The last day before the All-Star break, TNT's Craig Sager reported that Carlos Boozer had revealed the Chicago Bulls might not be using their amnesty option on him, causing panic-stricken fans everywhere to ask, “Why?!”
Although Carlos Boozer started all 46 games he has played this year, he is down to a career low 2.8 minutes in the 4th quarter. And after Luol Deng was traded to Cleveland earlier this year, Boozer began to wonder about his own future with the team. He told me tonight that he has been assured that he will not be traded by next week's deadline, nor will the team buyout the final year of his contract this summer unless they can land a superstar which is too good to pass up.
Is there any circumstance where it makes sense to keep Boozer around for another year? What constitutes a superstar who is too good to pass up? Does this mean that Nikola Mirotic, the team’s coveted Euroleague player fresh off his second MVP, isn’t coming over?
Before rushing to the panic button, let’s all take a deep breath and break things down.
The Phone Game
Remember the telephone game? You whisper something into someone’s ear, then they repeat it and it gets passed down the line. Then you see if the last person says the same thing that the first person says? That seldom comes out right.
The phone game is in play here. What we know is what Sager said Boozer told him about what Boozer was told by Gar Forman and John Paxson, who, in turn, were presumably at some level acting on the instruction of what owner Jerry Reinsdorf conveyed to them in another conversation.
That’s a lot of room for misinterpretation, re-interpretation or need for interpretation. Sometimes we hear what we want to hear. Other times we tell people what they want to hear. Then, even if everything is conveyed word for word, nuances can get lost.
It's nothing against Sager, but it's just possible that he didn't report the story exactly right.
The point being: In a case like this, it’s better to look at the general statement than focusing on the specifics and getting caught up in certain words. The specifics might not be what was actually said originally. For example, as BullsBlogger points out, the word “buyout” was probably not used since it means something different than “amnesty,” and a buyout makes no sense when they can use the amnesty.
The gist of the thing is that the Bulls are probably not going to use the amnesty on Boozer unless they get a better player, but the chances of finding that player might not be as remote as Sager indicated.
Here’s where we have a couple of things to consider.
Who Is a 'Superstar Too Good to Pass Up'?
What constitutes a superstar, and was the word specifically used? Or is that something that got picked up somewhere along in the phone game?
Here’s the problem with the whole idea of "superstar." Even if the Bulls amnesty Boozer, depending on the target in question, they may not be able to afford him without further moves. Carmelo Anthony is slated to make $23 million next year, so to sign him would require dumping Taj Gibson and Mike Dunleavy Jr., too, and to forgo any chance at Mirotic next summer.
So, that becomes a lot of moving parts, and once the Bulls start the process, they're committed to the whole thing, and the ultimate decision isn't even theirs. That’s problematic. They could do everything to clear up the space and have Anthony decide to go elsewhere. We've been down that road before.
Joe Cowley of the Chicago Sun Times suggests there's a Plan B:
If they fail to land a star of the magnitude of Anthony or (LeBron) James, there is a consolation prize. The Bulls would love to nab Lance Stephenson from the Indiana Pacers, move Jimmy Butler to the three and add highly touted Nikola Mirotic after using the amnesty clause on Carlos Boozer. That would give them a talented roster, but still not a great one.
Lance Stephenson isn't a superstar, though, and the problem there is that the Bulls could still pull the rug out from underneath themselves if they were to amnesty Boozer to get Stephenson, and then have the Pacers match the Bulls’ offer on the restricted free agent.
Should that happen, the Bulls would be left without Boozer or Stephenson and would have to explore Plan C. Deng it!
So what else could “superstar” mean? It could mean Mirotic, whose price might be going up. Blog a Bull’s Ricky O’Donnell suggests, and Yahoo!’s Kelly Dwyer agrees, Mirotic’s value on an open market would be “approaching double digits.”
That’s pretty reasonable, and the fact that he just won his second MVP in the Copa del Rey after averaging 16.3 points and 6.3 rebounds for the tournament doesn't hurt. (Incidentally, you can see a nice scouting report on Mirotic from the tournament by Avi Saini of Bulls by the Horns).
Mirotic’s barely 23. He’s a lights-out shooter, hitting on 53.2 percent of his threes for the season. He’s a legit stud. If he comes over next season, he could legitimately win Rookie of the Year.
So what if Mirotic tries to parlay last season’s success into more money? Prior to the season there was a general feeling that he would be available for the mid-level exception. But now it might take more to land him.
Since it’s not an open market, it could take $7 to $8 million to ink him. He might be worth $10 million on an open market as Dwyer and O’Donnell indicate, but he’s not on an open market (as Dwyer says).
The Bulls have his NBA rights and Real Madrid has his contract, which he can buy out for $3.44 million, of which $600,000 can be paid by the Bulls, leaving him to cover the other $2.84 million. However, the Bulls can pay off the rest of it and just take it out of his salary (which they'd have to do).
