NBA Free Agency

Giannis' Antetokounmpo's son Liam sports Michael Jordan Bulls onesie as virtual fan

Giannis' Antetokounmpo's son Liam sports Michael Jordan Bulls onesie as virtual fan

The Bulls will enter the fall (winter?) of 2020 fairly inflexible from a roster standpoint. But it's never too soon to look ahead to a loaded free agent class in 2021.

Kawhi Leonard and Paul George own opt-outs that offseason. Anthony Davis could maneuver his complex contract situation to free himself up, too. And the class is set to be headlined by soon-to-be two-time reigning MVP Giannis Antetokounmpo. The Bulls, for their part, are projected to have a wealth of cap room to toy with — coronavirus complications pending.

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Now, as it stands, the Bulls' rebuild probably isn't at a point to consider any of the above, or other top-line targets, realistic options. But even the shadow of a chance that a player like Giannis might make the trip down I-94 to Chicago is enough to get fans salivating and graphic-designers whirring. Especially on the heels of the summer of "The Last Dance."

This should inspire a bit of buzz, too:

That's right. Giannis' new-born son Liam was spotted in virtual attendance of the Bucks' Tuesday afternoon seeding game against the Nets. And he was clad in a Michael Jordan Bulls onesie.

So, we know where the family stands. Whether dad follows suit remains to be seen. The watch is on.

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Bulls offseason watch: Key dates for 2020 NBA Draft, Free Agency

Bulls offseason watch: Key dates for 2020 NBA Draft, Free Agency

Tuesday begins the staggered, three-day voyage of 21 NBA teams to Walt Disney World Resort near Orlando, Fla. for the 2019-20 season restart (the Raptors have already arrived).

For the Bulls, and Bulls fans, that’s not of direct consequence. Excluded from the bubble, supporters and observers will be limited to loose Bulls ties — enter: Joakim Noah and Jimmy Butler — and draft lottery dreaming as the NBA’s best battle for the 2019-20 crown in Orlando.

But that doesn’t mean the next five months, which will comprise an unprecedented offseason in the league’s history, don’t hold significance for the Bulls. A likely third consecutive top-10 draft choice is on the way for the team, as are key contractual deadlines for players currently on the roster and a decision on the future of head coach Jim Boylen.

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There remains much unknown about the 2020 NBA offseason — chiefly, from the Bulls’ perspective, the salary cap, luxury tax line and status of the predraft process, the last of which has been halted due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Also now in play is the matter of a possible eight-team bubble being constructed in Chicago for the squads not joining the league in Orlando, though there are hurdles galore on that front.

What we do have is a framework of a reported schedule to track through the remainder of the summer and ensuing autumn. Here are some key dates for Bulls fans to watch for the time being (all of which are, of course, subject to change given the potentially fluid nature of the league’s calendar amid the pandemic):

NBA Draft

Aug. 17: Early entry deadline for prospects

The last day for underclassmen not automatically eligible to declare for the NBA draft to state their intentions. Moved back from its original date of April 26, as reported by ESPN’s Adrian Wojnarowski. Scott Phillips has you covered tracking who’s already declared or testing the waters.

Aug. 25: Draft Lottery

Typically, the early entry deadline and draft lottery would be nearly two months apart, with the combine sandwiched in between. But with the pandemic moving predraft interviews to Zoom, and live, remote workouts currently prohibited, it appears the league will squeeze both into an eight-day span, also per Wojnarowski.

The Bulls have selected No. 7 three years in a row, using those picks to draft core pieces in Lauri Markkanen, Wendell Carter Jr. and Coby White. And even as the world erupts into chaos around them, they slot seventh in the lottery ranks once again this season. 

But with the NBA smoothing its lottery odds before the 2019 draft, the Bulls will have a modicum higher of a chance of leaping. They enter the lottery with a 7.5% chance of nabbing the No. 1 pick, 32% shot at vaulting into the top four and 19.7% odds of staying locked at No. 7. They also own mathematical chances at No. 8 (34.1%), No. 9 (12.9%), No. 10 (1.3%) and even 11 (0.03%).

Last nugget of note: This year’s lottery intentionally falls 11 days after the conclusion of the NBA’s eight-game seeding round in Orlando; while the eight teams left out of the bubble are locked into their current slots, the final six teams in the 14-team lottery will be populated by those who fall short of the playoffs. Right now, those six are the New Orleans Pelicans, Portland Trail Blazers, Sacramento Kings, San Antonio Spurs, Phoenix Suns and Washington Wizards. If any of them vault into the postseason during the seeding games and play-in round, they’ll flip places with the team they usurp outside of the lottery. Both the lottery order, and the order of selections 15 - 30 will be determined by team record from when the league suspended play on March 11. 

