Chicago Bulls finances: Forbes #3 team wants to make the playoffs

David Banks

We received some rare public comments from Bulls Chairman Jerry Reinsdorf this week, in the form of a TV interview on WGN. It wasn't much, but still:

Obviously, we're a mediocre team this year, a middle-of-the-pack team. Looks like we probably will make the playoffs but we don't know for sure. But we're not that bad.

...

We're not starting from scratch. We still have Noah and Derrick and (Mike) Dunleavy and Taj Gibson and (Carlos) Boozer. We've got a pretty good base.

I highlighted those quotes as they seem to indicate the same direction that was indicated (and reported on) in the wake of the Deng trade:  This team is not tanking, and instead going for a quick rebuild that emphasizes flexibility, depth, and and...um, I guess just use the term flexibility again.

There's also word from 'dorf on his expectations for Rose to be as good as ever (essentially, THE question that drives everything, and frighteningly so), and various 'carrots' (as Kelly Dwyer calls them) like middling first-round picks and Mirotic ("He's going to come either this year or the following year at the latest"). Plus, the nice bouquets thrown to not only Thibodeau's amazing coaching work but the 'General Manager' (unsure which one) that is "able to get the kind of player that our coach can coach".

Granted, not that we can expect 'dorf to lay out some blustery plan, or even direction, but the absence of such is just more evidence that nothing bold is forthcoming. Dwyer even brings up the worrisome scenario where Mirotic's arrival is delayed and Boozer sticks around instead of being paid to play elsewhere. It's far from unfathomable, yet also antithetical to 'flexibility'.

And it would also show their hand that flexibility rules only to a point, until money (straight cash, homey) trumps it. Remember, the trade of Luol Deng saved a ton of cash, but only bought a bit of flexibility (the ability to make it 'easier' to pay the luxury tax in the next 2 years...oh and a TPE, remember those?).  Punting Marquis Teague bought some cap room, though barely $600k, and they'd already used half of that amount to spread out Rip Hamilton's buyout to avoid a tax charge.

The Bulls did pay the tax last year, and in all likelihood would've this year, but 'dorf has reason to feel alright about it. The yearly Forbes NBA franchise report was just released, and the Bulls are 3rd in value (cracking $1b) and dropped to merely 4th in profits. As Forbes delivers the succinct shot to the gut: "The Bulls are one of the NBA’s most profitable teams every year thanks to four straight years of league-leading attendance, as well as payroll restraint."

So really, why didn't we figure immediately that there was no tank in this team? The players may have a bit of a 'Major League'-esque chip on their shoulder considering one of their most valuable teammates was dealt for cash, but a hypothetical clothes-shedding cutout of Jerry Reinsdorf (yikes...) wouldn't seem apt: why wouldn't he want his team to make the playoffs? I can't find any exact figures in how much the Bulls would get in playoff revenue, but have seen a range anywhere for $2-4m for each home game. And not only are playoff tickets charged at an increase over what's already the league's highest ticket prices, as any season ticket holder knows they also use that time as a way to induce deposits for next year's tickets. Not that the Bulls would expect a dropoff in their season ticket base if they  missed the playoffs, but it's not insignificant to get that money right now.

It's not the lack of 'tanking' that is an issue: I always figured it'd be tough to do effectively and had too much risk towards what's a pretty good situation. Trying within their own constraints to land contributors like DJ Augustin has been some bit of fun. But looking forward to this offseason, it just reminds one of what Woj pointed out in his Carmelo-to-the-Bulls story: the Bulls are "a big market franchise with small-market sensibilities" that values profits over championships. Even last season's ballyhooed luxury tax payment was more than eclipsed by the cash they received via insurance for Rose's injury, a figure they'll receive again this year.

Yup, Reinsdorf is good. And all things considered, his team is pretty good. 'Mediocre' now, but with the chance to improve quickly with some nice assets and a hopefully-returning superstar. But that's been the status-quo for a while: draft well, pay strategically, never extend yourself too much nor show much urgency. It may work, but it's a shame that there isn't a big-market hammer that can ever be deployed for something more.

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