It was nearly this time last year when our biggest fear was the Bulls giving Harrison Barnes a max contract. Instead, the first few days of free agency went by, and though the Bulls had cap room (so did everyone else), they seemingly weren’t in the running for anybody. Then we heard the awful news that they were considering signing Rajon Rondo. Then they went ahead and did the damned thing.
One saving grace at the time was that it was effectively a one-year deal. Sure, the Bulls managed to negotiate against themselves for not only the absurdly high salary of $14m for that first year but a $3m buyout for this one, but at least they had an out. And with the stretch provision that $3m could have a reduced cap figure of $1m over the next 3 seasons.
Rondo went on to have a dreadful first half of the season where it looked like he may be cut even before his initial Bulls season ended. He then inexplicably hit half of his three-pointers (though he still didn’t take enough to really change the offensive dynamic) to make his last couple months more tolerable, then had an amazing two games against a shrimpy emotionally-distracted opponent he was extra set on revenge against, then broke his thumb.
And then not only did the Bulls go out of their way to praise him in their barf-a-thon that was a season-ending press conference (including for off-court stuff they fined him for), all reports then and since were that they intend to bring Rondo back at that over $13m mark (a figure not a single other team would sign him to if he was a free agent now) to be the team’s starting point guard next season.
Stephen Noh of The Athletic did a more reasoned job in explaining how unreasonable this is. The Bulls have this get-out-of-jail-free card and look unwilling to use it. Maybe. Hopefully that’s not determined?
I’m told, meanwhile, that the Bulls have yet to make a final decision on whether to pick up Rajon Rondo’s $13.4m option for next season.— Sean Highkin (@highkin) June 20, 2017
It’s pretty simple: they can’t bring all Three Alphas* back. (I’m telling everyone now: season-long roast at BaB if they do. It’d be a 9 month joke-a-thon). They don’t work well together, and the only reason the Bulls made the playoffs was because one of them got hurt. And that guy, Dwyane Wade, is definitely coming back. Even if you want to twist yourself into rationalizing Rondo as less of a problem, it doesn’t matter as much as the fact that the Bulls can get out of that contract, where they couldn’t with Wade.
*[trading Jimmy Butler is a whole ‘nother thing, obviously]
Use Rondo’s cut-able contract to take on a salary dump
The way Rondo’s contract is structured gives the Bulls opportunity to actually do something productive. They actually have flexibility! Since Rondo’s 2017-18 guarantee date isn’t until 6/30, while the Bulls can’t wait until free agency begins they can get in on the flurry of NBA trade activity that’s been leading up to Thursday’s draft. With Rondo alone they can acquire a player making $21.1m. They can also aggregate other players outgoing with Rondo in a trade to make that return figure even higher. The receiving team could then cut Rondo and get that number off their 2017-18 books.
[The Bulls have another mechanism to do something similar, a traded player exception from the OKC deal midseason, though that’s only for under $5.5m, not allowable for that 150% rule, nor can you aggregate with other players or TPEs]
This is fairly valuable as a trade piece, though only if the Bulls were amiable to taking on ‘bad’ salary. But Rondo’s a bad salary! The Bulls don’t see it that way because it’s merely a year and they have delusions of a bigger splash in 2018 free agency (or, as Gar put it in scintillating fashion, ‘a chance to create opportunities’), but they could get something useful now.
It could be a player who, while overpaid, is a better fit. Or potentially a player so overpaid that the other team would give the Bulls an asset to take it.
who? who? who? (says the Nick Fried-owls of the world) Contracts are moving fast these past few days. Though I concede Brook Lopez is an actual useful player compared to the cut-able Rondo, his contract was used Tuesday to have the Lakers pay with D’Angelo Russell the privilege of dumping a long-term deal.
Here are some more to speculate on. Again, these are guys where you can speculate their team would rather have cap space this summer (or luxury tax breathing room) than pay the player:
Miles Plumlee (3 years, approximately $12.5m per) , Marco Belinelli (1, $6m), Marvin Williams (3, $14m), Iman Shumpert (1, $10m), Channing Frye (1, $7m), Dwight Powell (3, $9m), Kenneth Faried (2, $13m), Boban Marjanovic (2, $7m), Monta Ellis (2, $11m), Al Jefferson (1, $10m), Jamal Crawford (2, $14m), Luol Deng (3, $18m), Jordan Clarkson (3, $13m) , Josh McRoberts (1, $6m), Greg Monroe (1, $18m), Cole Aldrich (1, $7m), Alexis Ajinca (2, $5m), Courtney Lee (3, $12m), Enes Kanter (2, $18m), Kyle Singler (3, $5m), DJ Augustin (3, $7.5m), Brandon Knight (3, $15m), Allen Crabbe (3, $18.5m), Myers Leonard (3, $10m), Evan Turner (3, $18m), Kosta Koufus (2, $9m), Tony Parker (1, $15m) , DeMarre Carroll (2, $15m)
Now, don’t get me wrong, there are some bad, overpaid players on this list (players deemed too toxic for even this list: Omer Asik, Chandler Parsons, Ian Mahinmi, and (sigh) Joakim Noah...a lot of centers, really, but getting one of the not-broke ones could open up Robin Lopez trade opportunities too). But that’s the point: you wouldn’t have to give up anything of value, and better yet could get something of value in return.
Make an actual upgrade
It’s less likely that the Bulls could significantly improve with a Rondo trade than they’d just be shuffling around some money and middling assets. This is not just because of the limited value of a cut-able contract, but also: though the Bulls have been re-tooling for a couple years now, they have nothing promising that another team would even want in a trade. Maybe Bobby Portis? This year’s #16 pick or a future first?
The annual tradition of Patrick Beverley trade rumors spun up on Tuesday. It’s likely the Rockets, since they’re smart, are just gauging the market, because Beverley is on a good contract and fits with any team. And he’d really fit with the Bulls. But if Houston had cap space dreams for another major acquisition this summer, would they listen if Chicago offered to take Beverley with another contract (Trevor Ariza? 1 year remaining), giving them Rondo (who they’d cut and free up $12m in cap room) and an asset too?
If you’re pondering this, congratulations: you’ve likely thought more about how to improve the Bulls for next season than the front office has. With a couple sensible short-term additions the Bulls wouldn’t be contenders, but they’d be more watchable.
Just take the savings yourself
Like, nobody actually wants to see Rondo in a Bulls uniform anymore. Especially because he’d mean a return of all 3 alphas.
Cut Rondo, potentially free up come cap space. Likely only significant space if you let Mirotic walk too, but there are better starting point guards available on the market than Rondo at $13m. The Bulls are one of the few teams in the NBA who don’t already have a point guard already or will be using a lottery pick to get one Thursday, maybe the market won’t be so high for their services as previously thought.
Or just let Jerian Grant take the starting role. The Bulls claim they care (this time they mean it) about player development, and Rondo’s coach-in-waiting tips and commutes to the D-League games matter less than getting minutes. And when Rondo doesn’t get picked up by any other team, hire him as a coach!