(credit to NBA.com)
The Chicago Bulls are making big front office changes right now. First hiring Arturas Karinsovas to run basketball operations. Then hiring JJ Polk and Pat Connelly, cap specialist/scout, to join the team. Two of many more hires expected. The new hires are being brought in to get the Chicago Bulls back to being a winning a team, and mainly give the city of Chicago an NBA team to be proud of again. In order to do this, one thing Arturas and company will have to do is rebuild the roster. Rosters are built in 3 ways; draft, trades, free agency. For trades, but mainly free agency, cap space flexibility is important. To acquire talent via free agency cap space is usually needed. At the very least it makes things easier and more realistic. Moving forward, the Bulls ideally will want to be flexible and have as much cap space as they can so they have all the flexibility they need to improve the roster. Let’s go ahead and break down the 2020 and 2021 off-seasons, and what the Bulls cap space projections are looking like along with a few other things. First, the 2020 off-season.
*Before we begin it must be noted with the NBA season currently suspended and future seasons in question, it is impossible to know what the salary cap will look like moving forward. For the purpose of this article I will continue to use the current NBA projections. But be aware there is a lot of uncertainty moving forward with these projections.
Here are all the numbers going into the Chicago Bulls 2020-21 team salary. To the left you see all the guaranteed money the Bulls have on the books, which totals to 77.5 million. To the right you see all the potential draft pick salaries, options, and free agent cap holds the Bulls have for the 2020 off-season. Let me go over the right side of the chart, as it is important and what confuses most. The player option and draft pick salary is simple, but the free agent cap hold not so much. The free agent cap hold is probably one of the more confusing things for people but you need some understanding of them to understand the rest of this article. Let me briefly explain.
It must be understood, a player will still count against the cap even after his contract expires. This is known as their free agent cap hold. Why have cap holds? The reason for the cap hold is simple. Without them teams can in theory use all their cap space on free agents, then use bird rights to resign all their own free agents over the cap. Basically if you want the right to resign your player over the salary cap, he must then count against your team salary until you resign him. For example purposes let’s use Kris Dunn. Kris Dunn’s contract expires after the 2019-20 season. For the 2020 off-season, Kris Dunn will still be included in Chicago’s team salary as 10.1 million. That will go away when either A) The Bulls renounce his bird rights(now meaning Bulls need cap space to resign him), or B) Kris Dunn signs a new contract with his original or new team.
The Bulls as of now have 21.3 million in cap holds included in team salary. Those cap holds though are their “unrestricted cap holds”. Dunn, Valentine, and Harrison are all eligible for “restricted” free agency. To make those players “restricted”, the Bulls will have to offer them their qualifying offers. Mokoka is also “restricted” eligible but his cap hold is the same regardless. If the Bulls choose to offer those players a qualifying offer, their cap holds will become the number in yellow. The deadline to offer a qualifying offer is usually the day before free agency begins, this year that date is unclear. Here are the qualifying offers for each player:
For me it is safe to assume Valentine and Harrison will not be offered their qualifying offers. Either player would likely accept the offer because realistically it is the most money they are going to get on the open market. If a player accepts the offer, he gains a lot of control. The player will then get veto rights on any trade while playing on the qualifying offer which is guaranteed money. A risk not worth Valentine or Harrison in my opinion. Dunn maybe, but for me also that is a difficult decision that Arturas will have to make. While a player like Dunn probably is worth 4.6million, you can probably find someone who does what he does for cheaper this upcoming off-season. Is their more untapped potential with Dunn worth offering him the qualifying offer? If the Bulls renounced all free agents, is there then a possibility to open up significant cap space?
Let’s assume the Bulls choose not to offer the qualifying offers, and want to try and create cap space. Is there even cap space to create? Again as of now the Bulls have 21.3 million in cap holds included in team salary. Remove that and the Bulls go from -18.8mil in cap space to 3.3 million in cap space. Technically cap space, but not enough to do anything. Again Bulls have 77.5mil in salary guaranteed. Not only that the Bulls have a 1st round pick(the 2nd round pick salary doesn’t count until signed). The Bulls 1st round pick will count against the cap signed or not. As of now the Bulls have the 7th overall pick, but that could change after the lottery. Until then I assume the 7th pick, and added that into the team salary. That’s an additional 5.5 million in salary, now at about 83 million in team salary. With that team salary number, that’s 31.8 million in cap space, sounds great right? But then there’s Otto Porter Jr.
(credit to Bleacher Report)
Otto Porter Jr has a player option worth 28.4 million. He has the option to accept or decline this salary for the 2020-21 season. Normally the deadline is 6/29, but unclear with the current situation. If OPJ was to decline this option, the Bulls could go into 2020 and have flexibility to not only have significant cap space but even “max contract” space. If OPJ accepts then the Bulls chances of having significant cap space goes away. And unfortunately coming off an injury plagued season with not a lot of money to spend around the NBA, OPJ is liking opting in to his 28.4mil in salary and killing the Bulls 2020 cap space chances.
With that understood, the Bulls likely operate over the cap. Meaning they will not renounce those free agent cap holds, and keep their team salary over the cap. This will give the Bulls the option to use the MLE(mid-level exception) and Bi-Annual Exception to add talent to the roster. The MLE in 2020-21 is projected to be worth 9.75mil and the bi-annual is projected to be 3.8mil. The MLE allows up to a 4 year contract, with raises limited up to 5% of the 1st season. It can also be split between multiple players. Same with the bi-annual but instead only 2 year contracts are allowed. Keep in mind also because the Bulls have a 2nd round pick they will need to save at least 946k of the MLE to sign their 2nd round pick. The MLE will allow the Bulls to offer their 2nd round pick a 4 year contract versus the 2 years the minimum or bi-annual exception allows, which is better for bird rights purposes. The Bulls learned this from the Omer Asik situation years ago. With cap space unlikely, the Bulls main focus will be on their draft pick and the trade market most likely. But there are several players eligible for extensions, and the Bulls could choose to start those talks this off-season.
Lauri Markkanen will become eligible to sign an extension once free agency begins. At this time that date is unclear, but what is clear is Markkanen will enter free agency after next season. The Bulls will have from the start of free agency to the start of the regular season to agree to an extension with Markkanen. If they can not, then he will enter 2021 a free agent and likely a restricted one.
(credit to CBSSports)
Another player who becomes eligible is Zach Lavine. On July 13, 2020 Lavine will be eligible to sign an extension, granted the whole NBA suspension might affect this date. But for now assuming it won’t, that is the date Lavine can sign an extension. The Bulls will have until the start of the 2020-21 regular season to extend Lavine beyond the 2021-22 season. If not, they can open up talks again after next season.
The last player eligible is Otto Porter Jr. Well to be fair Cristiano Felicio is also eligible but let’s not waste time. As soon as free agency begins, the Bulls can enter talks with OPJ on an extension. While they likely wouldn’t do that as of now, they will have until the start of 2021 free agency to agree to one. Perhaps having a better 2020-21 season can give the Bulls something to think about when it comes to extending Otto beyond next season. And again this is of course assuming Otto opts in to his player option.
To sum it all up, the Bulls will enter the 2020 off-season likely acting over the cap. They will rely on their MLE and Bi-Annual exceptions to improve the roster via free agency if they want to go that route. But their draft picks will be the team’s 1st priority to start. Then, they must figure out if they should offer qualifying offers to their restricted free agents. Lastly free agency and extensions decisions for Lavine, Markkanen, and/or Porter Jr will be next.
In 2021, the Bulls will have a lot more flexibility, and in my next article I will discuss that.