Nate Robinson may have provided Chicago Bulls fans with many of their greatest thrills of the 2012-13 season, but unfortunately, he is as good as gone from the Bulls. There are just too many realities getting in the way.
First, there is the fact that the Bulls have an abundance of point guards already under contract. Derrick Rose will be back at long last, and obviously he is going to get the bulk of the minutes. (As an aside, let’s set aside any silly debates about the return for one article please.)
Kirk Hinrich has another year on his contract and will serve as Rose’s primary backup and probably log some time as a shooting guard. Whatever thoughts you have on Hinrich, two things are indisputable. He is on a guaranteed contract, and in coach Tom Thibodeau’s mind, he’s ahead of Robinson on the depth chart.
Marquis Teague is going to be getting the remaining minutes of playing time, if there are any scraps left to give. It would appear the long-term plan here is to cultivate Teague for the backup job after Hinrich’s tenure is done following the season.
Teague must play at least enough minutes to gain the experience to assume that job, or at least indicate whether or not he has the potential to fill it.
That isn’t going to leave a lot of minutes for a fourth-string point guard.
Second, If Robinson were still available for the minimum on a non-guaranteed contract, it would be one thing, but he won’t be. Fortunately for him, he played too well to settle for another such contract. He will garner around $3 million and a multi-year deal, neither of which is something the Bulls are poised to offer.
Chicago just doesn’t have the money or financial flexibility to keep Robinson. You might think $3 million isn't much money, but for the Bulls—who will be handcuffed by taxpayer constraints—it is a lot of money because it's all they can spend.
They have very little funds to play with, already committed to $73 million next season, according to Sham Sports (minus Hamilton's salary).
By rule, they can only add a taxpayer mid-level exception (TME) for $3.2 million and fill out the rest with veteran's minimum players. Are they going to use that on Robinson, a fourth-string point guard, when they have greater needs?
Chicago has two priorities this offseason. First, it needs a fourth big man who can play meaningful minutes. Nazr Mohammed had his moments, but it’s pretty evident he isn’t going to ever be a part of the regular rotation.
Second, it needs another wing. While Jimmy Butler did a fantastic job at shooting guard, and looks to be the new starter moving forward, it means that now there is a giant hole at a backup wing. With Luol Deng playing massive minutes, and now Butler as well, it’s evident the Bulls need to bring in a player who can fill that void.
They need to fill these two voids, and the best options are to use the draft to fill one and their TME to fill the other, rounding out the team with veteran minimum players. What they do with which may well depend on who is available to them in the draft at the No. 20 spot.
They may use the exception to keep Marco Belinelli and use the pick to land a big. That would present a problem in that Belinelli is not big enough, or a capable enough defender to guard the 3, which would probably mean that Deng would play excessive minutes again.
Chicago could try to grab Ronnie Brewer, who signed last year for the veteran’s minimum, and bring him back to back up both Butler and Deng. They'd then use the draft pick to cultivate a wing and use the minimum mid-level to bring in a respectable defender, such as Samuel Dalembert (although some of these things are a mystery as to how much players get paid and why).
Regardless of how it works out, the inevitability is that Robinson is going to be out in the cold. He would be a nicety for the Bulls to have, but when you have necessities to be met, you need to forgo niceties.