Chicago Bulls Salary Cap Situation and Free Agency: Are all scenarios putting the Bulls in the luxury tax?

It's the eve of NBA Free Agency. Some rumored signings have already happened around the league, and there are already rumors of a prioritized Bulls target being a veteran PG to steady things (with Marquis Teague as a backup) while Derrick Rose rehabs.

Earlier this offseason we went over the financial issues facing the Bulls: they have a lot of guaranteed money tied up, and are right up against the luxury tax, a limit they've never chosen to go over in its history.

But when adding more information and crunching the numbers, it's even more troublesome.

  1. We can figure Marquis Teague's first-year salary at $1,028,400. That is 120% of his draft slot, a figure which nearly all teams sign their draftees to.
  2. Assume the luxury tax is staying at its guaranteed minimum for this season - $70,307,000. I believe it could be raised if BRI is higher than expected this coming season, but I haven't seen anywhere that such a situation is expected.
  3. The minimum roster size is 12. So the Bulls have to sign some players, anybody, to get up to that number.

Here's how the Bulls cap situation stands at the very minimum scenario, assuming just the guaranteed money (plus the $500k guaranteed to Korver if he's cut) and signing all rookie free agents:

Rose $15,506,632
Boozer $15,000,000
Deng $13,365,000
Noah $11,300,000
Hamilton $5,000,000
Gibson $2,155,811
Butler $1,066,920
Teague $1,028,400
Rookie Min $473,604
Rookie Min $473,604
Rookie Min $473,604
Rookie Min $473,604

Korver (buyout) $500,000
Total $66,817,179
Tax Level $70,307,000
Room $3,489,821

Looking at the following variables, and you can see how impossible this gets.

Asik $5,000,000 (assuming he receives the maximum allowed offer sheet)
Korver $4,500,000 (difference in salary vs. buyout amount)
Brewer $4,370,000
Watson $3,200,000
Vet Min $854,389 (cap number of 2-year vet min. Even more experienced players get this cap figure)

Until now, I've been casually figuring there's 'no room' under the tax after retaining Asik. You can play around with your own spreadsheets, but just matching Asik puts them over. Simply having veterans instead of rookies for 4 spots adds $1.5m more to their total.

Since the season ended, the general story of the 2012-13 roster went from possibly not retaining all of Korver/Brewer/Watson to likely retaining none of them. That had me figuring the Bulls were using the tax line as a self-imposed hard payroll limit. But all reports also indicated that Asik would be matched, and as we see now that means they're going over. And indeed, that's what the latest rumblings (as noted in this fanpost) indicate:

KC Johnson: "it's likely they will enter luxury tax territory"
Sam Smith: "I actually do expect them to pay luxury tax next season"
Nick Friedell: "Bulls don't want to go very far into the tax"

Gar Forman had this to say following the draft:

Jerry [Reinsdorf] has been very consistent with us that we want to try to put together the best basketball team we can put together. Our decisions up to this point and our decisions this summer will be basketball decisions. They won't be financial decisions. Now, are finances a part of it, going out for the next three, four, five years? It always is with whatever decision you make, but we're making basketball decisions.

Now, of course: this is a lie. They can make the best team possible by using their non-guaranteed deals for a higher-priced acquisition, or at least acquiring more assets. I'd love to be proven wrong, but would be floored if they did anything drastic like that, and/or amnestied Carlos Boozer to gain real flexibility.

You can expect more along the lines of the informed speculation that the very article that quote is in suggests: The Bulls will be 'mostly spectators', and 'look for cheaper alternatives' for Korver/Brewer/Watson in free agency.

But the willingness to pay some tax is better than none, right? I will consider it a step up from my worst-case-apocalyptic-shitshow scenario if the Bulls at least match an Omer Asik offer and it put them over the tax threshold.

And if that's the case, you could argue (and I will!) that you might as well keep an affordable season of CJ Watson, as the maximum the Bulls could offer a free agent after retaining Asik is less than that anyway. But I still expect 'cheaper alternatives' to all three.

So we should be slightly encouraged that the Bulls at least have some kind of wiggle room from ownership when it comes to navigating the tax threshold this offseason.

However there is another important thing to remember: the tax is only assessed on the roster as of the end of the regular season. By being barely over, it still opens up the opportunity for a midseason trade (likely with Rip Hamilton) that would put them back under. So there is still a lot of time, and potentially a lot of moves, before seeing if 'basketball decisions' are really at the forefront here.

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