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What Re-signing Pau Gasol Means for Next Year's Bulls

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If the Bulls legitimately plan on resigning Gasol, it will cripple their cap space and their ability to add big pieces to the team via free agency.

Mark L. Baer-USA TODAY Sports

Marc Stein reported yesterday that the Bulls plan to try to re-sign Pau Gasol rather than trade him. This has big implications on the Bulls' salary cap next year and how much they will have available to spend on other players.

Salary cap stuff is tedious*, so if you want the short answer, here it is: Signing Pau is going to cripple the team in terms of signing any other average starter-quality player. Unless the Bulls trade off salary, they are going to be limited to minor tinkering in free agency.

*I will preface by stating that I am not a cap expert. If there are errors, leave them in the comments and I will be very thankful. But here is the nitty-gritty from my understanding of what next year's offseason will look like.

Gasol has stated his intention to opt-out of a 1-yr/$7.8m player option for 2016-17, so you can start there as a baseline for how much more he'll looking to earn in a new contract.

The Bulls have two avenues in which they could re-sign Gasol. They are as follows:

1. Use Cap Space

Here are the Bulls' salary commitments for next year, cribbed from the excellent work over at Basketball Insiders:

We won't know the actual dollar numbers until after the moratorium is over, but estimates have it at somewhere around $89M for the cap and $108M for the luxury tax.

The Bulls have $64,750,458 committed to the guaranteed deals of Rose, Butler, Taj, Niko, Dunelavy, Doug, Snell, and Portis. Those guys are going to be on the team next year barring a trade (hah! like that would happen).

They're also going to have cap holds for their own free agents (including Gasol at $9.7m) and their first round draft pick, currently slotted at #23 were the season to end today (they could also possibly get Sacramento's, but the Kings need to win more damnit!).

Let's go with the scenario to free up the most cap space possible: They renounce their cap holds on everyone, all of their cap exceptions, and don't guarantee deals of lower tier guys like Bairstow and Felicio. If that happens, we can ballpark their cap space at somewhere around $22M.

Here's what that cap picture would look like:

Derrick Rose $21,323,252
Jimmy Butler $17,552,209
Taj Gibson $8,950,000
Nikola Mirotic $5,782,450
Mike Dunleavy $4,837,500
Doug McDermott $2,483,040
Tony Snell $2,368,327
Bobby Portis $1,453,680
23rd pick cap hold $1,103,000
2x min. roster charge $1,086,942
Total Salary $66,940,400
Salary Cap Projection $89,000,000
Cap Space: $22,059,600

That's the total possible max the Bulls could give a single player. The Bulls can use this cap space to sign Gasol. But that's not a lot of cap room for anything beyond that when you read guys like Nate Duncan projecting an average starter getting $15m annually with this new, higher, salary cap. Gasol will likely command at least that, if not more.

Bottom line: if the Bulls use cap space to sign Gasol, then say goodbye to your dreams of getting a Nicolas Batum or even a Kent Bazemore with the leftover money. The Bulls would have to make a trade to clear up space to get another big free agent, and though trades in general aren't usually what the Bulls do, they have dumped guys for cap space before.

2. Use an Early Bird Exception

The other way they could sign Gasol is to use an Early Bird exception, as he's a veteran that's been on the team for 2 seasons. This would give them a lot more freedom to sign another free agent, but limits what Gasol can make.

Exceptions allow a team to go over the salary cap. Gasol's Early Bird exception means the Bulls are allowed to offer him 175% of his last year's salary, with 7.5% annual raises thereafter. They would have to sign Gasol to a new deal between 2-4 years, starting at $13M or less.

That's potentially a tough sell for Gasol, but it would make the team way more competitive and still give him a hefty raise on his declined player option.

Using an exception means the Bulls would still have to keep a cap hold of $9.7M, but that would free up $12.9M of cap space to sign a 6th man or below-average starter, and then use the exception to sign Gasol to go over the cap. Here's what that picture looks like:

Derrick Rose $21,323,252
Jimmy Butler $17,552,209
Taj Gibson $8,950,000
Nikola Mirotic $5,782,450
Mike Dunleavy $4,837,500
Doug McDermott $2,483,040
Tony Snell $2,368,327
Bobby Portis $1,453,680
23rd pick cap hold $1,103,000
Gasol cap hold $9,685,000
1x min. roster charge $543,471
Total Salary $76,081,929
Salary Cap Projection $89,000,000
Cap Space: $12,918,071

$13M in cap space can get you a decent player. Maybe a slightly below average starter, which would be a huge upgrade at the wing. Use the draft pick to get a backup PG, and I wouldn't be happy but I could live with that offseason.

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There is a 3rd (best) option here. Let Gasol walk. By renouncing Gasol's cap hold, Gasol's $9.7M on the cap would disappear. The Bulls would have $22M to work with, able to make a competitive offer at a guy like Nic Batum or go the 2011 route and add several mid-tier pieces.

Unless the Bulls plan on really shaking things up with a trade, re-signing Gasol means that the Bulls are going to stubbornly go the same way as this season, hoping that the same basic core of players can contend.