Bulls free agency rumours: So this is it?
We’ve gotten to the point in 2022 that free agency sets in some time after each NBA trading period begins: the Bulls don’t do much and the delusional rationalization that they’re just saving up for a big move.
The new AKME regime has surprised us in the past. There was the 2021 trade deadline and then the 2021 offseason, where the Bulls both struck decisively and also got creative late in the process.
But after the Lauri Markkanen trade, which was another use of creativity but also the first ominous signal that they’re operating in a tax-free payroll budget, it’s in that momentum that we expect a similar creativity, holding out hope that something is being worked out, but ultimately very little happens. The 2022 trade deadline was near complete inactivity, which not only hurt this team’s playoff chances (and it was only made worse by their sole activity signing Tristan Thompson), but they did not acquire players where they had future rights to them to retain flexibility.
(and that term “flexibility” isn’t the giant joke it was back in the days of GarPax because AKME expected that they could make additions in several ways)
And even worse, the little they did only added more obstruction without any substantial benefit. They paid Thompson a little extra using their biannual exception, which means they can’t use him this offseason. They paid Andre Drummond $600,000 more than the minimum that required the use of another exception, the mid-tier non-taxpayer. I don’t understand the reason for this, what if Drummond refuses the minimum? Oh no…uh, they might just move on to another washed 7ft.
And that’s all on top of the ownership limitation of wanting to stay under the tax so they can 1) not pay it and 2) collect payment from the big market teams
I know, we want to believe there is something more here because AKME has already surprised us. And I was really surprised they didn’t have fun re-signing Zach LaVine. But not all of the news and all of the history of Reinsdorfian rule suggests the Bulls are waiting because they’re going to do something big, it’s the obvious answer to keep expenses low and revenues high.
So there was no shocking move from Rudy Gobert, which made sense given Gobert’s contract, but after seeing the cost of the asset, Minnesota didn’t pay something the Bulls could. equal anyway.
And the reported interest in Danillo Gallinari was instructive even in the wasted effort. They weren’t outbid financially, but the Bulls still refused to go any higher in their first-year contract offer than would land them the tax. (reminder, the tax is only actually levied at the end of the regular season).
And it seems there wasn’t much of a backup plan after losing to the Celtics on Gallo. They re-signed Derrick Jones Jr. shortly thereafter.
While this signing is actually smart from a flexibility standpoint (as Jones could be signed using bird rights instead of a cap exception), we immediately get informed speculation that if the Bulls technically have mechanisms to add players, they are self-limited by the tax line:
Updated cap numbers for the Bulls.
• 14 players under contract, one free place
• $3.6 million under tax
• 7.2 million dollars remaining on the MLE to be used
• $5M left on TPE Theis (expires soon) pic.twitter.com/usALbYLy5V
— Mark K (@mkhoops) July 1, 2022
I’m not sure there’s a player “worth” a multi-year, $7.2 million contract who meets his most pressing needs (none of which have been addressed yet this offseason), but the fact is. that you should use these mechanisms to give you more flexibility later. Even though Jones wasn’t in great shape, he can be traded mid-season. They might waive the guys during training camp even though (gasp) they have guaranteed contracts.
There will be opportunities in the days to come. I’m under no illusions that the Bulls will legitimately go after Kevin Durant (and he doesn’t seem to have the Bulls on his radar…wonder why?), but some of that fallout could mean that other players are available. Utah could tear down more of its team after dealing Gobert. Make a trade that saves the other team money for once, and your advantage is getting better players (!).
But what we’ve been conditioned to expect, even with the brief reprieve given by AKME last offseason, is something like a flyer about TJ Warren to regain a foothold or Carmelo Anthony to regain 7 years. And being told Lonzo Ball’s orthopedic surgeon is kind of like a free agent acquisition, if you think about it.
Contrary to how the Reinsdorfs measure success, the team is indeed competitive with the rest of the conference. Many change things and get better on paper. The Celtics won the conference and seemingly avoided “continuity” to trade for Malcolm Brogdon in addition to signing Gallo. This inactivity is not due to trust in the roster (although the addition of Warren will be another salvo in the arsenal of “if only X were healthy!” excuses), but a lack of trust in the property’s total commitment to improving it.
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