The Bulls do have avenues to improve the team this offseason, whether it be through the use of the mini mid-level exception starting at $3.18 million a year, or the $5 million trade exception created in the Kyle Korver trade last summer. The ship has likely sailed on a Richard Hamilton trade, and the Chicago Tribune's K.C. Johnson said that there was little interest from other teams on that front.
I highly doubt the Bulls were looking to take on much salary in a Hamilton trade anyway, because there's this little thing called the luxury tax, with new penalties going into effect this year for teams that go deep into the tax. The Bulls are already several million over the tax line with just eight players under contract, so using the MMLE or making a trade with the exception (would have to be for a player under contract) would push the Bulls pretty deep into the tax. So it's not exactly a surprise when Johnson says that the Bulls will almost assuredly not use their MMLE this offseason:
The Bulls, already over the projected luxury tax line with just their eight players currently under contract, likely won't fully use the taxpayer mid-level exception projected to be just above $3 million. Most expect Nate Robinson and Marco Belinelli to receive offers beyond the Bulls' means.
Unlike last year, when the Bulls targeted Kirk Hinrich and aggressively pursued him with a two-year, $8 million deal, the Bulls mostly will wait out the market to see who is available at their price later in the summer.
The Chicago Sun Times' Joe Cowley wrote something similar on Friday, with more specifics on Robinson and Belinelli. The Bulls and Robinson have reached the understanding that both sides will likely be parting ways, as Nate is searching for a multi-year deal. With the 2014 Plan coming up next offseason, the Bulls don't want to shell out any multi-year contracts. Robinson supposedly would sign another one-year deal somewhere, but he would want a bigger role than he would likely have in Chicago next year.
As for Belinelli, the Bulls could theoretically offer him a one-year contract worth $2.35 million because of Non-Bird rights, but the belief is he'll be looking for more money. And who knows if the Bulls would even offer that $2.35 million.
While the trade exception isn't mentioned, it's certainly implied that it won't get used either. The Bulls were reportedly trying to trade for Thomas Robinson, but it would have been used for a larger deal and not for themselves, as he would have added $3.5 million to the payroll.
Barring some other trade, it appears the only type of activity for the Bulls this offseason will be vet minimum signings (Yippee!). One of those is likely to be Nazr Mohammed, who can sign for 120 percent of last year's minimum deal as a Non-Bird free agent. The Bulls could then certainly use another big and another wing.
While none of this is really a surprise to anybody, it's still disappointing to see the Bulls refuse to shell out a little extra cash in order to improve the team. I know the new tax penalties are harsh, but I'm of the belief that this should be an "all-in" type season in terms of spending considering this may be the last rodeo for a few of the core guys. And yes, I do believe this team is a title contender next year, although I know they aren't the favorite.
Finally, I wonder whether Gar Forman will ever be asked about Korver getting traded for nothing (except cash!).