The Chicago Bulls had already lost on Halloween night even before Tristan Thompson waxed them on the glass, Derrick Rose sprained both ankles and the Cleveland Cavaliers took round one of the NBA's newest rivalry at the United Center. Just a few hours before the game, Adrian Wojnarowski of Yahoo! Sports reported small forward Jimmy Butler had rejected the Bulls' final offer before the midnight deadline for early extensions, making him a restricted free agent next summer.
Butler did his best to make the story about himself, not the organization. He told Wojnarowski "It came down to me deciding that I want to bet on myself,". What's more curious is why the Bulls decided they didn't yet want to bet on Butler.
The Bulls appear to have entered the negotiation asking Butler to take a deal close to what they gave Taj Gibson two years ago, something in the ballpark of $8.5 million per season for four years. Butler and his agent were rightfully thinking bigger after seeing all the new TV money wash over the league. They wanted a contract that started at $12.5 million per season. The gap would reportedly close between the two sides by about $2 million per year, but a compromise couldn't be reached.
"We tried like heck to get something done, but ultimately, the Bulls wanted a ‘hometown’ discount," said Butler's agent, Happy Walters. "While understandable, I doubt their GM or coaches give Mr. Reinsdorf a discount when negotiating their own deals."
In a vacuum, there's nothing inherently wrong with the Bulls' offer. A $10 million annual contract offer for a perimeter player who failed to shoot over 40 percent from the field and 30 percent from the three-point line isn't exactly a slap in the face. The majority of Butler's value comes on defense, and conventional wisdom says you don't pay eight figures for a wing stopper. If Trevor Ariza just signed for $8 million per season, to name one example, does offering Jimmy $10 million+ really equate to a lowball?
Before we blast the Bulls, it's worth pointing out that this is usually just how negotiations go in the NBA. The Spurs are famous for getting their best players to take hometown discounts, and it's no coincidence that San Antonio failed to reach an extension with Kawhi Leonard when he refused one. For the Bulls, the 'hometown discount' has become the standard operating procedure. For the most part, it's worked out for them.
Go through the Bulls' recent history with early extension candidates and you'll the see the term a lot. It's even in the news hit on Kirk Hinrich's extension in 2006, which states Hinrich asked for 'Tony Parker money' of $66 million for six years and ended up settling for $47.5 million over five. It's the reason Joakim Noah and Taj Gibson own two of the league's most team-friendly contracts right now. At this point, it's hard to believe some argued the Bulls overpaid for each when it happened.
The problem here is that I wonder if this is really what the Bulls want to be known as, a franchise flushed with cash that still plays hardball with its own players. Even if it typically works out, it seems like a bad look in a league where agents and potential free agents are always taking notes.
The Bulls did well to get Gibson and Noah to take less money, that much is for sure. They've come out on the winning end of their two most contentious negotiations in recent years, too, first with Ben Gordon and then with Luol Deng. Gordon rejected $50 million to get $60 million from the Detroit Pistons, and promptly fell off, leaving the Bulls to look like geniuses. Deng rejected three years, $30 million last year to sign for two years, $20 million with the Heat this summer.
In Butler's case, though, I don't think it's apples-to-apples. The market is what it is thanks to the new TV money and touchstone contracts signed by wings like Gordon Hayward and Chandler Parsons last summer. While both Hayward and Parsons are more proficient scorers, it isn't out of the realm of possibility that Butler could see a similar offer sheet in restricted free agency. The Jazz were forced to match a four-year, $63 million offer sheet for Hayward the season after he shot 41 percent from the floor. The Mavs pried away Parsons with a tricky three-year, $46 million offer sheet that has the last year built as a player option.
To put it simply: the Bulls had the money to pay Butler and chances are he would have been worth it. Free agency is always a headache when you want your own players back; look no further than the Omer Asik fiasco as evidence. The Bulls sure seem like they do want Butler back, and they should. At that point, why try to nickle and dime him out of $2 million per season?
Butler was not great last season, but there are plenty of reasons to believe he'll make a jump this year. Playing with Derrick Rose will help. Playing alongside more shooters will help. Hopefully, getting healthy will help, too.
More than anything, Butler has a high floor. You didn't need to watch LeBron score 36 on Halloween against Mike Dunleavy and Tony Snell to know Butler's value. Even if wing defense typically doesn't get you paid, you certainly need it to be a championship-level team. The NBA is loaded with dynamic wing scorers, and you can bet you'll need someone to defend them in the postseason. Butler does enough elsewhere -- get to the foul line, rebound, ect. -- to warrant the money.
Another reason the Bulls need Butler around long-term? They just spent a ton of assets on acquiring Doug McDermott. You don't trade two 20 picks for a role player. By doing so, the Bulls essentially said they view McDermott as a future starter at the three. If you're going to start an ace shooter and minus defender like McDermott, you sure as hell better have someone who can defend next to him.
Jonathan Tjarks put it well yesterday: "What really kills a salary cap isn't a player in his prime making more money than his market value, it's a declining player dealing with injuries who can no longer be the player he's being paid to be,". Whether the Bulls could have gotten a slightly more team-friendly deal on Butler shouldn't really be the point. The fact that they got Gibson and Noah for such a fantastic price and that Ben Gordon sucked as soon as he left here isn't the point, either.
The Bulls need Jimmy Butler going forward, and whether the price point is $10 million or $12 million per season shouldn't really make a difference. It's not like they're a small market team struggling to make ends meet. This team turns a huge annual profit every year, and giving Butler a slight bump won't change that.
I expect Jimmy to be back, but now it might be at over $14 million per season. If it comes to it, is he worth that much money? Throw your preconceived notions about the relative value of NBA contracts out the window. Butler is worth it because he helps the team. It's not like they'd be creating cap space by letting him walk.
I think the Bulls realize this, I just don't know why they decided to make things harder on themselves. Jimmy Butler is going to get a big offer sheet next summer, let's just hope the Bulls finally decide at that point that he's worth it.