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Can Chicago Bulls Pair Derrick Rose with Another Star During 2014 Offseason?

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Can Chicago Bulls Pair Derrick Rose with Another Star During 2014 Offseason?
Mike Ehrmann/Getty Images

Can the Chicago Bulls pair Derrick Rose with another star during the 2014 offseason? With Luol Deng’s contract coming off the books and the amnesty still in their pocket to use on Carlos Boozer, it would seem that they can.

Do they actually have enough cap space to sign a superstar free agent, though? First, let’s look at the salaries for the near future, starting with the 2014-15 season if the Bulls decide to amnesty Boozer:

Player

2014/2015

2015/2016

2016/2017

Derrick Rose

$18,862,876

$20,093,064

$21,323,252

Joakim Noah

$12,200,000

$13,400,000

N/A

Taj Gibson

$8,000,000

$8,500,000

$8,950,000

Mike Dunleavy Jr

$3,326,235

N/A

N/A

Tony Snell

$1,472,400

$1,535,880

$2,368,327

Jimmy Butler

$2,008,748*

$3,013,123**

N/A

Marquis Teague

$1,120,920

$2,023,261*

$3,034,891**

Erik Murphy

$816,482

$1,147,276

N/A

Totals

$47,807,661

$49,712,604

$35,676,470

 

*Team Option

**Qualifying Offer

 

The Bulls are locked in for $47.8 million, even if they don’t keep Deng and amnesty Boozer. Assuming the cap goes up to $60 million, the Bulls would have $12.2 million to spend on a free agent, right?

Record scratch.

Not so fast. They can’t spend all of that $12.2 million on a free agent. That’s because there’s something called cap holds, which is money held against each team’s cap space. This is so that they can’t cheat the cap by signing a player to take up every last dollar of space and then use exceptions after that.

That means Chicago has to set aside some of that $12.2 million. First, they’ll have at least one first-round draft pick, (or two depending on how Charlotte does this year). Even if they have the best record in the league, and therefore the last pick, that’s going to mean setting aside another million.

Next, there are seven roster spots currently occupied by players under contract (assuming that the Bulls pick up the team option on Jimmy Butler). Add in the rookie, and you have eight. That means the Bulls need to fill four more roster spots.

The CBA calls for an “incomplete roster charge” which is equal to the minimum rookie salary of $507,000. Discount three more NBA-minimum salaries, and that takes off another $1.5 million form the spending money you thought they had.

So, factoring all that in, this is what the salary situation actually looks like:

Player

2014/2015

Derrick Rose

$18,862,876

Joakim Noah

$12,200,000

Taj Gibson

$8,000,000

Mike Dunleavy Jr

$3,326,235

Jimmy Butler

$2,008,748

Tony Snell

$1,472,400

Marquis Teague

$1,120,920

Erik Murphy

$816,482

2014 Pick

$911,400

2015 Pick

$943,300

Rookie FA

$507,000

Rookie FA

$507,000

Rookie FA

$507,000

Total

$50,240,061

The most the Bulls could possibly have to spend is only $9.8 million. That's not quite so enticing. 

 

Free-Agent Options

Could the Bulls honestly obtain someone for $9.8 million who is worth Luol Deng and Carlos Boozer?

Let’s take a look at the best players in the upcoming free-agent class.

Mike Ehrmann/Getty Images

LeBron James, Carmelo Anthony, Chris Bosh, Amar’e Stoudemire and Dwyane Wade all have early termination options, but they’re all making in the neighborhood of $20 million next season. Why would any of them cut their salaries in half to play for the Bulls?

And adding any one of them, other than James, is not going to offset the loss of both Boozer and Deng.

The best unrestricted free agents (other than Deng) are Andrew Bogut, Kobe Bryant, Pau Gasol and Danny Granger. Which of those players would be worth both Deng and Boozer? Do you want to give a multi-year deal to Bryant, Nowitzki or Gasol? They’re all in their mid-30s, and truthfully the only one who probably leaves his current team is Gasol.

