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Can Chicago Bulls Afford to Keep D.J. Augustin?

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Can Chicago Bulls Afford to Keep D.J. Augustin?
Nam Y. Huh

When the Chicago Bulls picked up D.J. Augustin off the waiver wire on Dec. 13, there wasn’t a lot of fanfare about it. Both his career and the Bulls’ season had already been left for dead. Now, he’s done so well, the question is: Can Chicago afford to keep him?

After he was picked up, he was the Bulls’ leading scorer, notching 890 points in 58 games. He was also the second-leading assister, with 288 dimes, trailing only Joakim Noah.

And the Bulls went from a team in a downward spiral and in danger of missing the playoffs,  to one that finished with the fourth-best record in the Eastern Conference.

While he isn’t Derrick Rose, he would be an excellent backup to Rose. In many ways his game resembles the injured MVP’s.  He has great handles and tremendous burst. He’s a better shooter than Rose but doesn’t get into the lane quite as well. Essentially, though, he is able to run the offense, and that makes him worth keeping around.

The one worry is whether he’s done too well and other teams will now snatch him up. It’s not so much about whether the Bulls should keep him so much as whether the Bulls can keep him.

There are three factors that need to be ascertained in order to determine if that’s possible.

  1. How much will he cost?
  2. How much will the Bulls have to spend?
  3. Is Augustin the best way to spend the money?

 

How Much Will Augustin Cost?

It’s difficult to estimate exactly how much a player is going to cost. Amin Elhassan (Insider) of ESPN ranked the top 30 free agents by expected market price, and the list bottomed out at $3.0 million. Augustin didn’t even get on it.

That would suggest that the going rate for Augustin is going to be south of $3.0 million. There are some fans, either in my comments section or on Twitter, who have insisted that he’ll cost much more, but I don’t see it.

Augustin has had a nice season with the Bulls, but so have other point guards filling in for Rose. John Lucas III, C.J. Watson and Nate Robinson all shined at times but failed to play to the same standard with their new teams.

The Bulls have a system that highlights the point guard, which is understandable considering their star player is Rose. Lucas and Augustin had career highs in points per game with the Bulls. Robinson and Watson both had their second-best seasons.

Other teams aren’t going to be expecting the same level of success from him if he switches teams. Like the other three, he’ll probably see a reduction with a new squad. Therefore, it’s reasonable to use the other three players’ current contracts as a gauge of what Augustin might go for.

Watson is making $2.0 million with the Indiana Pacers. Robinson is getting $2.0 million from the Denver Nuggets. Lucas is making $1.6 million with the Utah Jazz.

Even if you figure Augustin gets more than them, his price should be somewhere between $2.0 and 2.5 million. If someone overbids, perhaps it climbs closer to $3.0 million. I don’t see it going any higher than that, though.

 

How Much Will Chicago Have to Spend?

This question is almost impossible to answer because there are so many things the Bulls can do this year, and they are trying to keep all their options open.

In a certain way, though, the question is moot. They’ll either have money to spend, or they won’t, and either way, they’ll be right on the edge of having enough to afford Augustin.

About now, you’re scratching your head and wondering what that means, so I’ll break it down.

There are two possible approaches to the offseason for the Bulls. One involves them making a trade that includes Carlos Boozer’s contract and remaining over the cap. Then, they don’t have money.

The other involves them amnestying Boozer to get well under the cap. Then, they do have money. But if they do have money, they freed up that money to get someone more important than Augustin, so they’re not going to use that cap space on Augustin. And thus, they don’t have money.

So how do they keep him?

Either way, there is an exception—right in the $2.0-2.7 million range—that they could use on Augustin. If they’re over the cap, they can use their Bi-Annual exception. If they’re under the cap, they can use their Room Exception.

According to Larry Coon’s CBA FAQ, the room exception is $2.732 million and the Bi-Annual exception is $2.077 million.

Their chances of getting Augustin are better if they go the free-agency route (amnestying Boozer and trying to land a free agent), but there’s still a decent chance they can get him even if they go the trade route and land someone like Kevin Love or Carmelo Anthony.

In that scenario, there are additional incentives to stay in Chicago. If the Bulls are offering him the Bi-Annual exception, that probably means the Bulls are a valid title contender, having added Anthony or Love to Rose

If Taj Gibson goes to the starting lineup, as is expected, Augustin becomes the first player off the bench and a legitimate contender for Sixth Man of the Year.

If someone is offering him millions more, it might be enough to entice him away, but it’s hard to see a player giving up a shot a championship and a major award for a handful of shekels. 

 

Is Augustin the Best Way to Spend the Money?

Is Augustin the best way to spend the money? More than likely, he is.

That could change, though, depending on what else happens. If they have to move other parts around to land a big-name player, there might be bigger needs. For example, if they have to trade Mike Dunleavy Jr., they might have a bigger need at the wings. If they trade Gibson and amnesty Boozer, they might need to look for a big.

However, if the nucleus stays as it is, it makes sense to use the exception on Augustin. He knows the system, has shown he can execute it and fits in well with the team. Considering Rose’s recent health issues, a little continuity in the point guard position sure wouldn't hurt.

I think the chances of Chicago keeping Augustin are higher than some do, but they’re not air tight. If someone overbids and does offer him something like a full mid-level exception, the Bulls shouldn't try and compete with that. That kind of money is better spent on Nikola Mirotic.

I believe the Bulls end up offering their Room or Bi-Annual Exception to Augustin, and he accepts it—in part because he’s not going to get much more, and in part because he won’t find a better situation.

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