Jimmy Butler bet on himself and won.
Instead of agreeing to a four-year contract extension with the Bulls in the offseason worth somewhere in the range of $11 million per year, Butler decided all that time he spent in the gym was going to pay off in the form of an even more lucrative contract in 2015.
When Butler and the Bulls failed to reach an agreement on an extension, there was some angst that this would be the last year we would see him in a Bulls uniform. That angst has risen for some since Butler turned himself into a bona fide star player and an MVP candidate.
Would the notoriously thrifty Bulls really shell out a max contract (or match a max offer sheet) for Butler with so much money already tied up in the rest of the roster? A max deal would likely push Chicago into the tax, and the tax is an area Jerry Reinsorf's Bulls aren't too familiar with.
The way Butler is playing, there should be no shortage of teams lining up to submit a max offer sheet. Steve Kyler of BasketballInsiders.com has already mentioned the Knicks as a team willing to offer Butler the max, and there are sure to be others.
But honestly, I'm not worried one bit about any of these potential suitors, because I'm about 99.999999999% sure Jimmy Butler will be a Chicago Bull for a long time. And according to David Haugh of the Chicago Tribune, the Bulls are preparing for that as well:
No player means any more to his team at both ends of the floor than Butler does to the Bulls, who stand ready to show how much they believe that. Internally, the Bulls are planning to take a proactive approach to contract negotiations with Butler next July and secure the shooting guard for a long-term spot alongside Derrick Rose.
They began preparing for that inevitability one year ago this week when they reset the clock on the NBA's repeater tax - which penalizes teams that pay the luxury tax three of four seasons - by trading Luol Deng to the Cavaliers. They fully expect to sign Butler to a max deal next July before another team even gets involved to tempt him with an offer sheet, which the CBA says they can after the moratorium ends. They accept that the size of Butler's contract will put the Bulls in position to pay the luxury tax, something Chairman Jerry Reinsdorf says he will do for a championship contender his team is.
I can't quite tell if Haugh is actually reporting something here because that magical "sources" word isn't used, but it sure seems like this is coming from somebody tuned into the Bulls' thinking. This doesn't just say that the Bulls are willing to match a max offer sheet, but it says they're willing to come out and sign Butler to a max deal before anybody else even comes calling.
The Bulls can offer Butler up to a five-year max (designated player rule doesn't apply because it wouldn't be an extension) with a first-year salary that would likely be around $16-17 million. It should be noted that Butler would be eligible for the Derrick Rose Rule bump if he won MVP this season, but as awesome as he has been, I don't think we have to worry about that.
Anyway, being proactive and offering a max deal (or near max) right out of the gate in the summer would be ideal, as it would help build good will with the player/agent and could help avoid any funny business with offer sheets. And by funny business I mean something like the Chandler Parsons contract that would allow Butler to opt out after two years in order to take advantage of the exploding cap.
The exploding cap is one of the reasons the Bulls shouldn't give a damn about shelling that cash out to Butler. Looking at the rest of the roster, the Bulls owe about $60.16 million to seven players next year. Throw in Kirk Hinrich's $2.85 million player option and that's right around $63 million for eight players. A max for Butler would put Chicago at about $80 million for nine players, which would likely be right around the tax line. There will also be a first-round pick (or picks?) to think about, in addition to decisions on Mike Dunleavy and Aaron Brooks.
So yeah, the Bulls would almost certainly go into the tax next year if they keep everybody that's under contract. But the repeater tax isn't an issue, and once that cap blows up, the tax won't be as much of a concern. It would be nice if it wasn't a concern either way, but this is the Bulls we're talking about here.
If the Bulls were to try and dump salary in order to fit Butler in under the tax, the obvious candidate would be Taj Gibson. I'd probably be more concerned about losing Gibson rather than Butler at this point, although if one HAD to go, the choice is obvious. But I'd rather just pay all these really good players, unless the team really needs some sort of shake-up. (And if we're talking MAJOR shake-up, that's when Joakim Noah's name starts getting bandied about in trade talks, but I digress.)
When it comes down to it, Butler has already earned himself a max deal with his extraordinary play this season. Yeah, he still has to prove it over the course of a full year and into the playoffs, but it's tough to look at him and think there's going to be some serious regression. Perhaps playing 40 minutes a night will catch up to him, but that shouldn't be held against him.
The Bulls have been searching for that secondary wing star to play with Rose for years, and now that they've found him, there's no way they let him get away. There would be fire and pitchforks at the Advocate Center if Butler wasn't a Bull next season.
I'd be willing to bet that Butler will be in Chicago for the long haul, and like Butler himself, I'm confident that I would win.