With 20 games left in regular season and a potential playoff berth on the horizon, in due time the NBA's free agency period will be here. For the Bulls, they'll have three of their own entering unrestricted free agency in Pau Gasol, Joakim Noah, and E'Twaun Moore. And though much has been made of the Bulls plans this offseason in regards to Gasol, little has been made about Moore. However, of that group, Moore should be of the utmost priority.
In Moore's initial season with Chicago, he appeared in 56 games, only mustering nine minutes per game. His play was sporadic, as he was behind on the depth chart. But even then, when Moore did receive minutes, it wasn't hard to see the value he brought to the team, as last season's contest against Oklahoma City showcased. For Moore, it was about finding consistency, in his level of play and minutes on the court. As he entered his second season with the Bulls, he eventually found that, and has prospered.
As first year head coach Fred Hoiberg tinkered with lineups and rotations in the beginning of this season, it left Moore without a strong sense of where he was. Through the first month of the season Moore's minutes were steady, but as December and the New Year rolled around, they fluctuated. Staying level headed, when given his chance, Moore continued to showcase his abilities and what he could bring to a team suffering from a depleted wing position with Mike Dunleavy Jr. out. With the end of January approaching and the Bulls struggling, Hoiberg finally began to give Moore the minutes he needed, and deserved. And with an eventual injury to starting shooting guard Jimmy Butler, it provided Moore an even more opportune time to showcase his abilities on a larger scale.
With E'Twaun Moore, there's nothing flashy about his game. Never does he get too high nor too low, rather he stays within his lane, playing to his capabilities. As a combo guard, and someone who can defend the one, two and three (depending on the matchup), Moore is, and in the future can be, an adequate compliment to both Butler and Rose.
Offensively, whether he's with the starters or the second unit, there's always this sense of calm when Moore is on the floor. He knows what he's capable of, and plays to his strengths damn near perfectly, rarely will you see him venture out of his comfort zone. Off the bounce, Moore has shown a keen knack for the floater, having that soft touch as to push the ball up just above the defender's outreached arms to gently fall into hoop. He can hit the pull-up jumper off the pick-and-roll, or step-back from a long two to a three, or when the situation presents itself, take it all the way to basket. Moore is steady with the ball in hands, having the ability to create for himself off the bounce, or driving and finding the open teammate.
Defensively, Moore has arguably been the second best defender behind Butler. And when Butler is off the floor, Moore has earned the right to guard the opposing team's best perimeter defender. At 6'4, Moore has a stout stature that allows him to hold his own in isolation situations either out on the perimeter or in the post, as we've touched on previously. For a team's that's struggled immensely on this end of the floor, Moore's IQ has shown. Knowing where to be in rotations, reading the passing lanes or just flat out communicating with teammates, Moore has prospered as an individual and team defender.
But, the question then becomes: how much should the Bulls pay him, and how can they retain him?
Seeing as how Moore has played this season, especially as of late, there's going to be numerous teams throwing substantial amounts of money at him given the increase in the salary cap. And he deserves it, that can't be overstated enough.
For the Bulls, there are two ways in which they can retain him, as explained by Dave Rok in his FanPost from yesterday. One of those ways is by using their own cap space, and the other is using Moore's Early Bird Exception, earned by being on the Bulls for 2 seasons already:
"According to the CBA FAQ by Larry Coon, the Early Bird Exception allows teams to exceed the salary cap to re-sign their own free agents...To qualify for the Early Bird Exception, the player must play for two seasons without clearing waivers or changing teams as a free agent. A team may use the Early Bird exception to re-sign its own free agent for up to 175% of his salary in the previous season or 104.5% of the average salary in the previous season, whichever is greater.
The "average salary" for 2015-2016 is not determined yet, but is estimated to be $5.74 million. This means the Early Bird exception contract for E'Twaun Moore could start at 2 years, $12 million, and he could be retained while the Bulls exceed their available cap space. (E'Twaun Moore will have a cap hold equal to 130% of his 2015-2016 salary this offseason.) Early Bird Exception contracts can be up to four years in length with 7.5% raises season-over-season, so the longest, most high-paying contract Moore could receive under this exception is 4 years, roughly $26 million. If Moore is unable to secure more than $6m per year elsewhere, this will be one of the main advantages the Bulls have this offseason -- the ability to exceed the rapidly ascending cap by retaining Moore while utilizing the remaining cap space on needs other than a backup wing."
In an ideal situation, the Bulls would keep Moore at his low cap hold during free agency, and then use this Early Bird Exception to re-sign Moore instead of dipping into their cap space. As a result, using that remaining cap space(hopefully not on Gasol) on other team needs, casting their pole for larger fish. But that's easier said than done, as it wouldn't be surprising to see Moore fairly and deservedly commanding more than that six million per year.
For the Bulls, if they do indeed see Moore as a part of this team's future (which they should), they're going to have to sell E'Twaun on staying. With Moore and the Bulls, there's a seemingly growing comfortability in knowing Hoiberg's system in addition to the chemistry on the floor with the likes of Rose, Butler, Dunleavy, Doug McDermott etc. Moreover, E'Twaun would know his role, and what's asked of him. Although more than those things, is the Bulls loyalty: sticking with Moore through his two seasons, and eventually giving him the opportunity he deserved. Knowing this, and that more opportunities could be on the horizon, could plausibly resonate well with Moore. It should also be mentioned that Moore could offer a legitimate 'hometown discount', growing up in nearby East Chicago.
No, E'Twaun Moore isn't the final piece to push the Bulls past a perennial title contender. But he is role player that is a perfect compliment to have for your stars. He's even-keeled, knows his job and does it to the best of his abilities. He has a high basketball IQ and makes those around him better when on the floor. As the Bulls move forward in the Hoiberg era, Moore should be a part of the picture.