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The Bulls offseason: small-time, but smart

I was hoping that some progress in Rudy Fernandez trade talks, or anything, would pop up over the past few days. Nothing new on that front, but we were given a solid gift today by ShamSports  who published his figures for the Bulls salaries, including new signees Boozer, Korver, Brewer, Watson, Asik, and Thomas.

There's a lot to like about these official (or as official as they get, anyway) numbers. Of Korver, Brewer, and Watson's 3-year deals, only Korver has any guaranteed money that third season and it's for a measly $500k. In a marketplace that often overspends for mid-level (often literally using the full 'mid-level') rotation players the Bulls secured these players in very reasonable contracts that should be moveable especially in the year before their waive-by date. This not only differs from other teams behaviors around the league this offseason, but from the Bulls of a few years ago that would give Andres Nocioni a 6 year deal. 

That part I like.

The Boozer contract is a bit higher than some had reported ($75m total, and that $16.8m in 2014-15 will likely be ugly), but that's the price of getting higher-level talent. And I think it's that premium cost of higher talent that had the Bulls follow the Boozer acquisition with forfeiting the opportunity to acquire another major piece when it came to plotting out their offseason.

Looking at the way these deals are structured: nearly all of the contracts are front-loaded in that first season. The Bulls have done this before with the Nocioni and Hinrich deals (and it sort of backfired when dealing with the luxury tax) but it's very curious that they'd do so in an offseason where they were trying to be as far under the cap as possible. An opportunity that they'd not only tanked a season-plus to secure, but one they likely won't see again anytime soon with Joakim Noah and Derrick Rose up for heavy raises starting next year. 

And those raises mean everything when speculating on the Bulls logic in the way they set up these contracts. After failing at any of the top three big gets, they snatched up Boozer and structured their remaining salaries so they could better afford to pay Rose and Noah in the future. While it's certainly debateable that another major strike could've been had this offseason anyway, the Bulls didn't even give themselves a chance to do so, as I think they decided before even exploring all options that they weren't going to add another major-salaried player to go with Boozer, Deng, Rose and Noah.

So that's why they front-load and forfeited present flexibility to achieve 'long-term' flexibility, a strategy that has no guarantee to acquire more talent in the future, but merely helps them keep the talent they have. Forget another chance at cap space,  by the time Rose and Noah are paid the Bulls will be back bumping up against the tax. 

And while it's a bit depressing (I know, eventually one has to lower expectations...) that the Bulls effectively threw up their hands at the offseason after 'the decision', I'll give them credit: when choosing the path they did, they executed it the right way. They didn't over-commit to middling players in a way that completely shuts them out if a chance does drop in their lap. The contracts they've signed may not be as enticing in terms of future flexibility as getting a big expiring deal (or using that cap space in trades to take on players AND assets for future use), but they're deals that are definitely useable. And the players themselves (they're more than just walking contracts, you animals!) are young and good fits as well.

They better be, becuase we have to hope that this team really does coalesce with a hard-working roster and a demanding coach to overachieve. If not, they'll never become 'worthy' of paying the tax for, and if not, the money spent now will just be re-directed to Rose and Noah, and they'll never have enough talent to get over that hump into the truly elite teams of the league. A bit of a shame that overachievement is a necessity, but I do think this roster has it in them, and as always: everything goes out the window if Rose reaches the absolute pinnacle of stardom.