Over the weekend there was news made official that was rumored weeks ago: now-former Chicago Bulls shooting guard David Nwaba signed with the Cleveland Cavaliers.
It was merely a one year contract, valued at $1.5 million. On July 12, the Bulls rescinded the $1.7 million qualifying offer, making Nwaba an unrestricted free agent. They pretty much immediately used that extra bit of cap space to give more 1st-year money to Jabari Parker. So clearly it wasn’t cap constraints limiting their ability to retain Nwaba. And in the wake of Nwaba’s departure, the Chicago Tribune’s K.C. Johnson presents what you could call ‘the Bulls line of thinking’ in that the decision to part ways with Nwaba was a playing time issue.
In 21 games last season, Nwaba averaged 7.9 points and 4.7 rebounds per game while establishing himself as one of the Bulls best perimeter defenders. Although his jump shot was mostly unserviceable (he hit nearly 35% of his threes, but on extremely low volume), his self-awareness of his role offensively made him the type of player that all good teams need to have somewhere on their roster.
But maybe we should reason that the Bulls don’t project to be a good team? While it’s nominally true that the Bulls are jammed at the shooting guard position, it is up in the air whether Nwaba isn’t merely not the worst, but actually the best of them.
Justin Holiday is a better scorer and shooter, but doesn’t taking a chance on a 25-year-old Nwaba make more sense than a 29-year-old Holiday? Basically everything that Denzel Valentine is bad at, Nwaba is good at and vice versa, making their distinction more a preference in skillsets and playing styles. Antonio Blakeney hasn’t proven his otherworldly scoring outputs at the G League level can carry over to the NBA, so his main utility over Nwaba is that he’s three years younger. That’s a questionable reason to not re-sign a guy over.
There’s even an argument to be made that Zach LaVine, who will make $18m more than Nwaba next year, will be lower in productivity and likely a lot less in value than Nwaba.
Out of all the guys just mentioned, Nwaba is the only one who is a plus player on the defensive end of the floor. However, he’s the worst shooter of the group, so perhaps the Bulls considered the ‘Hoiball fit’ when evaluating who they’d move forward with at the shooting guard position? To that point though, Nwaba was definitely Hoiberg’s style when it came to pushing the pace.
Altogether, this ends a transaction cycle that started out as a smart move (claiming Nwaba in the first place) but ended in a bad one. Letting a guy in his mid-20s, with NBA utility, walk when he ended up signing for $1.5 million two months later isn’t a great look for rebuilding team that should be aggressively trying to work the margins of the roster to unearth talent. Nwaba’s terms with the Cavaliers suggests it is less financial and more of a player evaluation problem when it comes to what the Bulls deem to be valuable.