Can the Bulls make a run for Dwight Howard in 2013?

Here's a thought -- with Dwight Howard ostensibly remaining with the Magic through to the summer of 2013, what are the chances the Bulls could make a run at him as a free agent that summer?

Of course, it is a source of continuing frustration and incredulity for myself (and plenty of us, I'm sure) that the Bulls were not on Howard's famed list of teams he was willing to be traded to, but on the off chance that he changes his mind and considers Chicago an attractive destination, could Chicago be a player for Howard in the summer of 2013? As an added bonus, getting Howard as a free agent involves amnestying Carlos Boozer! Yay!

According to salary data at ShamSports, the Bulls are pretty well capped out this year and next:


Though the cap situation for 2013/14 also looks pretty restrictive, there are a few things to note:

  1. Richard Hamilton's contract is only partially guaranteed for 2013/14 for $1 million, if the Bulls waive him before July 10, 2013.
  2. The Bulls hold a team option on Jimmy Butler in 2013/14 and 2014/15.
  3. Theoretically, the Bulls could renounce the rights to Taj Gibson, and be rid of his spectacular value contract (you can tell I don't think this is a great idea).

When those three points are factored in, the Bulls are on the hook for $57.34 million in salary committed to four players: Derrick Rose, Carlos Boozer, Luol Deng and Joakim Noah.

If the Bulls were to use the amnesty clause on Boozer after the 2012-13 season, it would save Chicago $15.3 million in salary, bringing that figure down to $42.04 million. The current salary cap is set at $58,044,000 according to ShamSports. Assuming it stays at that level (though it could rise), the Bulls will have a shade under $16 million to use in free agency, right? Annoyingly, no.

Empty roster spots still count against the salary cap until a roster includes 12 players. Each roster spot's salary count is known as a "cap hold", and the minimum cap hold is $480,000. If the Bulls had three players on their roster in the summer of 2013 (Rose, Deng and Noah), that means there will be nine cap holds, raising the overall cap figure by $4.32 million. leaving Chicago with around $11.67 million in salary cap space.

This is obviously not sufficient to make a play for Dwight Howard, who will make $19.5 million next season and will be in line for a raise. The only way Chicago can generate sufficient cap room would be to trade either Deng or Noah. Though Noah would obviously be superfluous were Howard to sign with Chicago, making him a likely trade candidate, Deng's contract expires in 2014, possibly making him more attractive in a swap for the other team.

Either way, though the Bulls could have a decent chunk of cap room in the summer of 2013, and even assuming Chicago could convince Dwight that it is an attractive free-agent destination, barring a trade involving Deng or Noah, it doesn't appear to be a workable scenario.

One take-away from this, though -- amnesty-ing Boozer before the end of next season doesn't make a tremendous amount of sense. Yes, Chicago would be rid of his contract and be under the salary cap, but factoring in guaranteed salaries and cap holds, the Bulls would be at a cap figure of $50.8 million, giving them around $8 million to chase a fairly uninspiring free agent class.


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