The Chicago Bulls have made multiple decisions this week that have alluded to a major decision possibly occurring soon. They have plenty of options they can pursue that can aid the direction of the franchise.
Something peculiar is happening within the Chicago Bulls organization.
The franchise rescinded their qualifying offer for David Nwaba, making him an unrestricted free agent, and waived Sean Kilpatrick Thursday. These decisions come on the heels of the Bulls acquiring and waving former Charlotte Hornets guard Julyan Stone, whose salary for the 2018-19 season was non-guaranteed, in a three-team deal sending Jerian Grant to the Orlando Magic.
The latter moves made sense. Neither Kilpatrick or Grant figured to be in the franchise’s long-term plans. The Nwaba decision caused for pause. He’s still a young player (he doesn’t turn 26 until January) who had an impressive 2017-18 season with the Chicago Bulls. Nwaba averaged 7.9 points, 4.7 rebounds and 1.5 assists per game on 47.8 percent shooting from the field and 34.6 percent shooting from beyond the arc in 70 games played with Chicago. He consistently brought the defensive intensity the Bulls lacked on a nightly basis.
The Chicago Bulls could’ve matched an offer by another franchise if they made one or let him go if the money he commanded was too high for their liking. Rescinding his offer implies the team will lose Nwaba for nothing.
It makes me wonder what’s really going on with the Chicago Bulls’ brain trust. Even with the financial incentives, it’s difficult to believe the franchise would make these kinds of moves without a bigger plan in mind. K.C. Johnson of the Chicago Tribune all but confirmed this theory.
What did these moves do?
Before digging into what the Chicago Bulls could do going forward, one must understand what the previously mentioned moves accomplished for the franchise.
By trading Grant, waiving Kilpatrick and rescinding Nwaba’s offer, Chicago opened at least $5.1 million in cap space for the 2018-19 campaign. Depending on what they decide to do with Paul Zipser, this will leave the Bulls with approximately $19-$20.5 million in cap space moving forward heading into the season.
These moves will also keep Chicago’s cap space open for the 2019 offseason. Next summer figures to be even more busy than this past one because of the projected marquee free agents: Kyrie Irving, Jimmy Butler, Kawhi Leonard, DeMarcus Cousins, Kevin Durant, Klay Thompson, Kemba Walker, and many more. The Bulls haven’t historically been a popular destination for free agents in their prime. But, all it takes is one star to buy into the vision the Bulls are looking to build to turn the franchise’s fortunes around.
What can the Chicago Bulls do moving forward?
The Chicago Bulls have an abundance of directions they can pursue. An idea that’s been gaining momentum is the Bulls trading for Carmelo Anthony; a move five years in the making going back to the franchise’s free agency campaign in 2013. Chicago would likely send the contracts of Omer Asik, who only had $3 million guaranteed in his contract for 2019-20, or Cristiano Felicio back to the Oklahoma City Thunder, who would save between $70-80 million due to being repeating luxury tax offenders. The Bulls would probably waive Anthony and absorb the salary number they agree upon into their cap space.
In this scenario, the Bulls would have to receive significant assets to make the trade worth it for them. The Atlanta Hawks received two future second round picks and the right to swap second-round picks in 2023 in a $12 million salary absorption trade with the Brooklyn Nets for Jeremy Lin. The Nets received a protected first-round pick and a future second-round pick from the Denver Nuggets in a $21 million salary dump involving Kenneth Faried and Darrell Arthur.
For $27 million and significant luxury tax relief, the Bulls should be able to receive a nice haul. One future first-round pick and two second-round picks depending on the protections of the first rounder seem appropriate. The Thunder already traded away their 2020 first round pick to the Orlando Magic. The earliest first round pick they can trade away is their 2022 one. This pick may gain value as time passes due to the unpredictable nature of the NBA.
Side note: Taking on Melo’s expiring contract while parting with either Asik’s or Felicio’s deals will give the Bulls an extra $8-$11 million in cap space in the summer of 2019. Depending on whether they agree to deals with Cameron Payne or Bobby Portis, whose contract expire after this season, the Bulls could potentially have upward of $60 million in cap space in the 2019 offseason.
Restricted free agent options
Another route the Chicago Bulls could go down is tapping into the restricted free agent market.
Clint Capela is probably out of the question since he’s looking for a long term-high salary deal and the Bulls just drafted Wendell Carter Jr. The Bulls tend to carry a lot of guards on the roster and there’s reason to believe the franchise would be intrigued with the idea of having Marcus Smart on the roster due to his toughness, defensive intensity and playmaking ability. However, he isn’t the most seamless fit for their roster. Plus, there haven’t been many reports of the Bulls being interested in him since late June.
If the Bulls were to bring any restricted free agent on their roster though, it would probably be Rodney Hood or Jabari Parker. Chicago was reportedly intrigued by Hood around the trade deadline and their interest still looms. Hood is a crafty shot creator who efficiently knocks down 3-pointers; 37 percent career 3-point percentage. He has the tools to defend well on the perimeter. Hood’s struggles with nagging injuries don’t make him the most attractive free agent on the market. He also isn’t a good distributor. However, the Bulls are looking to add more versatile wings. Hood fits that billing in a few ways despite his flaws as a player. It wouldn’t be too shocking if they were still trying to work out a deal with him.
Parker’s appeal to Chicago is more evident
Parker is a hometown kid who grew to become the No. 2 pick in the 2014 NBA Draft. His two ACL tears have halted his progress and development as a player. But, he’s still a very reliable scorer (20.1 points per game during the 2016-17 season) and an improving shooter. Like Hood, Parker’s deficiencies as a playmaker for others limit how effective he can be on the offensive end. His overall positive impact on the game, especially on defense, has always been subpar since he entered the league.
But, Parker and the Bulls reportedly have mutual interest with one another. So, if the Bulls make a move for a restricted free agent, it’ll probably be for Parker.
If the Chicago Bulls sign a contract with Hood or Parker, it’d likely be a 2-year deal. There would probably be a lot of money being given the first year with the second season either not being guaranteed or partially guaranteed to protect their cap space in the 2019 offseason. The amount of franchise-altering players who are projected to be available next summer are too enticing for the Bulls to pigeonhole themselves to players who come with as much risk and flaws as Hood and Parker; they’re already going down this route with Zach LaVine.
I’m not extremely confident the Chicago Bulls will make a smart move after their recent actions. They tend to make unnecessary questionable or boneheaded decisions. All I know is it feels like something is brewing in Chicago.
We’re going to have to wait to see what it’ll be.