The Bulls’ 2017-18 season was mostly awful, but there were a few bright spots and hopefully a brighter future ahead. Bulls management has indicated there won’t be many changes, so let’s take stock of the Bulls’ current roster situation as an important 2018 offseason approaches.
Current 2018-19 payroll outlook: There are 10 Bulls with guaranteed contracts for next season, totaling up to $57.93 million. Paul Zipser and Sean Kilpatrick both have non-guaranteed deals, while Zach LaVine, David Nwaba and Noah Vonleh are set to be restricted free agents.
Draft picks: No. 6 (pre-May 15 lottery), No. 22
Projected cap space: The cap is expected to be about $101 million for next season, and the Bulls are projected to have around $26.66 million in cap space. No stars are coming to Chicago in this stage of its rebuild, so that space should be used to acquire assets or to take chances on younger players. The Bulls could also look to the restricted free agent market and try to make a splash by signing somebody like Clint Capela or Aaron Gordon to a big deal, but that feels like a significant long shot. No thanks on Jabari Parker unless it’s short and cheap, but in that case the Bucks probably retain him.
The Players (listed by salary)
Robin Lopez: Lopez has one year, $14.36 million left on his contract. John Paxson called Lopez an important part of the team’s future, which I don’t buy, but it shouldn’t surprise anybody if RoLo is back. Which is fine! Lopez is a pro and a good guy to have around a young team. He also does funny videos and wears goofy shirts.
Omer Asik: Asik is owed $11.29 million next season and has $3 million guaranteed out of $11.98 million for 2019-20. Asik can’t play and isn’t part of the Bulls’ plans. I don’t see how they can trade him this summer, so they could either just stretch his $14M-plus out over five years or just bite the bullet and get rid of him next summer when the hit is small.
Cristiano Felicio: The first year of Felicio’s four-year, $32 million deal was a disaster, unless you’re looking at it from a tank commander perspective. The Bulls were outscored by a whopping 18 points per 100 possessions in his 977 minutes on the floor, per NBA.com. He often looked lost on both ends, though there were some signs of life at the end of the season. The Bulls have to hope he finds some semblance of competence, otherwise this contract is dead weight. He’s owed $8.47 million next season.
Noah Vonleh: Vonleh has a qualifying offer of $4.75 million and a cap hold of $10.52 million. The Bulls acquired Vonleh at the trade deadline, and his performance was rather nondescript. He averaged 6.9 points (nice) and 6.9 rebounds (double nice) in 19 minutes per game. He got up 3-pointers at a pretty high rate (2.9 per game), but he only made 30 percent of them. With five bigs already under contract (though Asik barely counts) and perhaps another one coming via the draft, there’s not much use for Vonleh on this team.
Lauri Markkanen: Markkanen will make $4.54 million in the second year of his rookie-scale contract. One of the few legitimate bright spots of the season, Markkanen is a candidate for the All-Rookie team and a foundational piece of the Bulls’ future. He showed shooting prowess, aggressive finishing at the rim and better-than-expected rebounding chops. The Finnisher still has to get stronger and get better on defense, in addition to diversifying his offensive game as a potential No. 1 option. I’m not sure he’s ever going to be a legitimate No. 1 guy, but the tools are there for him to be an All-Star.
Zach LaVine: LaVine has a qualifying offer of $4.43 million and a cap hold of $9.61 million. Arguably the biggest question mark of the offseason, LaVine played 24 games after his torn ACL and was mostly bad with flashes of star potential. He averaged 16.7 points, 3.9 rebounds and 3.0 assists in 27.3 minutes per game while shooting 38.3 percent overall and 34.1 percent from 3. The Bulls had a minus-13.2 net rating with him on the floor and a ghastly 114.8 defensive rating. LaVine will be a better player in his second season back from the injury, but he needs a lot of work on both ends. LaVine is almost certainly part of the Bulls’ long-term plans no matter what kind of contract offer he gets this summer, so hopefully any offer sheet is reasonable or Chicago is able to re-sign him to a team-friendly deal.
Justin Holiday: Holiday has one year, $4.38 million left on his contract. Holiday was miscast as one of the top scoring options on the Bulls for a good chunk of the year, leading to a poor 37.1 field goal percentage. He shot a respectable 35.9 percent from 3 on high volume, though, and I was kind of surprised he was on the team after the trade deadline. Plenty of contenders could have used Holiday off the bench. That’s still the case and his contract is easy to move, but the Bulls may want to keep him around because of their quality wing shortage.