Oct. 6: Early withdrawal deadline for prospects

Any not automatically eligible prospects that declared for the draft on or before Aug. 17 will have the opportunity to rescind that declaration (and maintain NCAA eligibility) on or before Oct. 6, per Wojnarowski.

Oct. 16: 2020 NBA Draft

The draft this year will fall three days after a potential Game 7 of the NBA Finals (Oct. 13), according to Wojnarowski. Broadcast, location and logistical specifics appear to be undetermined as of yet.

RELATED: 2020 NBA Mock Draft 6.0

Option/Offer Deadlines and Extension Eligibilities

From there, a few key decision days for players already on the Bulls’ roster loom. First and certainly not least...

Oct. 17: Otto Porter Jr.’s player option deadline

As reported by ESPN’s Bobby Marks, Otto Porter Jr. will have until Oct. 17 to decide whether or not to exercise his roughly $28.5 million player option for the 2020-21 season. His opting in appears all but a certainty (especially coming off an injury-riddled season in which he appeared in just 14 games, and amid a potentially tumultuous cap environment), and will essentially seal the Bulls’ fate as an over-the-cap team this offseason. 

Heaping that $28.5 million figure onto the Bulls’ books would bring the team’s guaranteed salaries for the 2020-21 season to $106,027,707 (numbers via Spotrac) before addressing restricted free agents or contracts for any draftees. The latest reputable pre-pandemic cap projection, from Wojnarowski, was $115 million, which could now be subject to change.

Oct. 17: Qualifying offer deadline

Also on Oct. 17 is the last day for teams to extend qualifying offers to restricted free agents, per Marks. The Bulls have three: Kris Dunn, Denzel Valentine and Shaq Harrison. Full breakdown on the considerations at play for each here.

Oct. 18: Lauri Markkanen, Zach LaVine, Porter and Cristiano Felicio become extension eligible

The next day, per Marks, three Bulls starters become extension eligible — Markkanen on a rookie-scale basis, while LaVine and Porter are of the veteran designation.

Markkanen’s case is among the more curious in the league. His third season saw marked regression from his second in usage, opportunity and production, but given his skillset and considerable potential, he still represents a possible building block for the Bulls moving forward. A year ago — assuming expected development — we might have thought we’d be pondering a max for Markkanen at this point. Now, with a new front office regime in place, his market value is anyone’s guess. Maybe Arturas Karnisovas and Markkanen’s representation find an amenable compromise before the start of the 2020-21 season. But perhaps just as likely is Karnisovas wanting to see more from him, and Markkanen taking the opportunity to bet on himself making a leap in a contract year and earning some extra dough, as Jimmy Butler did five years ago.

RELATED: Bulls mailbag: Which free agents fit? Lauri Markkanen extension talks?

LaVine has two years and $39 million remaining on a contract he has become one of the more team-friendly in the league given his production since returning full-time from his ACL tear. Porter and Felicio’s deals enter their final years in 2020-21. Frankly, it’d be surprising to see any of them consummate extensions before Karnisovas and new general manager Marc Eversley get a chance to see the Bulls up close and in action.

Free Agency

Oct. 18: Free Agency opens

According to Wojnarowski, free agency is expected open Oct. 18 at 6 p.m. ET, with the moratorium period running from Oct. 19 - 23, and lifting on Oct. 24.

As mentioned, the Bulls will likely be out of the running for any appreciable cap space when that window opens. But they will have their (as of now) non-taxpayer mid-level exception to work with — possible targets for which you can peruse in K.C. Johnson’s latest mailbag.

And for what it’s worth, that luxury tax line could be worth monitoring. In a tweet Monday, Marks mentioned a previous projection of $139 million for next season’s luxury tax. That projection would have to plunge pretty far for the Bulls to need sweating it out, but in the current climate, who knows what could be on the table? If the Bulls somehow found themselves over that line, the difference in last seasons non-taxpayer and taxpayer MLE was about $3.5 million (~$9.2 million to $5.7 million).

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Bulls fan viewing guide to NBA restart: Joakim Noah ring watch, free agency impact

Bulls fan viewing guide to NBA restart: Joakim Noah ring watch, free agency impact

The schedule is set, and somehow, someway, it appears the NBA is back after what will have been a four-and-a-month long hiatus due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

The Bulls, though, are decidedly not. As you surely know, they were left out of the league’s 22-team restart plan housed at Disney World. 

But that doesn’t mean there aren’t reasons for Bulls fans to tune into the eight remaining seeding games and ensuing 16-team playoff that will kick off July 30 and run through mid-October.

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Here’s a rundown of some Bulls-related angles to keep hip to during the season restart:

Ex-Bulls go ring chasing

Two prominent former Bulls find themselves in pole position for shots at a first NBA title this season: Joakim Noah with the Los Angeles Clippers and Kyle Korver with the Milwaukee Bucks.

