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Bulls roster and salary cap status as they head into 2021 offseason

more changes coming

NBA: Chicago Bulls at Utah Jazz Rob Gray-USA TODAY Sports

After the Bulls made their big trades at the deadline, Arturas Karnisovas said he wasn’t done making big changes to the roster. While there definitely could have been more moves made on the margins after the deadline, AK was obviously referring to this offseason and beyond. There should be a good amount of roster turnover this offseason after missing the play-in tournament despite the trades.

Let’s take stock of the current roster heading into the offseason with a look at their contract situation for 2021-22.

Fully guaranteed contracts

Nikola Vucevic, $24,000,000

Vucevic had a few rough games to finish the season after suffering a hip injury, but he was mostly steady and everything the Bulls could have really hoped for after trading for him. With more time, Vooch and LaVine should be able to become really dynamic offensively together. He’ll be 31 at the start of next season with a declining salary that’s an expiring $22 million in 2022-23.

Zach LaVine, $19,500,000

LaVine made a legitimate leap to All-Star status. I’m a bit skeptical of him keeping up his ridiculous efficiency from this season, but if he does, that’s obviously great for the Bulls. We’ll see if the Bulls try to extend him this offseason or if 2021-22 is a contract year. There’s little reason right now to think he’s going anywhere, but if he doesn’t sign an extension and next season goes poorly, perhaps the trade winds will swirl. While he still has his flaws, I hope he’s around for the long haul because he’s fun as hell.

Al-Farouq Aminu, $10,183,800

Technically still a player option, but Aminu looked pretty washed and bad so it’s no surprise that it’s already being reported that he’s picking it up for next year. Taking on Aminu was a downside of the Vooch deal. The Bulls will surely try to trade him, and could even consider stretching his salary over three years if cap space is needed. If he sticks around, the hope is he gets back into better shape and could potentially provide some wing defense.

Patrick Williams, $7,422,000

Pat had a lot on his plate as a rookie. He started from the get-go and was tasked with defending the very best players in the NBA. He never backed down from a challenge, even though he got roasted a lot. Offensively, he was more efficient than I expected but on low volume, and looking out for his own scoring will be key moving forward. The coaching staff also needs to put him in the proper positions to succeed. Pat is one of the Bulls’ best trade chips but likely isn’t going anywhere unless there’s a huge upgrade available.

Coby White, $5,837,760

White was frustrating for much of the season as the starting point guard and then when he was first benched. He did show some improvement back in the starting lineup when LaVine was out with COVID-19 and then with LaVine and Vooch together. I still view Coby as more of an off-ball threat than a primary offensive initiator, and I’m not sure he can defend well enough to be a good starter with the two offensive-minded All-Stars. But he still has room to develop and at least has a place in the NBA as a gunner. The Bulls shouldn’t hesitate to explore deals involving him, but as of now I’d still expect him to be back and am still talking myself into him being good.

Troy Brown Jr., $5,170,564

Brown didn’t play after April 19 due to an ankle injury. He showed some promise as a wing defender and is still just 21 years old. Given his age and the Bulls’ need for a defensive presence on the wing, he’s probably worth keeping around, but I wouldn’t call him a definite keeper. It would certainly be nice if he could develop a better jumper.

Partially guaranteed contracts

Thaddeus Young, $14,190,000 ($6,000,000 guaranteed)

Thad just had a career season at 32 years old and was a true pleasure to watch. The Bulls unlocked his passing and he was a killer finishing around the basket. He’s a guy who should be back unless they need to open up cap space for a significant acquisition or they could get great value in a trade.

Tomas Satoransky, $10,000,000 ($5,000,000 guaranteed)

Sato’s shooting efficiency went back up after his terrible 2019-20 season, and he was again one of the best passers on the team. But his low shooting volume and hesitancy to get up shots is clearly going to be a thing throughout his career. The Bulls could probably do worse when it comes to backup guards, but I’d be fine moving on here.

Both Sato and Young’s guarantee dates are on June 30th (a day before 2021 free agency and the new league calendar) so if they want to do a trade using next season’s salary they’d have to fully guarantee the deal. If they trade either before free agency (like on draft night) the outgoing salary calculation only counts the guarantee amount.

Team Option

Ryan Arcidiacono, $3,000,000

Bless Arch’s heart and his bench celebrations [no. -yfbb], but this team option needs to be declined. The guy tries hard and all, but the Bulls should go in a different direction here.

Restricted Free Agents

Lauri Markkanen, $9,026,854 qualifying offer, $20,194,524 cap hold

Markkanen had another disappointing season despite shooting over 40% from 3. He was benched after the trades and saw a major dip in his production. He just hasn’t developed much in four seasons and isn’t a great fit with this roster, yet he still wants to be a “focal point.” It’s best to move on and try to work out a sign-and-trade.

Javonte Green, $1,897,476 qualifying offer

Green showed nice flashes of defense, energy and athleticism, but he’s a 27-year-old journeyman. I’d kind of consider him the new Shaq Harrison. I wouldn’t hate if he’s back as a deep bench guy, but I would shrug if he left.

Adam Mokoka, $1,669,178 qualifying offer

Mokoka spent two seasons as a two-way player and barely played this season. Have to imagine he’s a goner.

Devon Dotson, $1,489,065 qualifying offer

I wanted to see Dotson get more of an opportunity over Arch this season, but it never happened. I certainly wouldn’t mind if he’s given another chance.

Unrestricted Free Agents

Cristiano Felicio, $14,305,138 cap hold

Felicio will probably never play in the NBA again.

Daniel Theis, $9,500,000 cap hold

Theis is a keeper as a bench big and perhaps even a starter still, but whether he sticks around is up in the air. If the Bulls need cap space, he’s probably gone. If they stay above the cap, they can use his Bird rights to re-sign him, but that could depend on just how much he’s looking to get and what his market is like.

Denzel Valentine, $8,821,320 cap hold

Valentine is a skilled but maddening player who can shoot you in and out of games. While still one of the better passers on the team, his ridiculous shot selection contributed to a career-low 47.9% true shooting mark. He’s 27 years old already and should be looking for a new home.

Garrett Temple, $5,720,400 cap hold

Temple started the season hot but then tailed off. Still, he’s a decent veteran wing and would be fine as a bench option next season. The Bulls just can’t be in a position where they’re relying on him so much.

Draft Picks

If the Bulls keep their first-round pick (20.3% chance), that adds a cap hold (~8M at #4 and above the higher it goes) that will eat into their space.

Second round picks do not have cap holds, including 2020 second-round selection Marko Simonović.

The Bulls are in a bit of a gray area when it comes to their cap space. Stephen Noh has a nice primer out today of the options: jettisoning a lot of the veterans to get nearly $35M in cap space, or keeping them and staying over the cap to where the most they can spend on one free agent is the Mid-Level Exception ($10M), but you retain the flexibility of having the tradeable veterans under contract.