- The Bulls have another big summer head, with decisions on Jimmy Butler, Rajon Rondo and Dwyane Wade ahead.
While the NBA playoffs are still going, the 2017 off-season is rapidly approaching for many teams with massive decisions to make. CBA expert Danny Leroux breaks down the major challenges and opportunities for the Chicago Bulls in The Crossover's NBA Summer Preview series.
A three-day span in mid-April could end up shaping the Chicago Bulls for years to come. The eight-seed won the first two games of their series against the Boston Celtics before Rajon Rondo missed the remaining contests due to a wrist injury. That short success could give executives Gar Forman and John Paxson cover to bring a substantially similar team back next season, which would be a massive mistake. While Dwyane Wade’s player option is out of their control, Chicago would be passing on yet another offseason to either build the team around Jimmy Butler or initiate a more extensive rebuilding process.
Here are three key storylines to watch for the Bulls this off-season:
Jimmy Butler: While the All-Star has another two seasons under contract, this summer would be the best time to move him if the front office decides he is not a part of their long-term plans. Boston’s cavalcade of draft assets makes them a perfect fit for a trade and Butler brings more security than pending free agent Paul George. That said, the Bulls could justifiably decide Butler is their foundational piece moving forward and build around him this summer or moving forward. Draft night will likely provide the first clear sign of their intentions since being able to choose draftees would provide substantially more value for the Bulls if they decided they wanted to trade Butler.
Dwyane Wade’s player option: Chicago gave Wade a $23.8 million player option that looks different now after a tumultuous season. The future Hall of Famer would be unlikely to match that 2017–18 salary if he opts out but free agency would allow Wade to secure a longer commitment and/or find a different, more competitive team for the next few years. Fortunately, the Bulls will know his decision before the start of free agency.
Rajon Rondo’s partial guarantee: The calibrator for the Bulls’ plans because keeping him at $13.4 million cuts significantly into their salary flexibility for this off-season. Alternatively, Chicago could try to trade the point guard on draft night or simply waive him, which would either leave $3 or 1 million on their books for 2017–18, depending on whether or not they use the stretch provision. Like Wade, this decision will happen before free agency kicks off on July 1.
Potential Free Agents: Dwyane Wade ($23.8M Player Option), Rajon Rondo (Partial Guarantee), Nikola Mirotic (Restricted), Cristiano Felicio (Restricted), Michael Carter-Williams (Restricted), Isaiah Canaan (Partial Guarantee), Joffrey Lauvergne (Restricted) and Anthony Morrow (Unrestricted)
Likely Summer of 2017 Cap Space: None
Realistic Maximum Summer of 2017 Cap Space (using $101M estimate): $52 million without Wade, Rondo and Mirotic
2017 Draft Assets: Own first (16th overall) and Sacramento’s first rounder if #11, which is very unlikely. Second round pick owed to Knicks from Derrick Rose/Robin Lopez trade.
Potential Targets: Who Chicago can add this summer depends entirely on how much space they have available. Even with Wade on their books, the Bulls could have enough room to make a play for Gordon Hayward, Jrue Holiday or George Hill. However, adding Rondo’s $13.4 million to the ledger pushes the team closer to the Non-Taxpayer Mid-Level exception, worth $8.4 million for the 2017-18 season. That path would make depth wings like PJ Tucker or CJ Miles possibilities, though the front office could also try for a power forward like Ersan Ilyasova or Dante Cunningham for less than that full amount, particularly if the price tag for Nikola Mirotic gets too high.
Pressure Scale: 8. With their possible lack of flexibility, it may be surprising that the Bulls have so much pressure this off-season. However, this summer charts the course for where the franchise is headed in the future and some 2017 choices will make future shifts more difficult. A key reason to make the big decisions now is the fact that Nikola Mirotic, Cristiano Felicio, Michael Carter-Williams and Joffrey Lauvergne will all be on the restricted market if the front office makes them qualifying offers. If Wade returns and they decide to keep Rondo, Chicago can play the waiting game with whoever they want to keep and try to scare opposing teams off by looking like they will match. If they end up with cap space, Carter-Williams is the most likely to go due to his sizeable cap hold (almost $8 million) and disappointing play. Other teams can make those offer sheet decisions easier by committing to a salary that is either too high or too low but it could put significant money on their books moving forward. The Bulls front office can look at Portland’s decisions last summer as a clear example of what can happen when a team aggressively retains their restricted free agents even on negative value contracts. Beyond that, waiting puts even more pressure on next summer and a likely weaker free agent class.
State of the Franchise: TBD. Like so many teams, the Bulls face an identity crisis their ownership and front office will need to solve before free agency. The two most logical paths are building around Butler or tearing the whole thing down since idling for a year puts them in the same precarious position the Pacers are currently facing with Paul George: figuring out how to construct a team whose best player will be an unrestricted free agent after that season. Even so, it may turn out that clearing space yields very few near-term rewards if the best players choose other suitors and Chicago’s restricted free agents garner garish offer sheets. That downside risk would actually present an even clearer opportunity in 2018 if ownership, management and Bulls fans are willing to be patient.