Omer Asik was selected in the 2nd round of the 2008 draft (Pritchslapped!) and then signed in the summer of 2010 with their cap room to a 2-year deal.
Those 2 years are over, the Bulls are currently over the cap for the foreseeable future, and Asik is a Restricted Free Agent. Seems soon, doesn't it? The CBA agrees, and thus why there's different rules for him than there are for 1st rounders coming off of their usual 3-4 year contracts.
The Bulls can:
- Sign Asik to the $2.4 qualifying offer million if Asik agrees to it; if not,
- The Bulls have the privilege to match any offer sheet from any team to which Asik would agree under the Early Bird Exception. (note: they do not have to use their Mid-Level Exception (MLE) to match offers, though that figure is used to determine the salary, as you'll see below)
- The Bulls can also waive their Early Bird rights to sign Asik to the two-year veteran minimum ($854k in 2011-12), but that point is moot, as Asik will field better offers.
Other teams over the cap can use their cap exceptions (the biggest being the MLE) to make an offer to Asik. Teams under the cap (of which there are many this offseason) can offer more based on their cap room. The Bulls have 'early' Bird rights on Omer, as he's only been on the team for 2 seasons. So, unlike the 'full' Bird rights which allow a team like them (i.e., over the cap) to retain their own players at any amount, the Bulls have restrictions as to what amount of a contract they can pay Asik. Luckily, those limitations also apply to what other teams can offer him.
An old 'loophole' was closed; before which, a team under the cap could offer a contract the players original team couldn't match. The 'fix' was named the Gilbert Arenas provision, since Arenas was a successful 2nd round pick by the Warriors who after two seasons was an RFA and signed a huge offer sheet with the Wizards (who were under the cap) that the Warriors (being over the cap) couldn't match with Early Bird rights.
It's more fully explained here. The key takeaway is that there's no way the Bulls are unable to match an offer sheet to Omer this offseason. Another is that the first season of any offer sheet is limited to the full MLE ($5m).
But it then gets a bit more complicated. If a team is under the cap (like, say, the Cavs, who've expressed interest in Asik), they can make an offer that can still be matched by the Bulls, but it'll be less comfortable to do so. This can be done by offering a contract that's still based on their available cap room, and backloading the money to years 3-4. Larry Coon's example is a team $9m under the cap offering a 4-year, $36m deal with yearly figures of $5/5.2/12.6/13.1m
Again, the Bulls can match that or any offer. But while there's been 'informed speculation' that the Bulls intend to do so, and it'll only cost them $5m in 2012-13, the decision may get tougher than what's currently being let on.
Asik's free agent prospects looked a lot better before the season, as he stagnated or even regressed a bit. However, he's still a young (26 next season), defensive-minded 7-footer. It may seem unreasonable, but it's not inconceivable, that he gets a large, backloaded offer-sheet. Big men get paid. DeAndre Jordan (who was a 3 year player, thus didn't have these Early Bird restrictions) signed a 4/$43m deal just this past offseason. Maybe the similar offers will go first to more highly-touted players like JaVale McGee and Roy Hibbert, but Asik could be seen as a good consolation prize.