Chicago Bulls: Playing Fact or Fiction with Pre-Draft Rumors
Last year, the Chicago Bulls were ousted early on in the finals.
If that wasn’t disappointing enough, they lost their star player and 2011 MVP, Derrick Rose, for the bulk of the 2013 season when he tore his ACL. This leaves a hole at the starting point guard spot.
There is also a proven need for a second scorer, even after Rose returns, which has spurned speculation that Luol Deng is being “shopped” so the Bulls can have a chance to move up in the draft.
There were other issues that affected the Bulls. Carlos Boozer, who is being paid $15 million a year, had a relatively mundane postseason, as he scored just 13.5 points per game and shot a meager .435 true shooting percentage.
There are three players, Kyle Korver, Ronnie Brewer and C.J. Watson, who have non-guaranteed contracts.
Finally, there are players who aren’t under contract for next year. Of these, the one who has drawn the most attention is restricted free agent Omer Asik.
Because of all of these things, a team which was relatively complete going into the postseason has been beset with a plethora of rumors. Which ones are true and which are bogus? We’ll explore them one by one.
The Bulls Will Amnesty Carlos Boozer
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The first and biggest question to ask is whether the Bulls will be amnestying Carlos Boozer. I say this is a question because it's really not a "rumor" in the sense that no major media outlets, or even minor ones for that matter, have reported it will happen.
That's because it won't.
The common misperception is that if the Bulls relieve themselves of Boozer, they will have $15 million to spend elsewhere. That is not taking into consideration all the details that are involved, though.
If you want to see the full details of the Bulls' salary situation, you can see it here. The Bulls, if they maintain the roster next year, will have $76 million in salary, which is well over the tax threshold.
They also have about $3 million in cap holds. For those who don’t know what a “cap hold” is, it means that’s money allocated to your cap space to account for your own free agents. This rule prevents teams from filling up their cap space and then using Bird Rights to re-sign your own players.
For example, it’s why the Heat weren’t able to sign Chris Bosh and LeBron James, then use money to add more depth before signing Dwyane Wade to his deal. The cap hold, which is 130 percent of a player's+ previous salary or the rookie salary for draft slots, is added on to your existing salaries.
Teams can renounce their rights to the players and thereby free up cap space if they desire.
So the point of all of this is that the Bulls are going to keep their draft hold on Omer Asik for sure (more on that later). They may or may not do so on John Lucas III (more on that later too). They also have their cap hold for their draft pick. Even if they just exercise their rights on their draft pick and Asik, that’s going to put them at $79 million.
The luxury tax threshold is 70.2 million. The mid-level exception goes down from $5 million to $3 million if you are in the luxury tax. This means if the Bulls waive Carlos Boozer, the only benefit would be that they can sign a $5 million player instead of a $3 million player.
Even if they waive Kyle Korver, Ronnie Brewer and C.J. Watson as well as amnesty Boozer, they would still have to have veteran minimum cap holds for their remaining players of $854,000 per player. That would mean they would only be $2.7 million under the cap. If they didn’t exercise their rights on Asik, that would climb to $4.4 million (once you account for the extra cap hold for another veteran’s minimum player).
Add in the mini-mid-level exception for teams below the cap, and you climb all the way up to $6.9 million. I know it sounds complicated, but that’s the number you need to know.
The most the Bulls could sign a free agent for without making a trade is $6.9 million. That would involve losing Carlos Boozer, Ronnie Brewer, Omer Asik and C.J. Watson, though.
Is there any player in free agency who is obtainable for $6.9 million that’s worth all that? That’s why the Bulls won’t be amnestying Carlos Boozer.
That’s also why there’s no “real” rumors. Mostly what there is is a lot of speculation declaring how the Bulls must do it. But real NBA GMs don’t get the benefit of working in a microcosm. If you want to amnesty Boozer, you have to actually find a way to make the Bulls a better team because you did so.
In a year or two, when Nikola Mirotic becomes available, it becomes both a lot more plausible and possible because the cost of Mirotic won’t be that of a free agent. It will be that of a late round draft pick.
It also makes a bit more sense if you take in conjunction with the Luol Deng trade rumors. We’ll address that next.
The Bulls Shopping Luol Deng
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One thing that I look at when determining the validity of rumors is who is saying it? Is it coming from multiple voices? Do they have access? Is it coming from local media as well as national media? All of these things play into things.
For example, when Derrick Rose allegedly told management that he wanted Boozer traded for Pau Gasol, it struck me immediately that this story was being “leaked” by the Spanish media. How would they have access to Derrick Rose? Why would Rose talk to them?
It makes a lot more sense that Pau Gasol’s agent wanted to feel this out. Gasol and the Spanish media would logically have more of a connection.
Additionally, none of the local media had anything to say about it except that it wasn’t true.
So having said that, I’ve looked at the sources regarding the Deng rumors, and that seems to have merit. Local sources, Mike McGraw, of the Daily Herald, K.C. Johnson of the Tribune and Sam Smith of Bulls.com have all reported on this, and these are three of the most respected voices in the Bulls journalistic community.
Furthermore, their “sources” are real, and not their cousin Freddy, who is friends the cousin of the sister of the brother of the guy who mops floors at the United Center. They don’t need to tell the specific source to be reliable, as they have access.
