The Bulls preemptively sending signals that they won’t be even interested in going after high-level (or even medium-level?) free agents this summer already was noted earlier this week. But I have been inspired since then by angry commenters to put more emphasis on this.
Because it shouldn’t just be acceptable that one of the major markets in the league can operate this way. While executive-for-life John Paxson couldn’t get into more specifics before free agency actually begins the night of June 30th, hopefully his next media availability he would encounter a simple question: “why won’t you be pursuing a star?”
If you’re a real Nick Fried-owl and say “who? who? who?” (that’s a deep cut joke, remember Nick sorta covered the Bulls?), just take Kyrie Irving. I personally think he’s overrated trash but even my hater-ass acknowledges that Irving is worth a max contract at a still-prime age and at a position this team is in desperate need of help with.
The big question isn’t regarding the specific nuances of Kyrie Irving’s fit, it’s why the Bulls are not even considering it?
I admit I forgot that Paxson did kinda reference this mindset before. It was back in February when nobody was paying attention after the Otto Porter acquisition sucked up a lot of their 2019 cap space.
We are realistic in terms of what the free agent market is. We’re not in the position to go after the big names, the franchise changers. We’re looking at things realistically.
Thing is, Paxson is being realistic. But this shouldn’t be the Chicago Bulls reality.
The Bulls are rebuilding. But Paxson’s rebuild process looks to be not only trying to re-live his glory days of a decade ago but still not acknowledging the franchise he controls.
This isn’t 2006
Paxson has long kept the owner’s son off his back by reminding him that 15 years ago he presided over a rebuild. It wasn’t actually successful, but just tell him that team ‘tripped’ and instead focus on the good stuff.
At that time of Bulls basketball, it meant getting guys on rookie contracts, year over year, at different positions, and letting them grow. Then you potentially have cap space one summer to spend it all on Ben Wallace.
The league doesn’t work like that anymore. Contract lengths are shorter, and many franchises are not simply waiting their turn, they’re using trades to generate cap space or acquire disgruntled stars outright before they hit free agency.
Spend now, AND spend later
This is a reason why the Otto Porter trade was good! It’s debatable whether Porter’s remaining contract is even neutral value (i.e., would another team take it into cap space without needing to surrender an asset?) but it’s not ‘bad money’, and he actually helps the team on the court.
They should continue with this direction. Get, ya know, good players. Not guys who are worse but will take short-term money. Or worry about ‘blocking’ 19 year old Coby White. Or sitting on your cap exceptions so you can use roster spots for several GLeague talents. Make this team (oh, wait, gotta fire the coach too!) better to the point where not only would other very good players want to join, but if you had to make trades to do so there’s enough talent left over.
The Bulls look to be against this idea due to ‘flexibility’, a.k.a. being cheap. They’re already signalling future concerns like a Lauri Markkanen contract extension. This has no impact on flexibility! You use your cap space, and then sign your own guys with Bird Rights. Any suggestion that they don’t want to do this is simply them not wanting to have a high payroll (including potentially luxury tax).
This is (or should be) a desirable market
Paxson has been gifted a job where he controls a team that players should want to play for. There are other rebuilding efforts around the league that are operating with a more methodical asset-gathering approach, for example Atlanta, Memphis, and New Orleans.
For one thing, they do a better job of this than the Bulls because it requires creativity (and more lottery luck). But they don’t need to do this at all.
Why are slightly-better to much-worse teams like the Nets, Knicks, Mavericks in rumors to target high-priced free agents? Because unlike the earlier-mentioned markets, players want to potentially go there. At the least, its not outright dismissed. For the same reason they would - or at least should - want to play in Chicago.
Paxson may bizarrely covet underdog status for the freaking Chicago Bulls, but that’s only because he’s a meathead idiot or clever enough to convince his spendthrift bosses to keep him employed because a humble team is an affordable one.
But it doesn’t have to be this way. The Bulls don’t have to behave like the Indiana Pacers, they own an inherent advantage that is not being used.
So yeah, go after Malcolm Brogdon. Have some confidence in yourselves that you can sign good players to contracts that will improve your team while also making them tradeable for future moves getting even better players. Dare to actually consider playing among the contenders, shit even the Knicks can do that.