Another emotionally draining Chicago Bulls season finally came to a crashing halt Tuesday night. The squad once heralded as the team nobody wants to face in the playoffs failed to win a postseason game at home in three tries and must now focus on 2014-15.
With a talented young core led the newly crowned Defensive Player of the Year, it would be crazy to think Chicago's championship window is closing just as fast as Indiana's.
But Jerry Reinsdorf has paid Derrick Rose $34 million to sit on the bench for two years, and there's no telling how and for how long his knees will hold up going forward. Make no mistake, this Bulls team will not sniff a championship without him.
That being said, Chicago has great pieces in place next season with obvious holes that need filling, and it needs to hit the jackpot in free agency. As the roster currently stands, Reinsdorf owes a shade over $63 million in salary to eight players in 2014-15, per Spotrac. Richard Hamilton is one of them, so really the roster will be at seven before the draft.
According to NBA finance virtuoso Larry Coon, the salary cap is projected to hit $63.2 million, with the tax level jumping to $77 million. A little calculus tells us the Bulls front office will have to pull out all the roster tricks it used late in the season—like signing minimum guys like Ronnie Brewer and Greg Smith—to avoid spending Mikhail Prokhorov rubles.
Or Chicago can simply amnesty Carlos Boozer and his 16.8 million rainbow jumpers dollars. Rumored almost since the day he signed in 2010, the move becomes increasingly inevitable with Boozer's lack of fourth-quarter minutes and Taj Gibson's development into a versatile two-way player who can defend all three frontcourt positions.
Amnesty talk has cooled since the trade deadline passed, but if these reports from January are any indication, then Boozer is as good as gone:
Report: Bulls plan to trade Deng, use amnesty provision on Boozer http://t.co/7iEjJXQqPc— Hardwood Paroxysm (@HPbasketball) January 6, 2014
They got it half right, so it's reasonable to assume that the Booze Train will be plying his trade on another contender for a lot less money, and Chicago's cap number will be closer to $46.2 million.
With Reinsdorf having suggested in the past that he would foot the tax bill for a winner, Chicago could conceivably have $30 million to spend this summer. If Chicago keeps the 16th and 19th picks in the NBA draft, it will eat about $2.73 million of that space according to RealGM.
And then there's the Nikola Mirotic situation. Nate Duncan at Basketball Insiders broke down the ins and outs of bringing over the Euro sensation from Real Madrid back in March.
Duncan parsed out several complicated factors that will determine the length and amount of Mirotic's contract. But boiling the analysis down it looks as though his first-year salary would range between $4.8 million (his salary at Real Madrid) and $6.1 million, though it could climb higher depending on negotiations. We'll stick with the higher $6.1 million for our calculations.
Take away the combined $8.8 million, and the Bulls are left with about $21 million of cap space and 10 players under contract.
So where do the Bulls look? A popular answer is to chase Carmelo Anthony either via free agency or a sign-and-trade with New York involving Taj Gibson and draft picks.
That's impossible to predict and presents a host of issues in terms of filling out the rest of the roster after Anthony eats up most of that precious cap space. And it will make bringing Mirotic over nearly impossible. So we'll look at more realistic options.
One of the answers is the same as it's been since the day Rose came to town: outside shooting.
Chicago was one of the worst three-point shooting teams all season in terms of both percentage—finishing 24th in the league at .348—and attempts—only New Orleans and Memphis shot fewer. Only D.J. Augustin and Mike Dunleavy finished among the top 100 qualified players in the league in percentage.
Secondly, the Bulls will also look to replicate their success in finding cheap veteran backup point guards who outplay their contract a la Nate Robinson and D.J. Augustin.
With Mirotic penciled in as a third big, general manager Gar Forman will need to upgrade from Nazr Mohammed to fill out the frontcourt.
The final piece needs to replace Luol Deng on the wing. Whether that's bumping Jimmy Butler up to Deng's spot at the 3 and sliding in a new 2-guard or bringing in a new small forward altogether, Chicago has options. Despite his heroic efforts as a surprise starter, Dunleavy needs to come off the bench.
With three or four positions to fill, let's look at 10 viable free agents who might look good in red and black next season.