There are the restricted free agents, but the only ones who would help the Bulls are Derrick Favors and Paul George. You might make a case for Greg Monroe or even DeMarcus Cousins, but their teams would match a $9.8 million offer anyway, so it’s pointless to debate their merits.

Zach Randolph has a player option, but he’s not leaving $7 million on the table. Why would he move just for the chance to go from one contender to another?

 

Sign-and-Trade Options

Realistically, there’s just not a free agent the Bulls could sign outright. But what if they did a sign-and-trade?

There are three names worth considering: LeBron James, LaMarcus Aldridge and Kevin Love.

Let’s just establish first that there’s very little you don’t sacrifice to get James, including key anatomical parts. Arms, legs, eyes, fingers… Rose and James playing together would just be surreal. You do the deal if you can, but it’s not going to happen.

That leaves the other two.

Jared Wickerham/Getty Images

It would be just candy-cane-and-unicorn wonderful if the Trail Blazers were willing to take back Boozer for Aldridge, but life doesn’t work that way, and the Trail Blazers aren’t complete and total buffoons. They want Joakim Noah and Jimmy Butler instead. John Paxson and Gar Forman are rightfully not even considering that, because they aren’t buffoons either.

The whole notion of trading for Love rests on the premise that he wants out of Minnesota, which might be a short-lived theory if the Wolves breakout this year, and there is a serious chance of that happening. Even if they are terrible again and Love demands out, are the ‘Wolves going to ask any less for Love than Portland is for Aldridge?

Chicago is not getting a superstar back for Boozer or Deng. Noah, Butler or both are going to have to be involved in a trade to land one. So now you need to start calculating the true costs to get the All-Star. Is Aldridge or Love worth Boozer, Deng and Noah? And maybe even Butler?

 

The Cap

But let’s look at the most optimistic and ridiculously improbable scenario, and consider if it’s worth it to make the trade, assuming that the Bulls find someone willing to take on Boozer and Deng for a superstar and nothing else:

Player

2014/2015

2015/2016

Derrick Rose

$18,862,876

$20,093,064

Mystery Superstar

$18,000,000

$19,173,914*

Joakim Noah

$12,200,000

$13,400,000

Taj Gibson

$8,000,000

$8,500,000

Mike Dunleavy Jr

$3,326,235

N/A

Jimmy Butler

$2,008,748

RFA

Tony Snell

$1,472,400

$1,535,880

Marquis Teague

$1,120,920

$2,023,261

2014 Pick

$911,400

$952,400

Erik Murphy

$816,482

$1,147,276

Rookie FA

$507,000

$525,093

Rookie FA

$507,000

$525,093

Rookie FA

$507,000

$525,093

2015 Pick

 

$93,300

TOTAL

$68,240,061

$69,344,374

*Mystery Superstars’ salary was calculated by giving him the same percentage increase Rose receives.

If they could connect on the Hail Mary pass and get back Love or Aldridge for Deng and Boozer in a sign-and-trade, it’s a win: The Bulls would obtain a superstar and shed salary all in one fell swoop. Or is it?

Is Love really better than Deng and Boozer? Is Aldridge? The pair has a combined total of six playoff wins in their career. You could argue they are worth it, but it’s not as definitive as some would think, especially when you start looking at the rest of the story.

Right now, the Bulls are hopeful that they can give Nikola Mirotic, their “draft-and-stash” sensation who is the reigning MVP of his league in Spain, a contract next summer. To acquire him, the Bulls are going to need to offer him the full mid-level exception of $5 million.

That’s because he would need to buy himself out of his current contract in Spain, and he’ll need that much just to make the move financially profitable. By rule, a team can’t use the mid-level exception and go over the apron, which is $4 million over the tax threshold.

The Bulls will almost certainly be within $5 million of the apron. That means they would not be able to offer Mirotic the full MLE, which obviously means no Mirotic.