Noah has yet to appear in a game for the Clips this season, as he officially inked a 10-day deal with the team (which has since been extended through the end of the season) just two days before play was suspended. But his journey to this point is quite a story. After a resurgent campaign with the Memphis Grizzlies in 2018-19, Noah, in a freak accident, sliced his achilles while trying to move an ice tub; though he didn’t rupture it, it took six months to rehab. 

It’s unclear how much of the on-court ability he showed in Memphis will still be there when the time comes, but he slots in as the third-string center for the Clippers behind Ivica Zubac and Sixth Man of the Year candidate Montrezl Harrell — at the very least, Noah will bring heart, hustle and muscle, and a veteran presence. His late-career comeback bid — and quest for Ring No. 1 — adds a really fun wrinkle for Bulls fans grasping for ways to get emotionally invested in the restart. It’d be awesome to see Jo ascend the NBA’s mountaintop, even if not in Bulls red.

 

And regardless of how much Noah actually plays… Man, would a Western Conference finals that pitted his Clippers and LeBron James’ Lakers against one another bring back memories. The NBA is wasting no time giving us what we want in that respect:

 

Korver, meanwhile, has bounced from contender to contender seemingly his entire career, but he now finds him situated with about as prime a chance at a chip as in any of his 17 seasons in the league. The Bucks own the best record in the NBA (53-12) entering play and all-time statistical credentials; off the pine, Korver appeared in 50 games for Milwaukee before the pause, averaged 16.7 minutes per game and hit 41.5% of his 3-pointers on 4.1 attempts per contest. He’ll be instrumental to any run the Bucks make.

As of this writing, old pals Jerian Grant (Washington Wizards), D.J. Augustin (Magic), Justin Holiday (Pacers), Robin Lopez (Bucks) Rajon Rondo (Lakers) and, of course, Jimmy Butler (Heat, who are one step lower on the contender totem pole), are also set to enter the bubble. — Schaefer

Mid-level exception targets?

The Bulls are not projected to be major players in 2020 free agency when the window opens on Oct. 18. Once Otto Porter Jr. opts in — and it feels apt to talk about that decision in such certain terms — to his roughly $28.5 million player option, the Bulls can expect to be well over the cap (wherever it lands), especially with decisions on restricted free agents Kris Dunn, Denzel Valentine and Shaq Harrison looming, and a likely top-10 draft choice on the way.

 

So, the new management regime will be working the margins this offseason. That likely means using the non-taxpayer (assuming the cap doesn’t fall so far the Bulls leap over that line) mid-level exception to try and upgrade on the outer edges of the roster. Last offseason, the non-taxpayer MLE broke out to about $9.3 million. This year, it’s anyone’s guess due to the uncertainty surrounding the league’s revenue due to the COVID-19 pandemic, and other factors we’ll get to in a moment. 

Whatever that final figure ends up being, it’ll be role player territory — ideally on the wing. In his latest mailbag, K.C. tossed out some names that could be in the Bulls wheelhouse with that exception. Of that handful that are on bubble-team rosters: Jae Crowder (Heat), Wes Matthews (Bucks; player option), Kentavious Caldwell-Pope (Lakers; player option), Glenn Robinson III (76ers) and Alec Burks (76ers). Speaking speculatively, some others that could be worth keeping on the radar: Stanley Johnson (Raptors; player option), Justin Holiday (Pacers), Marvin Williams (Bucks), Kent Bazemore (Kings).

None of this is nothing worth writing home about yet, but it’s worth keeping half an eye on. — Schaefer

Potential 2021 free agency ramifications

The Bulls are projected to have significant cap space for a stellar free-agent class in 2021. But there remains much unknown regarding the salary cap, which faced potential stresses even before the pandemic because of a loss of revenue from China in the fallout from Rockets general manager Daryl Morey’s comments about Hong Kong last fall.

If this restart doesn’t crown a champion, well, there’s no telling what can happen to the league’s books — and the Bulls’ and other teams’ free agency plans. It’s possible, if not likely, the league would move to void the current collective bargaining agreement with the players’ association.

Barring a trade, 2021 free agency marks the next best opportunity for the new management team of Arturas Karnisovas and Marc Eversley to significantly upgrade the roster. It’s a deep class.

So maximizing whatever revenue is possible for the remainder of the 2019-20 season thanks to TV contracts is important for the league’s bottom line.

There is talk that the league will keep the salary cap at around the $109 million it stands this season. That’s $6 million less than current projections, but still would place the Bulls as potential major players in free agency.

If this restart doesn’t reach the finish line, all bets are off. — Johnson

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