Free agency hasn’t even begun, yet that hasn’t stopped the rumor mill from firing up. We have somewhat flimsy rumor-ing for both Celtics restricted Free Agent Marcus Smart as well as recently-cut Pacers wing Lance Stephenson.
With free agency officially opening on July 1, it’s safe to assume more of these rumors linking the Bulls to prospective free agents will continue to surface. Trouble is, how many of these reports can be believed as genuine interest by Chicago, and how many are simply because the Bulls are one of the few teams with substantial cap space?
Should the Bulls decide to target players to improve their team, they will have an advantage over most of their rivals due to that space. But having cap space at a time when so few others do so also means there will undoubtedly be a lot of misinformation flying around. Let’s use Smart as an example, where finding a contract that pays eight figures over multiple years on the open market will be difficult. He could simply accept the state of the marketplace, signing an underwhelming deal that will be a steal in a few years’ time, or he – and his agent (Stephenson, meanwhile, is rep’d by Mark Bartelstein’s agency) – could try to drum up some additional value by linking him to teams with cap space.
That’s probably what is happening here. In a backcourt already featuring Kris Dunn, adding someone like Smart, who replicates many of Dunn’s best (and worst) qualities, and doing so by offering a big, fat deal, makes little sense for the Bulls to any legitimate interest. If logic suggests the Bulls have little intention of adding someone like Smart to its roster, therefore ruling them out as the source, it really only leaves one possible angle: the player and his agent. Here, through his representation, we can safely assume a report like this is an obvious attempt to artificially inflate Smart’s perceived interest.
We should expect more of this, so don’t be surprised to see Bulls mentioned as a potential suitor for other restricted free agents such as Julius Randle, Jabari Parker, and Aaron Gordon, even while already having way too many big men under contract including several young, long-term fits. Likewise, for their own free agents – most notably Zach LaVine – there will undoubtedly be reports suggesting the Bulls guard is mulling over several offers from those few teams who happen to have cap space.
For fans, sifting through numerous reports and deciphering who the Bulls actually intend to sign will be difficult.
[For one thing, try to focus on the proven rumormongers, i.e. not the Sam Amico’s of the world or the reporters mentioned in the above Smart+Stephenson links -yfbb]
But in doing so, keep this in mind: Despite its flaws, the Bulls’ projected 2018-19 roster is largely full. They can go up to 20 in the offseason but will need to be cut down to 15 on opening night. It’s possible several guys on the fringe are moved, or even cut while eating the guaranteed money, but the Bulls have not been aggressive in using back-end of their roster like that. And in typical John Paxson fashion they’ve identified their young players as an intractable ‘core’ and don’t look to disrupt that with a free agent acquisition quite yet.
All signs (and previous reports) continue to point towards next summer being the offseason the Bulls will use to truly enhance their roster. Knowing all this, expect a quiet offseason, though not a very quiet rumor season.