Are Chicago Bulls This Offseason's Most Attractive Free-Agent Destination?

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Are Chicago Bulls This Offseason's Most Attractive Free-Agent Destination?
Dennis Wierzbicki-USA TODAY Spor

What do free agents look for when choosing a new team in the offseason?

The desires of each player are unique and based on his current circumstances, of course, and so teams do their best to cater their sales pitches directly to the player.

For example, you don't sell a four-year pro who has never been hurt on the training staff for hours and hours. That's for the 12-year veteran coming off a major injury who needs every ounce of help he can get.

Even with that in mind, though, the free-agency pitches all boil down to what can be reasonably guaranteed. 

Usually, that means guaranteed money and a guaranteed contender. If a team can offer those two things, it'll be an attractive free-agent destination for about 95 percent of the available free agents.

The question is, will the Chicago Bulls be able to offer both of those things this offseason? Let's take a look.

David Sherman/Getty Images

 

Guaranteed Money

As it stands right now, the Bulls aren't in the position to be a major player in free agency. Next year's projected cap is $62.1 million, and the Bulls have $63 million in guaranteed salary on the books. Unless something changes, Chicago won't be able to offer anything more than the mid-level exception to free agents, which likely won't be enough to draw in a major contributor.

There's an easy solution to create more money, however. By using the amnesty provision on Carlos Boozer and his expiring deal worth $16.8 million, the Bulls could end up with right around $12-13 million in cap room after factoring in roster and draft-pick holds.

Would the Bulls really consider amnestying Boozer, though? Here's what TNT's Craig Sager reported during a recent broadcast of a Bulls game, as transcribed by BlogaBull.com:

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 buy out the final year of his contract this summer unless they can land a superstar which is too good to pass up.

Boozer's future might not be as cut-and-dried as it sounds there. The definition of a superstar leaves some room for interpretation, and whether or not Chicago's notoriously thrifty ownership is truly ready to pay an extra $16.8 million to get Boozer off the books is up for debate.

The future of international big man Nikola Mirotic and whether he'll come over this offseason also could throw a wrench into things. Bulls general manager Gar Forman explained his current contract situation with ESPN Chicago 1000's The Waddle & Silvy Show, as transcribed by Nick Friedell of ESPN Chicago:

He's still under contract there [with Real Madrid]. But we've talked about once a guy is three years out from his draft class, then he's no longer restricted to the rookie-scale contract for the slot that he was picked. So that begins this summer, which means our hope is we'll be able to have dialogue this summer with the possibility of getting him over.

Even without Mirotic taking up some of the cap space, landing a true max player like Carmelo Anthony would still take some financial juggling, barring an unforeseen massive pay cut. That means the Bulls would likely have to find a trade partner for Taj Gibson and his deal worth $8 million next season in addition to amnestying Boozer, which might be tough to do and even harder to justify.

It's certainly not impossible for the Bulls to create enough cap space to land a superstar in free agency, but it's a dicey proposition. Unless there are assurances in place (like an agreed-upon sign-and-trade deal), amnestying Boozer could be too great of a financial risk. 

Ultimately, the Bulls can create the cap space, but it's not guaranteed like it will be for other teams. We've heard many conflicting reports on Boozer and Mirotic's situations, but it's not hard to believe that the Bulls will stand pat on both unless a transcendent talent expresses his desire to sign.

Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images

 

Guaranteed Contender

Here's where the Bulls have an edge over just about every other team who either already has cap space or can feasibly create it.

Let's backtrack a bit first. In Derrick Rose and Luol Deng, the Bulls lost two of their biggest stars this season and received nothing in return. This is as barren as the roster has been in the four seasons under head coach Tom Thibodeau.

But guess what? The results are still there. The Bulls are still a playoff team with a dominant defense.

Think about it: a team that gives substantial minutes to D.J. Augustin, Mike Dunleavy, Carlos Boozer and rookie forward Tony Snell is still second in the league in defensive efficiency. The Bulls are behind only the Indiana Pacers in that category, a team that may end up having the most dominant regular-season defense in NBA history. 

Point being, this is a system that get results even when the personnel is lacking, putting Thibodeau on the same level as a coaching legend like Larry Brown. There are few guarantees in the NBA, but the Bulls having a great defense under Thibodeau is one of the more bankable ones, as Rob Mahoney of Sports Illustrated explains here:

The gruff pragmatism of coach Tom Thibodeau allows little room for awe, but in its own workmanlike way Chicago's year-over-year survival has been nothing short of breathtaking. There's a wide, glowing admiration in NBA circles for Chicago's well-conceived and well-executed plan — a standing testament to the value of process.

It's not just about signing up to play for Thibodeau, though. So far as supplementary stars go, Joakim Noah has to rank at the very top of the list. He's a defensive anchor, a wonderful passer and one of the league's greatest competitors. He's everything you would want next to you as a big-time scorer because he takes care of virtually everything else.

With Noah and Thibodeau, the Bulls offer two of the game's very best in the prime of their careers. Not many teams can say that, and not many teams can also toss in a former league MVP to that equation.

It's hard to say how pending free agents will view Derrick Rose since knee injuries have robbed him of so much time lately, but the Bulls have shown they can still perform in the playoffs and hang with anyone—with or without his services.

The Bulls have been on the cusp of greatness for a while now. It's not hard to imagine a star free agent thinking he can push the Bulls over the top, especially since there's evidence that suggests the Bulls are better off without Boozer, anyway.

This season alone, the Bulls have been 4.2 points better per 100 possessions with Boozer off the floor, so a free agent filling his shoes wouldn't have to worry about providing Boozer's production and adding more, as Taj Gibson will take care of the latter largely on his own. The process, system and foundational talent is all in place.

Should the Bulls amnesty Carlos Boozer this offseason?

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And even though the Bulls don't necessarily always operate like a big-market team, they still qualify as one. If the Bulls amnesty Boozer, it shows a willingness to compete for a title, even if it comes at a steep price. This is a city and a franchise that carries a lot of clout, so there are built-in advantages that have their appeal off the court as well.

Ultimately, though, the adversity the Bulls have faced over the last few seasons should provide prospective free agents with confidence more than anything else.

There have been front-office and coaching clashes, financial issues and tons of damaging injuries, and yet the Bulls have survived and even thrived through it all. There's value in knowing that the worst-case scenario really isn't all that bad, especially when the ceiling is a very attainable NBA championship.

Fittingly enough, if Chicago can create the necessary cap space, it'll be right behind the Miami Heat (depending on what happens with the Big Three and their early-termination options) as the league's most attractive free-agent destination this offseason.  

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