The bulk of that (15 percent of his total compensation) $2.385 million could spread out over the three years of his contract, leaving another $200,000 which would have to come out his first season's salary. That would mean his first year's salary would be $4.3 million, and he would receive $4.5 million each of the following years.
Mirotic made the equivalent of $5.4 million last year in Euroleague, so he would have to take a $1 million paycut to come to the Bulls on the mid-level exception. Maybe he looks at things like taxes and endorsements and opportunities, and the fact that the sooner he comes, the sooner he can hit the real money in the NBA, and decides it's worth it.
But that's nothing you can hang your hat on. It's not impossible that he comes over for less, but it is unlikely.
If he doesn't, that's where having $7 to $8 million to spend comes in. Then he actually makes money coming over.
So this is where I’m going with all this. Is Mirotic a “superstar too good to pass on"? If the Bulls could guarantee him by amnestying Boozer, would it be worth it? I believe so, but only if they have to.
If the Bulls amnestied Boozer, after all the cap holds and everything, they’d have about $9 to $10 million to spend, which would guarantee that they get Mirotic.
There’s much more reason to wait than rush. The least they can get is Mirotic; the most they can get is Anthony or James (albeit far less likely), but none of that happens until this summer.
There is a scenario where they trade Dunleavy and Gibson in salary dumps, amnesty Boozer and free up about $19 million to sign a free agent, and then Anthony or James agrees to take less. But if they do all that, they would forgo any chance at Mirotic, and they’d be without all that depth.
So is the chance that Anthony sings worth Dunleavy, Gibson, Mirotic and Boozer? Is it worth having Joakim Noah left as the only big-worth playing? It’s worth a long look at recent history before rolling those dice.
And what if they do all that and he doesn’t sign?
This is why it makes sense to hold onto Boozer until the end of the season at the very least, and not trade him and an asset for Emeka Okafor as some have suggested.
On the positive side, what if the Bulls can bring over Mirotic for the mid-level exception? If he agrees, it makes sense to keep Boozer.
This group has gone 13-7 since the Deng trade. The Bulls could add two first-round picks, Mirotic and a biannual exception (D.J. Augustin?) this offseason, all while keeping Boozer. And they get Derrick Rose back, too.
And this is the thing that no one talks about: It costs the same either way. If Reinsdorf pays Boozer $16 million to walk and then another $14 million to get back up to the cap, that’s a total of $30 million.
The Bulls right now have about $64 million on the books. According to Larry Coon, the projected cap is about $62.9 million. That would put the tax roughly in the neighborhood of $74 to $75 million. The mid-level exception, biannual exception and two rooking contracts would total in the neighborhood of $9 million, depending on what the draft picks are.
Even if they used the Deng trade exception and went over the tax limit, it would actually be cheaper to use all their exceptions and keep Boozer.
If the Bulls amnesty Boozer, the only exception they get is the room exception, which is $2.732 million next year. That’s a little more than the biannual exception, which is $2.077 million. Say that’s Agustin either way.
So, that’s a wash. The draft picks are going to be the same either way. And if the Bulls can use their mid-level exception on Mirotic, that doesn’t change either. Mirotic is Mirotic.
If they can get Mirotic for the MLE, literally there would be only differences between the two versions of the Bulls next year. The keep-Boozer version would keep the Deng trade exception, too. Second, they would have Boozer and the other would have a veteran-minimum player in his stead. Everything else could be exactly the same.
If they have to amnesty Boozer to get Mirotic, the teams are pretty much the same. The difference is Mirotic if they do, and Boozer if they don't.
There are actually sensible reasons to keep Boozer, especially if it literally costs nothing. He’s not a $16 million player, but that’s really moot at this point. It doesn't factor into the discussion because it’s actually cheaper to keep him.
The question is: Is he better than a minimum-veteran player? And the answer to that is indisputably yes. You don’t pick up 15 points and eight rebounds off the scrap heap, even if it comes with bad defense.
There are also sensible reasons to waive him—i.e., if they have to in order to get Mirotic.
Right now, there are a lot of questions which can't be answered yet.
Is it worth completely breaking up the Bulls to land James or Anthony? Will either take less? Do the Bulls have a shot at Stephenson? Will Mirotic take the mid-level exception?
All these questions won’t be answered until the offseason, but there’s no need to make decisions until they are, so the real question is: Why rush?
If we stop rhetorically yelling the question, “WHY WOULDN’T THE BULLS AMNESTY CARLOS BOOZER?!” long enough to genuinely ask it, there is an answer. Not doing so could make them a better team both next year and in the future, and it might be cheaper at the same time.
In other words, they should only amnesty him if they can a get a superstar…wait! Haven’t I heard that somewhere?