So I can tell you that I have little that doubt that Deng is being shopped. To whom and for whom is another story. All of the specific trades I’ve read about have been speculation on the part of writers.
From there you have to look at what makes sense, and day dream, but there’s no rumors of specific talks with anyone regarding specific players. K.C. Johnson speculated about a trade up to get Harrison Barnes. Sam Smith has multiple scenarios, including moving up in the draft or making a grab for Tyreke Evans.
In an online chat, Chad Ford of ESPN speculated a trade of Jose Calderon and the No. 8 pick for Deng and No. 29. Bear in mind, though this was speculation in an online chat, not a breaking news story.
None of the writers are passing off their speculation as anything other than that, but often people, in repeating it, say, “I heard they might trade Deng for Evans.”
Those are different animals. The only “source” you need for speculation is your own imagination and some common sense.
The bottom line is that the Bulls are shopping Deng, but to whom and for what is all a matter of speculation for now. Probably, if there was anything substantial right now we would be hearing more rumor and less speculation.
If the Bulls do trade Deng, they stand the chance of freeing up some cap space in doing so. Here, the next thing you have to consider is whether there’s really a trade that improves them.
Would having Evans be nice? Yes, definitely. Then you don’t have Deng anymore either though. That’s not so nice. So are you any better?
The Bulls Are Looking to Sign Jason Kidd or Steve Nash
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The next issue is what to do about the point guard hole. All indications are that Derrick Rose will be back at some point next year, so we’re not going to entertain the notion of “tanking” the season.
Most of the speculation for a point guard has revolved around two veteran names, Jason Kidd and Steve Nash. According to Nick Fridell, this is “unlikely,” as they would be asked to take a huge pay cut.
The idea of Chicago being interested in them is not mere speculation, but rumor confirmed by Aggrey Sam of CSN Chicago.
Fridell might be wrong. Nash has expressed openness to playing in New York, who can’t pay any more than Chicago. Jason Kidd has expressed interest in actually playing for Chicago and has said he’d be willing to play back up to Rose when he comes back.
There are those who have tried to suggest that either player would pick Miami over Chicago, but that’s perplexing to me. Not that they wouldn’t want to play for the Heat, but that the Heat are hardly in need of a player who commands the ball. Their biggest need is a low post player (even if they win the title, it’s still their biggest need), and Nash and Kidd aren’t filling that need.
Also, teams like the Heat and Knicks don’t have more to offer than the $3 million that Chicago does.
If the Bulls can get to the postseason with a healthy Derrick Rose, they are a contender for the title. Much has to do with when he comes back. If he can get time to work himself back into game shape, the Bulls could very much threaten for a title next year, particularly if they have a point guard like Nash or Kidd.
Right now, Kidd is the more likely scenario of the two. Considering that the Bulls have expressed interest in him and he in them, it’s certainly not a closed subject. Kidd would be a great benefit because Rose would be able to learn more of the nuances of the position with Kidd there to mentor him.
The Bulls Are in Danger of Losing Omer Asik
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The easiest rumors to “dissect” are the ones where the “source” is not only disclosed, but quite public in their statements. Such is the case with Gar Forman and Omer Asik. According to ESPN.com, Forman said,
Omer is a restricted free agent this summer, which means we've got an opportunity to talk to him about a new contract on July 1. And obviously other teams will have the opportunity to talk to him also. We will be able to match any offer he'll receive on the open market place, but it's our goal to have conversations with him the very first day, and we see him as a key piece to our team moving forward. We think he has shown the potential to continue to improve, and it's our goal that Omer Asik will be a Chicago Bull in the foreseeable future.
Nothing to speculate about here. The Bulls will make an effort to re-sign Asik. Unless one of the rumored teams offers an unseemly sum of money, expect him to be back in a Bulls uniform.
The Bulls Will Break Up the Bench Mob, at Least in Part
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The Bulls have three players, C.J. Watson, Kyle Korver and Ronnie Brewer, with non-guaranteed contracts. Technically, Korver’s is guaranteed for half a million. However, one of the three isn’t likely to return. According to K.C. Johnson, none of the three is confident that it’s them.
I would probably retain some confidence if I were Korver, but I’d worry more if I were Watson, and especially Brewer.
Korver had tremendous improvement on the defensive end last year and lived up to his contract. More importantly, they Bulls simply don’t have anyone else on the roster who does what he does, which is make three-point shots with his eyes closed.
On the other hand, the Bulls have Jimmy Butler waiting in the wings (see how I did that). Butler does pretty much what Brewer does, but he does it for less money. He brings energy and plays great defense. He also showed some ability to get to the line. In fact, Butler might be a better offensive player than Brewer.
Right now, the backup to the backup point guard is John Lucas III. Lucas had his moments last year for better and for worse. He over dribbles. He falls in love with his own shot. He also scores when he’s on.
The bottom line here is that the Bulls aren’t looking for a full-time starter. They’re looking for a part-time starter who will become a full-time backup. So, for example, if they land Jason Kidd in free agency, then the Bulls would start him and move him to the bench once Rose returns.
So then what do you do with the player who starts the season as the backup? If it’s Watson, you’re going to be nearly $5 million to your third-string point guard once Rose returns. That’s a lot of money, especially when you consider the luxury tax doubles it.
For that reason, I expect that Watson’s future is very tied to what happens with the free agency market. If the Bulls sign a point guard, he’ll be gone.