As has been reported and confirmed by multiple sources, the Houston Rockets plan to sign Chicago Bulls center and restricted free agent Omer Asik to a three-year, $25.1 million offer sheet as soon as possible (July 11), thus giving the Bulls three days to decide whether keeping one of the best defensive big men around is worth swallowing a "poison pill."
A three-year, $25.1 million deal for a great defensive center is actually pretty reasonable, but given the way that Daryl Morey and the Rockets have structured this particular deal— with a built-in "poison pill" in the third year (a salary structuring which backloads the bulk of the salary owed)—the Bulls are forced to make some difficult decisions on an accelerated schedule.
With Derrick Rose, Carlos Boozer and Joakim Noah all pulling in fairly massive annual salaries for the foreseeable future, the Bulls were already under luxury-tax watch. But adding a salary for Asik that would reportedly hit the $15 million mark in year three could prove untenable.
Morey's creative financing may have finally solidified Asik as the luxury that the Bulls—tax-averse as they are—truly can't afford.
Only a move like this one could make amnestying Carlos Boozer a real possibility, if only in a few years' time. The Bulls are faced with the possibility of losing a tremendous defender from their ranks for the sake of their total salary, the alternative of wiping a highly-paid scorer from their roster while still paying him a huge sum of money and the complication of being unable to play both Asik and Noah on the court at the same time.
Things have certainly gotten tricky for one of the most promising cores in the NBA, all because Morey and his staff identified an incredibly useful player and found a way to make Chicago squirm.
Factor in the Bulls' pressing need to add shot-creating help to both 1) offset Rose's absence in the season to come, and 2) make his job easier upon his return, and the Bulls are in quite a conundrum. The means to improve the roster—or even to maintain it—all seems to point to the luxury tax. With the new collective bargaining agreement giving the tax sharper teeth than ever, that's nothing to scoff at.
Ultimately, Chicago would likely be best served by matching the Rockets' offer and seeing how things play out over the next two seasons. Asik's salary won't take a leap until the final year of his deal, giving the Bulls precious time to work the phones in the hope of finding some reasonable alternative. Perhaps there's a more palatable option just out of current view, only to be seen with a little distance and a bit more patience.
Should the Bulls surrender Asik, there's no going back, and all the more pressure on Taj Gibson and Joakim Noah. But if Chicago strings hope along, it at least gives itself a chance to keep its team intact while working toward a better, self-determined outcome.
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