The Bulls would be a better team next year if they didn't lose Ben Gordon. They can afford to lose John Salmons and his ball-stopping offense and overrated defense -- he's a horrible team defender, which is what matters at the NBA level. The first part of this plan would be to trade John Salmons for non-guaranteed contracts. The Spurs reportedly had interest in Salmons around the trade deadline last year. Here's a no brainer deal for the Spurs.
Salmons for the non-guaranteed contracts of Fabricio Oberto and Bruce Bowen. The Spurs desperately need wing scoring, especially given Manu's recent proclivity for injury. The Bulls would then waive Bowen and Oberto as their deals are non-guaranteed -- so sayeth Sham's numbers. The Bulls instantly clear all $ 6,429,151 of Salmons' salary for next year off the books. The Spurs get wing scoring help and a solid one on one defender who they can -- maybe -- mold into a good team defender through Popovich's wizardry, at the very least they could hide him on defense. On top of that, after the Bulls waived Bowen and Oberto's salaries, the Spurs are perfectly welcome to re-sign them to cheaper deals. So the Spurs get Salmons essentially for free.
Now, initially -- given Deng's own proclivity for injury -- you might scream that this is nuts. That's where the second deal comes in to play. I'd offer Hinrich for Outlaw and Blake straight up. This saves the Bulls an additional $1.9 million and allows them to replace Salmons with Outlaw --a younger, better player-- and replace Hinrich with Blake -- a cheaper and therefore, better, option at backup PG.
After making these deals and before signing Gordon or the draft picks -- assuming they signed Demarcus Nelson and Roberson, but let Linton Johnson's non-guaranteed contract go, and brought Aaron Gray back on the QO, the Bulls would be at $57,246,997 in salary for the season. According to this article by Marc Stein, the luxury tax line is estimated to decline this year from $71.15 million this year down to $69.4 million. Assuming the Bulls signed their draft picks at the customary 120% of the rookie salary scale, the 16th pick ($1,594,080) and 26th pick ($1,039,800) would total $2,633,880 in salary. Adding this to the salary already on the books, the Bulls would be at $59,880,877. To offer Gordon a 5 year, $50 million dollar contract, the Bulls would have to offer him $8,264,463 in year one. This would put the Bulls at $68,145,340 or $1,254,660 under the luxury tax -- which would give the Bulls a bit of room to offer Gordon more if 5 years $50 million isn't quite enough. I'd go as high as 5 years $55 million, but I wouldn't go any higher, and I don't think the Bulls could really afford to -- at 5 years, $55 million the Bulls would be right up against the luxury tax with only $428,214 of wiggle room -- not nearly enough if the injury bug strikes and they need to pick someone up. Okay, so now that the finances are dealt with, here's how I'd draft.
I'd target Tyler Hansbrough, Dejuan Blair, or James Johnson at #16, whomever is there and if more than one is, the BPA.
Then with the 26th pick, I'd select a SG that can shoot, someone like Chase Budinger, Wayne Ellington, or Danny Green.
If the Bulls went this route, they'd have a lineup that looked like this next year:
SG: Ben Gordon, #26 pick , Anthony Roberson
PF: Tyrus Thomas, #16 pick PF , Tim Thomas
C: Noah, Brad Miller, Aaron Gray (re-signed to the QO)
They'd also have Jerome James's expiring deal.
That's 15 players right there, and it's a pretty good rotation. I think that team is better than the one we finished this year with, because Outlaw is better than John Salmons and all the other real contributors, save for Hinrich, are still here.
Luol Deng ($9,385,000)
Tyrus Thomas ($3,749,880)
Jerome James's expiring deal ($6,200,000)
Salary sent out: $19,334,880
Chris Bosh ($14,410,581)
Marcus Banks' terrible deal ($4,260,000).
Salary coming back: $18,670,581
The Bulls would then have to select a wing with the 26th pick to back up Outlaw --who would move into the starting SF spot with Deng's departure-- possibly Chase Budinger or Sam Young or DaJuan Summers.
That would leave the Bulls looking at this roster:
PG: Derrick Rose, Steve Blake, Marcus Banks, Demarcus Nelson
SG: Ben Gordon, Chase Budinger, Anthony Roberson
SF: Travis Outlaw, Chase Budinger, Tim Thomas
PF: Chris Bosh, Brad Miller, Tim Thomas
C: Joakim Noah, Brad Miller, Aaron Gray (on the QO)
That's a very good starting 5, but the bench -- outside of Brad Miller -- isn't that strong, unless Budinger turns out to be better than expected, and Tim Thomas should be capable off the bench as he has been in the past.
They could also wait and trade for Bosh at the trade deadline depending on the finances -- having the salaries of the draft picks to work with and potentially throw into a trade might be more or less desirable from the Raptors end, I'm not really sure.
What I've come with seems very, very doable and would put the Bulls in the best scenario to recreate their success from last year and stay under the luxury tax. Assuming the Bulls didn't make a Bosh deal, they'd have Brad Miller, Travis Outlaw, Steve Blake, Jerome James, Tim Thomas all coming off the books in the 2010 summer. They'd have money committed to Luol Deng ($11,345,000), Ben Gordon ($9,132,231), Derrick Rose (team option: $ 5,546,160), Joakim Noah (team option: $3,128,536), and Tyrus Thomas (qualifying offer: $6,256,806) for a total of $ 35,408,733 plus the two draft picks from this draft -- #16 ($1,713,600) and #26 ($1,117,680) -- for a grand total of $38,240,013 in committed salary for the 2010-11 season and loads of cap space to go after a max contract level superstar and pieces under contract to make a sign and trade, if necessary, possible. Under the proposed doomsday scenario from the Stein piece, the salary cap in 2010-11 would be at $56,500,000. A max level free agent would be able to sign for about $17 million in the first year under such a situation. The Bulls, under this salary arrangement, would be able to sign a max level free agent and still come in under the cap! Then they would have the space underneath the luxury tax to pursue players with the LLE, MLE, and veteran's minimum and league minimum contracts. Keeping the starting 5 of this current team together while acquiring two (hopefully) productive pieces in this draft along with a max contract level superstar would be huge. It's the dream scenario, and the very plausible steps I've outlined make it possible. It's important to note that in this scenario getting Gordon to sign for 5 years, $50 million is imperative, because if he signs for much more than that it ruins the Bulls chances of getting under the cap enough to offer a max contract -- unless they were to renounce the rights to Tyrus and not sign him to the qualifying offer, which is another option if you're bringing someone like Bosh in, but it's a dicey one, because you'd have to let Tyrus go before you knew for sure that you could sign Bosh or Amare.
Anyway, that's my big plan for the Bulls to keep the core of this team together while getting parts that better fit around Derrick Rose and then to potentially make a run at Chris Bosh and still field a competitive team with what's left over. Sports2 and others that are good at the financial side of things, let me know if I've made any egregious errors in calculation or anything.