This is free agency period has been fucking boring.
It’s been almost a week now and nothing of note has occurred. Little to no news has surfaced about the Bulls chasing down free agents. No contract has been offered to Zach LaVine, and it’s increasing likely that the current team-friendly cap climate will force negotiations to linger for several more weeks. David Nwaba, apparently, may be sign-and-traded, but to whom and for what, no real details have emerged.
In anticipation of free agency – and with nothing really else to talk about – the fan base has speculated on LaVine’s (and Nwaba’s) worth to the franchise. That narrative has been played out for months now. Nothing new can be gained by arguing about what appropriate fair and market value may look like. I’m bored.
So, instead, let’s delve into a new hypothetical, one that no longer has LaVine and Nwaba wearing Bulls jerseys next season. It may not eventuate, but if things continue to be quiet, the chances of it occurring become very real.
Losing LaVine and Nwaba, in a time where modern basketball is fixated on acquiring as many wings as possible, is not ideal. Because you’re left with only Denzel Valentine, Justin Holiday and Chandler Hutchison, undoubtedly have one of the worst wing rotations in the league. And in a free agent market where very few notable wing replacements exist, the newly created $36 million in cap space won’t garner notable long-term replacements.
The upside of such a scenario: It would force the Bulls into doing something.
Here are some ideas.
For those who believe LaVine can still be a potential franchise pillar, losing him and finding no long-term replacement during this free agency period hurts. But a lot of remaining free agents aren’t shooting guards.
Instead of buying low on a young player with questionable fit like Jabari Parker or Marcus Smart, the Bulls should consider throwing out a sizeable one-year offer to a veteran wing, similarly to what Philadelphia and Phoenix have done with J.J. Redick and Trevor Ariza, respectively. And it just so happens that a current Miami Heat shooting guard is available and unrestricted…
No, I’m not referring to Bulls legend Dwyane Wade, though it would be hilarious to see him bag even more coin from the Reinsdorfs for doing so little. I’m talking about his teammate, Wayne Ellington.
Curling off screens and creating gravity with his constant off-ball movement, Ellington attempted 7.2 threes a game for the Heat last season, making 39.2 percent. This ability to be a force from distance makes the 30-year-old guard a natural fit alongside Dunn, and would help recover the volume of three-point attempts that would exit along with LaVine.
Having spent the majority of his career fighting for a roster spot on an array of teams, Ellington has often played on marginally-sized deals and, to date, only has career earnings of $19.3 million. Should the Bulls approach Ellington with a one-year, $15 million deal – the exact deal given to Ariza by the Suns – it would be hard for him to turn down such a deal that almost doubles his career earnings. And given his incumbent team, the Miami Heat, are only several million away from the luxury tax line, he can be had.
Beyond providing a shooting and veteran presence, signing Ellington as a stopgap guard solution would also help the Bulls whilst preserving some cap space for additional moves and, most importantly, allowing for cap space in 2019 to be maintained.
Take On Bad Contracts
The Bulls have shown an interest in taking on dead salary from other teams into their space, being compensated with future draft consideration. Another first-rounder in the war chest would be ideal, particularly if LaVine, a supposed member of the core, were to walk to a new team. The question, of course, is can they find a suitable trade partner.
It’s not hard to run through the list of some of the more exorbitant NBA contracts and identify the worst ones teams would love to erase from their cap sheets — former Bulls Luol Deng and Joakim Noah would be atop of such a list. Problem is many of the league’s bad deals are four-year deals signed in the summer of 2016 (think Chandler Parsons or Evan Turner), meaning they still have two years left to run. And while the Bulls could certainly fetch a first-round pick for one of those deals, it runs against any logic related to the vaunted ‘2019 plan’.
Keeping the books flexible for 2019 is the correct play call, but it somewhat narrows down the list of bad deals the Bulls would actually be comfortable accepting. It also reduces the leverage the Bulls would have in trades for such money.
The obvious and most speculated option discussed by Bulls fans all over has been taking on Kenneth Faried and the remaining year of his deal from Denver for a draft pick. In theory, it sounds like a plan, but after dealing Wilson Chandler and several second-round concessions to the Philadelphia 76ers in a like-minded salary dump, the Nuggets now only find themselves approx. $10 million above the luxury tax line — a much more manageable figure for any owner. The impetus for Denver to make another deal now, particularly at the asking price of a first-round pick, has likely been reduced.
Another option that may become more pertinent over the coming months is rescuing the Oklahoma City Thunder from their absurd tax bill. Should the Bulls lose LaVine and Nwaba and choose to open up over $36 million in cap space, they could easily absorb the remaining $27.9 million left on Carmelo Anthony’s expiring deal. This assumes Anthony would waive his no trade clause to move from the Thunder to the Bulls, which isn’t guarantee. Though if the Bulls pledged to waive him maybe he’d consider that a route to freedom. Or instead maybe they make him the marketing centerpiece of the team again?
It’s a complication that the Thunder can’t trade a first round pick until 2022, but that may not be a bad thing. By 2022, with Russell Westbrook and Paul George well into their 30’s and past their prime, such a pick could carry even more value than a late first-rounder next season. Who knows if the Thunder would consider trading away another future pick just to rid them of Anthony, but it may be the price they must pay to avoid a huge tax bill.
I can hear the jokes writing themselves. Beyond the obvious — and timeless — shots one could aim at management for choosing to do little with their cap space, in this rare instance, it may actually makes sense.
Whether motivated by future signings or building equity, the Bulls have engineered an envious cap position for 2019. It may not result in anything of note, but to date, they’ve managed their financial situation well. So why rush into something now and jeopardize that position?
Don’t offer anyone a guaranteed, multi-year deal. If no notable free agent wants to bite on an inflated one-year contract, oh well. Instead, fill out the roster with high-ceiling projects, tank out another season and (hopefully) find that elusive wing scorer at the top of the next draft.
If the only salary dumps available right now only yield second-round picks, scoff at the notion of your draft board extending beyond the first 20-or-so picks and wait for an opportunity for an actual first-round pick.
Outside of our entertainment, there really is no need for the Bulls to do anything of significance right now. Those teams with looming tax pressures may be more willing to trade away bad money after they have more data on how good (or bad) their team is. The buyout market could also be an apt time to add salary to the roster mid-season, particularly if said player has connections.
Ultimately, if any realistic alternative to LaVine and Nwaba negates the broader plan, then it should be the hardest of passes. The Bulls should be actively avoiding any temptation to make this a one-year accelerated rebuild; winning isn’t the lone priority right now. Play it cool and smart, and if something beneficial should arise, make your move then.
In other words, be flexible, Bulls -- even if we fans whine about it. That is something you’re great at.