With contract negotiations between the Bulls and David Nwaba reportedly at a standstill, Friday marked the deadline to pull his $1.7 million qualifying offer. The Bulls opted to do that Thursday night, according to Yahoo Sports’ Shams Charania and other media reports.
It’s a curious move given that cap hold is tiny, but in conjunction with dumping Jerian Grant and waiving Sean Kilpatrick, the assumption is this is all to free up as much immediate cap space possible for...something. K.C. Johnson reports that there’s “strong internal belief” of another move being finalized.
What could that follow-up move be?
My mind immediately went to a Carmelo Anthony trade and buyout. The Bulls can now get to $20.6 million in cap space by waiving Julyan tone and Paul Zipser and renouncing all their other cap holds and exceptions, and that number plus Cristiano Felicio’s $8.47 million would be just enough to take on Melo’s $27.93 million.
I have no idea if the Thunder have interest in giving up an asset(s) and taking on Felicio’s deal when they could just stretch Melo over three years for a slightly larger amount than Felicio is owed, but perhaps they’d be willing to take the chance on the young big man rather than just paying out dead money. Offering up Omer Asik could be another option for the the Bulls to the Thunder: though he’s a bit more expensive in 2018-19, he only has $3 million guaranteed for 2019-20 which would be more palatable for OKC’s cap sheet long term than Felicio.
In terms of assets coming back, the Thunder can’t deal their 2019 first rounder because they already owe a 2020 pick to the Magic that’s protected 1-20 (if it falls within those protections Orlando instead gets two future second-round picks). The Bulls could try negotiating a return where they get the 2020 pick if it falls within 1-20, otherwise it turns into a 2022 first-round pick. That’s very far in the future, but depending on the protections could still be very valuable if OKC blows it up by then. Young Thunder wing Terrance Ferguson could be another possible target.
The Bulls could look elsewhere from OKC/Melo to absorb a bad contract from a high-payroll team, but now the Nuggets are off the table after their deal to send Kenneth Faried and Darrell Arthur to the Nets. If you’re looking for a data point in what the Bulls can gain in such a deal, the Nuggets traded a 2019 first-round pick (protected 1-12) and a 2020 second-round pick, and there’s a good chance that first-round pick conveys given they should be in the playoff race this season.
There’s also the possibility of the Bulls wanting to gain maximum possible cap space to throw a big offer sheet at a restricted free agent, though getting rid of Nwaba’s small hold shouldn’t have affected these scenarios much. Jabari Parker, Rodney Hood and Marcus Smart are all still out there, and if still wanting to keep flexibility for next summer the Bulls could theoretically offer a large two-year deal with non-guaranteed money in the second year. In regards to Parker, the Bucks are currently about $15 million below the hard cap with the possibility of getting to $18 million, so they may not actually be able to match. The Cavaliers may not want to match a large Hood offer sheet after his poor showing for them last year, and a large offer sheet for Smart would put the Celtics well into the tax. I wouldn’t be thrilled about any of these guys, but if they were short-term deals it could be worse.
And the Bulls still could bring back Nwaba after all this. There reportedly is quite a bit of interest in him, but The Ringer’s Kevin O’Connor suggested the Bulls would like to use their cap space and then re-sign Nwaba using the $4.45 million room exception. That may not be enough to keep Nwaba, especially if a team like the Kings makes a nice offer, but it’s still a possibility.