With the trade deadline right around the corner, the Chicago Bulls could make one last move to free up cap space for the near future.
However, there could be one more move looming.
Kirk Hinrich, Mike Dunleavy and Taj Gibson’s names all have been circulated around in the trade circuit. Trading Gibson would open up the most cap room and allow the Bulls to offer a max deal this summer, but it would also mean getting rid of one of the Bulls' most promising players.
Moving Hinrich might not make sense since he’s already an expiring contract, but CSN Chicago’s Aggrey Sam reported that other reasons might open up the possibility:
According to a source, some of the motivation for not extending [Cartier Martin or Mike James] are bonus incentives in the contracts of All-Star center Joakim Noah and Taj Gibson that the two could meet this season, including making the NBA’s All-Defensive Team, an honor Noah received last year. Although the Bulls got under the luxury-tax threshold with January’s trade of Luol Deng to Cleveland, the aforementioned bonuses could push them over the edge.
That leaves Dunleavy as the best candidate. The Bulls would free up more than $3 million in cap space over the next two years, and moving him could yield a first-round pick from a playoff contender, given Dunleavy's proficient three-point shooting.
The first step would be to find teams that are willing to take on Dunleavy's two-year deal.
Potential Trade Partners
The Los Angeles Clippers signed Hedo Turkoglu earlier this year to add extra shooting help and recently signed former Los Angeles Laker Sasha Vujacic to a 10-day contract. If they want to add an extra shooter to their stable, Dunleavy could be a solid option.
Matching salaries could be an issue, however.
If the Bulls want to avoid taking on contracts that extend past this season, L.A. might not be the best choice. The Clippers' Willie Green and Antawn Jamison both are on expiring contracts, but their numbers aren’t enough to meet the minimum requirements to match Dunleavy’s outgoing salary.
The most reasonable choice would be to add Byron Mullens to the trade, but his player option for 2014-15 might be enough for the Bulls to shy away from making that move.
The Minnesota Timberwolves are another possible candidate.
The Timberwolves lack a scoring wing player outside of Kevin Martin, and Dunleavy could give them some versatility off the bench. His outside shooting would be a much-welcomed addition since Minnesota currently ranks 23rd in three-point percentage.
Minnesota would hate to part ways with a rotation player like Dante Cunningham, and with Chase Budinger starting to reacclimate after recovering from knee surgery, the Timberwolves might not want to get involved in trade talks for a wing player.
Minnesota's inability to trade their 2014 first-round pick is also something that might make Chicago look elsewhere.
So, who can Chicago look to for a trade that would be mutually beneficiary? Maybe one of the best stories in the NBA: The Phoenix Suns.
Suns receive: Mike Dunleavy
Verify this on ESPN's Trade Machine.
Phoenix has surprised the league with its play. What's even more impressive is that Phoenix has done it without their big offseason acquisition Eric Bledsoe for a majority of the season or a consistent and reliable scoring option not named Goran Dragic.
Dunleavy's knack for playing off the ball and coming off screens would give the Suns something new to work with in a half-court set, where Dunleavy averages 1.01 points per play and shoots 44 percent, per Synergy (subscription required).
He also could adapt well to the Suns' fast pace and spot up behind the arc in transition, where he's hitting 39 percent of his shots.
Chicago also would get exactly what it's looking for. It receives an expiring contract worth less than half of Dunleavy's and another first-round pick to add to their collection.
If there’s a trade the Bulls should make before the Feb. 20 deadline, this is the one.
The Bulls have a big summer ahead of them. They have a few potential mid-round picks in play in a draft loaded with talent and are also in the conversation as a possible destination for Carmelo Anthony.
But even if they can’t land a marquee free agent, the possibility of signing Euroleague stud Nikola Mirotic—whom they drafted in 2011— to a contract finally seems like a possibility. Some more moves will have to be made, like using the amnesty provision on Carlos Boozer who is due nearly $17 million next year.
Making a trade like this one isn't as big as the Deng trade or the possible Boozer amnesty, but it is necessary. Trading Dunleavy and removing Boozer's contract from the books frees up more than $20 million for the 2014-15 season, giving Chicago ample room to make significant improvements via free agency.
A "small" trade like this could be the move that allows Chicago to compete for the Larry O’Brien Trophy in the near future.