carter Jr. didn’t come to the NBA Draft Combine with the boastful statements made by his peers, refusing to declare himself the best player in a loaded draft.

But it doesn’t mean he lacks for confidence.

Carter Jr. is one of the more intriguing prospects in next month’s draft, even though he doesn’t come with the heavy fanfare of what many expect to be the top three picks.

One of those top three players was Carter Jr’s teammate at Duke, Marvin Bagley III, relegating Carter Jr. to a supporting role of sorts in his lone collegiate season. He couldn’t turn college basketball upside down as a freshman; He didn’t have the opportunity to, still averaging 13.5 points, 9.1 rebounds and 2.1 blocks in 29.1 minutes last season.

“Bagley's a phenomenal player. He came into college basketball, did what he was supposed to do,” Carter Jr. said. “My role changed a little bit but like I said, I'm a winner and I'll do what it takes to win.”

Like he said, considering it was the fifth time he patted himself on the back, describing his positive attributes. It didn’t come across as obnoxious, but more an affirmation, a reminder that his willingness to sacrifice personal glory shouldn’t overshadow his ability.

“I'm pretty versatile as a player,” Carter Jr. said. “I'd just find a way to fit into the team, buy into the system. I'm a winner. Do whatever it takes to win.”

When asked about his strengths, he didn’t hesitate to say he’s “exceptional” at rebounding and defending, certainly things teams would love to see come to fruition if he’s in their uniform next season.

Playing next to Bagley and not being the first option—or even the second when one considers Grayson Allen being on the perimeter—forced him to mature more in the little things.

“It was (an adjustment) at first,” Carter Jr. said. “I knew what I could do without scoring the ball. I did those things. I did them very exceptional. I found a way to stand out from others without having to put the ball in the basket.”

“I think it did do wonders for me. It definitely helped me out, allowed me to show I can play with great players but still maintain my own.”

If he’s around at the seventh slot, the Bulls will likely take a hard look at how he could potentially fit next to Lauri Markkanen and in the Bulls’ meeting with Carter Jr., the subject was broached.

“Great process. I was just thinking, me and him together playing on the court together would be a killer,” he said with a smile.

“I know they wanna get up and down the court more. The NBA game is changing, there's no more true centers anymore. They wanna have people who can shoot from the outside, it's something I'll have to work on through this draft process.”

An executive from a franchise in the lottery said Carter Jr’s game is more complete than Bagley’s, and that Carter Jr. could be the safer pick even if he isn’t more talented than his teammate.

It’s no surprise Carter Jr. has been told his game reminds them of Celtics big man Al Horford. Horford has helped the Celtics to a commanding 2-0 lead in the Eastern Conference Finals over the Cleveland Cavaliers, in no small part due to his inside-outside game and ability to ably defend guards and wings on the perimeter.

Horford doesn’t jump off the screen, but he’s matured into a star in his role after coming into the NBA with a pretty grown game as is. Carter Jr. has shown flashes to validate those comparisons.

“Whatever system I come to, I buy in,” Carter Jr. said. “Coaches just want to win. I want to win too. Whatever they ask me to do. If it's rebounding, blocking shots, setting picks, I'm willing to do that just to win.”

He was also told he compares to Draymond Green and LaMarcus Aldridge, two disparate players but players the Bulls have had a history with in the draft. The Bulls passed on Green in the first round of the 2012 draft to take Marquis Teague, and in Aldridge’s case, picked him second in 2007 before trading him to Portland for Tyrus Thomas.

As one can imagine, neither scenario has been suitable for framing in the Bulls’ front office, but whether they see Carter Jr. as a the next versatile big in an increasingly positionless NBA remains to be seen.

“I definitely buy into that (positionless basketball). I'm a competitor,” Carter Jr. said. “Especially on the defensive end. Working on my lateral quickness, just so I could guard guards on pick and roll actions. Offensively I didn't show much of it at Duke but I'm pretty versatile. I can bring it up the court. Can shoot it from deep, all three levels.”

His versatility has come into play off the floor as well, deftly answering questions about his mother comparing the NCAA’s lack of compensation for athletes to slavery.

Carter Jr’s mother, Kylia Carter, spoke at the Knight Comission on Intercollegiate Athletics recently and made the claim.

“The only system I have ever seen where the laborers are the only people that are not being compensated for the work that they do, while those in charge receive mighty compensation … The only two systems where I’ve known that to be in place is slavery and the prison system, and now I see the NCAA as overseers of a system that is identical to that.”

As if he needed to add context to the statement, Carter Jr. indulged the media members who asked his opinion on the matter—or at least, his opinion of his mother’s opinion.

“A lot of people thought she was saying players were slaves and coaches were slave owners,” Carter Jr. said. “Just the fact, we do go to college, we're not paid for working for someone above us and the person above us is making all the money.”

As sensible as his comment was, as direct as his mother’s statements were, he still finds himself in a position where he has to defend his mother. In some cases, teams asked him about her—but that’s not to say they disagreed with her premise.

“My mom is my mom,” Carter Jr. said. “She has her opinions and doesn't mind sharing them. In some aspects I do agree with her. In others...you'll have to ask her if you want to know more information.”

“I never thought my mom is ever wrong. But I think people do perceive her in the wrong way. Some things she does say...that's my mom. You have to ask her.”

The versatility to handle things out of his control, as well as understanding how his season at Duke prepared him for walking into an NBA locker room should be noted.

There’s no delusions of grandeur, despite his unwavering confidence.

“I'd come in and try to outwork whoever's in front of me,” Carter Jr. said. “That's the beauty of the beast. You come into a system, There's players in front of you 3-4-5 years and know what it takes.”

“I would learn those things and let the best man win.”