Chicago Bulls trade rumors: with Boozer for Bargnani on the table, trade deadline rumors pointing to Bulls cutting salary

Rick Osentoski-USA TODAY Sports

if the Bulls really do want Bargnani for Boozer, that means pretty much only one thing

Just last week, news broke that there were talks between the Bulls and Raptors around a Carlos Boozer for Andrea Bargnani swap. The reports were confirmed locally by KC Johnson, who added that it was the Bulls who initiated the conversation, and that the deal could expand to include Nate Robinson going to Toronto for former Bulls PG John Lucas III.

Nearly immediately after the report broke, the consensus was that these were past discussions and not ongoing. Doug Smith of the Toronto Star had sources saying there were no active talks, and that the Bulls did call but the Raptors were not really receptive to taking on Boozer's contract. Earlier this week, Marc Spears of Yahoo! said that it had been nearly 3 weeks since the matter was discussed.

So I'm not sure if this was always implied, but KC Johnson reiterated today that the deal is still something the Bulls would very much like to do.

League sources said last week the Raptors were told the Carlos Boozer and Nate Robinson deal for Andrea Bargnani and John Lucas III was available whenever they wanted it.

That should be concerning. Because nearly everyone agrees that this is a pretty bad on-court trade for the Bulls, and that was even before considering that the Bulls would have to downgrade from Nate Robinson to JLIII to help sweeten the deal for Toronto. And as it was said here when the rumor broke, it's also bad for a potential 2014 free agency plan, as Bargnani has a $11.5m player option that season and cannot be amnestied (like Boozer could).

It looks like the true 'plan' is to just get under the tax, and the Bulls are pretty serious about it. We haven't heard many Rip Hamilton rumors lately, and that's probably because he can't even be given away. So maybe the next step was indeed moving on to Boozer, as he had been riding a hot few weeks and a team could be desperate enough to not only increase their payroll this season, but pay him nearly $17m in 2014-15. So far, the Raptors haven't shown to be in that state. Neither have the Nets, as you'd think the Bulls would be thrilled with a Boozer deal for Kris Humphries, seeing that his contract is up a year sooner than Bargnani. Sam Amico of Fox Sports Ohio reported this week that the Bulls 'supposedly put out some strong feelers' towards teams to take Boozer, including the Nets.

The important takeaway is that the Bulls are even trying this. Because as much as Boozer is not good, the downgrade for any replacement (listen: the Bulls aren't going to get a better contract and player) is enough to kill their already thin chances at a deep playoff run this season.

But it would follow suit with what the Bulls did in the offseason, sacrificing talent and future assets for a more manageable payroll for the next two seasons. Kirk Hinrich love aside, as that move not only put them in luxury tax territory but put them up against the hard cap. John Paxson mentioned the hard cap last week when effectively saying that the team won't be making any trade deadline additions ("our move hopefully will be bringing Derrick back into the fold"). It's apparent that they not only don't plan on making additions, they really wish to make subtractions.

In Zach Lowe's great piece on the Bulls defense at Grantland, he got some additional information regarding the Bulls payroll from Gar Forman:

Gar Forman, the team’s GM, tells Grantland that Reinsdorf is fine paying the tax in those two seasons, as long as the Bulls don’t get into the dreaded "repeater" status, which carries harsher tax penalties. But approaching the tax or exceeding it also makes it harder to fill the roster around Chicago’s core, since tax teams don’t have access to the full midlevel exception and other roster-building tricks. "With the new collective bargaining agreement and all the new rules," Forman says, "it becomes very difficult to improve your team."

...

"We've got the possibility for flexibility not this summer, but maybe the next one," Forman says. "And we might even have cap room."

I pointed out that the Bulls already have something like $59 million committed the season after that summer Forman cites, meaning they'd have no cap room as of now. "Situations are fluid," Forman says.

He won't elaborate, and he won't address the possibility of using the amnesty provision on Boozer to make that cap room a reality. But that move or an unexpected trade stand as the only means through which Chicago could acquire meaningful cap room before July 2015.

In that piece, Lowe describes Boozer as 'radioactive' when it comes to tradeability. But so far the Bulls are trying to find that right trade that gets them players that are both bad and with a long-term deal, provided that it gets them under the tax this season.

And when it comes to their coveted 'flexibility' in future seasons...why not amnesty, then? Wouldn't it be more 'flexible' to wipe Boozer off the books in 2014 than have Bargnani at $11.5m? Heck, wouldn't it have made more sense to simply keep Omer Asik for two underpaid seasons if he's costing you $15m that same year?

It may in terms of 'flexibility' and the Bulls cap structure. But not cash. As we know, amnesty is free for everyone except ownership, and so the choice is more would you rather pay Bargnani $11.5m, or Asik (or any replacement) AND Boozer's salary (though it's off the cap) for $30m+. We've kind of considered amnesty as an assumed magic bullet to get out from the Boozer deal, but there is definitely reason to suspect ownership would feel that way.

It's the same with the luxury tax this season. The ship has sailed on flexibility this season, so all you'd be losing is cash. And for all the mention of the dreaded 'repeater' (i.e., a scenario where the Bulls pay the tax for 3 out of 4 seasons when so far they've done so 0 times in the past 11), they can get under it in the future through a Boozer amnesty. But that costs more in terms of real money, which is the actual motivation for avoiding the tax line in the first place.

Punting Rip Hamilton for cash is pretty bad, but this deal with Toronto is an even worse move for the Bulls. I've been worried before during both the Thibodeau and Taj Gibson contract talks that the Bulls desire for the Financial Championship would hurt the team too much, but both wound up working out. That said, it looks like if we get lucky in that a Boozer deal like this doesn't happen, it won't be for lack of trying on the Bulls part.

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