So now, the Bulls would have to sacrifice Boozer, Deng and Mirotic to obtain the mystery superstar. Getting pricier isn’t it?

But wait! There’s more!

Look at the table again, but focus on the following season. The Bulls are already going to be getting close to the luxury tax. That assumes they don’t use their mini-mid-level exception or bi-annual exception in 2014 or 2015. It also assumes they carry three undrafted rookies on their roster.

The Bulls will be able to match any offers on Jimmy Butler. However, doing so would send their salary soaring to around $80-$85 million, depending on who else is fleshing out their roster. That would put them over the tax level three years in a row and have them paying the repeater tax.

Chicago could be potentially be saddled with paying as much as $3.75-to-$4.25 in taxes for every dollar of Butler’s contract. That means if someone offers Butler just a $10 million-a-year deal, Jerry Reinsdorf will have to pay as much as $52.5 million for the first year alone.

Raise your hand if you think that’s going to happen. Anyone?

So now the cost for the mystery superstar becomes Deng, Boozer, Butler and Mirotic. Who wants to do that? Anyone? For James, you do that. For Aldridge or Love, it’s too high a price.

This is the problem with having multiple max-contract players on the same team. Just two players can use up such a large part f what’s available—sometimes over 80 percent of the cap. This year Kobe Bryant and Pau Gasol are using 86 percent of the Lakers’ cap space by themselves.

Adding sufficient help inflates roster costs even more, and the price of that is growing incrementally because of the heavy taxes. That’s causing teams to rethink collecting superstars.

Mike Ehrmann/Getty Images

The Oklahoma City Thunder already had to disband their “Big Three” by sending James Harden to Houston.  The Boston Celtics disbanded theirs. Miami’s trio may well be in their final year together. “Big Threes” are becoming a thing of the past.

Other teams built on the “Super Friends” model have issues too. The Brooklyn Nets are spending $200 million after taxes on a one-year window that might not even open. The Knicks are saddled with Stoudemire’s ridiculous contract. The aging Spurs are making it work by taking significant pay cuts.

Accruing multiple, giant contracts just isn’t the way to build a team under the new CBA.

The Bulls have the goods to get a second superstar. Throwing in Noah with Butler, Mirotic and the Charlotte pick obtained from the Tyrus Thomas trade would be sufficient to secure them all but maybe three or four players in the league.

That’s only because it’s a lot to give, though. In fact, it’s too much to give. It’s 80 percent of a starting five. Why give up that much to be a worse, more cap-restricted team?

Is it worth the Bulls sacrificing their assets along with Deng and Boozer to land a second superstar?

Submit Vote vote to see results

The Bulls are better off keeping all those assets for the same reason that other teams would want to acquire them. Forman and Paxson have done a far better job of long-term planning than they’ve been credited with.

They are set to rebuild around Rose seamlessly over the next few years, all while staying in contention.

If they amnesty Boozer next season, they’ll be able to bring over Mirotic, keep Deng (hopefully at a slight home-team discount) and use their bi-annual exception—all while keeping below the luxury-tax threshold so that they don’t have to pay the repeater tax.

They would have a starting five going forward of Rose, Butler, Deng, Mirotic or Gibson and Noah, with a bench of Marquis Teague, the non-starting power forward, Tony Snell, whoever they pick in the next two seasons and, possibly, the Charlotte pick as a lottery pick.

As Deng ages, Butler, Snell and Mirotic can help take the burden off of him. Mr. Lottery Pick will be able to as well. When Noah’s contract comes due, they can go back over the tax limit without paying the repeater tax.

There’s an unrecognized brilliance to what the Bulls front office has been doing, particularly for one so critiqued by the fans. As other elite teams are running into self-imposed barriers, the Bulls will be reloading over the next two or three seasons, all while staying in contention for the championship.

 

Salary information was obtained from Sham Sports

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