Kris Dunn: Dunn will be making $4.22 million in Year 3 of his rookie-scale contract. After a woeful rookie season, Dunn showed he at least belongs in the league in Year 2, though multiple injuries derailed his season at times. He had a few huge games and was never afraid to take clutch shots. His defense could be worthy of an All-Defensive team nod in the very near future. Still, Dunn’s offense is erratic. His jumper and handle are both so-so. He struggles to finish at the rim and doesn’t draw fouls well. His 48.8 true shooting percentage was well below league average. Dunn has the makings of a solid NBA starter at point guard, but he’ll be 25 by the end of next year and I’m not sure his ceiling is any higher than that.
Cameron Payne: Payne will be making $3.26 million in the final year of his rookie contract. Payne missed a good chunk of the year with yet another foot injury, but when he returned he at least looked ... competent?! He looked like one of the worst players in the league when he was first traded to the Bulls, but he was much better in his 25 games this season. Yes, the bar was extremely low, the games weren’t competitive, and he still isn’t good (sub-50 TS%), but the 23-year-old shot a solid 38.5 percent from 3 and moved the ball reasonably well. Paxson saying he’s happy with Dunn and Payne as the top two point guards was a bit much, but at the very least Payne isn’t completely useless.
Jerian Grant: Grant will be making $2.64 million in the final year of his rookie contract. Grant is what he is at this point: a replacement-level combo guard off the bench. While he would occasionally put up solid stat lines, watching him try to run an offense is painful. He dribbles around too much and misses easy reads. His 3-point shooting also dipped under 33 percent. Grant was peddled around the trade deadline to no avail, and ignored in the postseason press conference. Maybe he’s back because of his cheap guaranteed deal, but nobody would miss him.
Bobby Portis: Portis will be making $2.49 million in the final year of his rookie deal. After breaking Nikola Mirotic’s face, Portis came out and took a sizable leap in his third NBA campaign after a lot of inconsistency in his first two years. He averaged 13.2 points and 6.8 rebounds in 22.5 minutes per game while increasing his 3-point rate, free-throw rate and assist rate. The Bulls scored over 106 points per 100 possessions with him on the floor. However, I still think he’s best as a sixth man who can provide energy and do some bumslaying off the bench, rather than be a legitimate starter. He’s not a good defender and is still a chucker, even with his improved assist rate. Plus, there’s all the goofy Bobby Portis Flex Time, which can be fun sometimes but also ridiculous at others. Portis is eligible for an extension this summer, but I’d hold off on that and give him another season to see him make more improvements.
Denzel Valentine: Valentine will be making $2.28 million in the third year of his rookie-scale deal. I like to poke fun at Valentine for his hilarious lack of self-awareness, but he legitimately did get better this season! He shot nearly 39 percent from 3 on good volume and implemented an ugly yet crafty floater that was helpful given he can’t jump. He also made strides in terms of rebounding and playmaking. His lack of athleticism (another knee surgery won’t help) will always hinder him, but his versatile skill set makes him a nice player to have off the bench. Just don’t listen to him when he says he should be a starter.
Sean Kilpatrick: Kilpatrick’s $2.05 million contract for 2018-19 is non-guaranteed. I’m still not totally sure why Kilpatrick was signed late in the season, other than currying favor with an agent. The 28-year-old Kilpatrick went off in a few games, so perhaps he earned a spot on the team for next year, though it’s not like he’s some young guy with upside.
David Nwaba: Nwaba has a qualifying offer and cap hold of $1.7 million. Nwaba was an excellent bargain-bin signing and should be a keeper for the future. He brings energy, tough-minded defense and aggressiveness driving to the rim. He even showed off an improved 3-point shot (34.6 percent), even though it was on low volume. The 25-year-old could be an MLE target for teams this summer, so hopefully the Bulls can keep him at a reasonable price.
Paul Zipser: Zipser has a non-guaranteed contract of $1.54 million. After showing some flashes in his rookie year, Zipser was godawful in 2017-18. There’s not much reason to guarantee his contract for 2018-19, though he’s a cheap body and maybe they still believe in him.
Antonio Blakeney and Ryan Arcidiacono: The two-way guys. Blakeney signed a two-year deal, so he’s set to be back in this role again. He won G League Rookie of the Year and can score, but he’s a chucker and also broke his wrist to end the year. Arcidiacono tries hard but isn’t an NBA player. The Bulls should look elsewhere.