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Examining the Chicago Bulls offseason roster and salary cap situation

a look at our assets and liabilities heading into the summer

NBA: Playoffs-Milwaukee Bucks at Chicago Bulls David Banks-USA TODAY Sports

After being bounced from the first round of the Eastern Conference Playoffs, Arturas Karnisovas stated a desire as head basketball decision-maker to keep the “core” together next season.

But they’ve gone the other way before, as in their two offseasons prior have swung wildly from doing very little (outside of ‘evaluation’) and then turning over nearly the entire team. So while Karnisovas seems to suggest that all of Lonzo Ball, Zach LaVine, DeMar DeRozan, and Nikola Vucevic will be back, the rest may not be so static.

Chicago is currently over the league salary cap, but that may not matter given the creativity of this front office.

Fully guaranteed contracts

DeMar DeRozan: $27,300,000

The 32-year-old DeRozan turned in one of the best seasons of his career with the Bulls, making his fifth All-Star team. Deebo seems likely to qualify for an All-NBA Team inclusion as well thanks to a stellar regular season. His $27.3 million contract heading into the 2022-23 season suddenly looks like a massive steal. He’s signed on with Chicago through 2023-24.

Nikola Vucevic: $22,000,000

Vucevic was the start of this build, and though credited with helping bring DeRozan to Chicago has had a disappointing on-court run. Solid counting stats of 17.6 points, 11 rebounds, 3.2 assists and a steal and a block in 73 games this year, but his shooting efficiency took a nosedive and his defensive shortcomings were more glaring than ever. He looks permanently off the two-time All-Star status he enjoyed in Orlando. The 31-year-old center is on an expiring deal this year, and if we don’t trade him during the offseason, he could become primo fodder for a 2023 trade deadline move.

Lonzo Ball: $19,534,884

When available, Chicago’s starting point guard served as a terrific compliment for Bulls All-Stars DeMar DeRozan and Zach LaVine. Ball was a great three-point shooter on volume, an expert pace-pushing passer, a standout perimeter defender, and the team’s second-leading rebounder after Vucevic (seriously). However his first season the Bulls was marred by health complications, so here’s hoping whatever treatment he gets for his knee bone bruise this summer will have him healthy heading into spring 2023, where he starts earning the $61.4 million left on that contract.

Alex Caruso: $9,030,000

The Bulls’ other defense-first splashy new perimeter addition this year has $21.5 million guaranteed remaining on his deal. The final year of his contract, covering the 2024-25 season for $9.9 million, is a team option.

Patrick Williams: $7,775,400

The thus-far-underwhelming first lottery pick of the AKME regime showed some flashes in the few games he was available this season, but essentially had a redshirt sophomore season. Still just 20, Williams will need to make a leap this season as Chicago’s opening night starting power forward and hope for better injury luck. He’s eligible for a contract extension next summer, and would otherwise hit restricted free agency in 2024.

Coby White: $7,413,955

Coby, drafted a year before Williams, is now in the final season of his rookie deal and eligible for an extension. But his future here seems murky. When the Bulls absolutely needed some offensive punch from its bench during an ignominious 4-1 first-round series defeat against the Milwaukee Bucks, White turned in exactly one good game.

Javonte Green: $1,815,677

Yes, we’ve all bemoaned Javonte’s lack of success in the playoffs. He’s an unassertive power forward in a shooting guard’s body. But that said, as a deep-bench rotation guy, he’s an absolute steal at his current price point.

Marko Simonovic: $1,563,518

The 22-year-old center has a guaranteed contract but was deployed more like a Two-Way player. He had some nice games for the Bulls’ G League affiliate, but failed to leave any kind of impression in his few cameos for Chicago during a lackluster rookie season. We could just waive him and take the cap hit? This 6’11” under-muscled project is your classic “two years away from being two years away” guy.

Partially guaranteed contracts

Ayo Dosunmu: $1,563,518

Dosunmu enjoyed a breakout rookie campaign that seems likely to merit some All-Rookie Second Team consideration. There’s no way Chicago doesn’t guarantee his deal - outside of the rookie scale as he was a second round pick - and hope for further growth as a backup guard.

Player options

Tony Bradley: $2,036,318

Bradley fell out of the Bulls’ rotation with the addition of Tristan Thompson, and given that he could earn more by signing a fresh veteran minimum this summer, is all-but-guaranteed to decline his player option with Chicago. Happy trails, Tony.

Restricted free agents

Troy Brown Jr., $7,228,448 qualifying offer

Still yet to turn 23 years old, Brown couldn’t hold on to a rotation spot this season ahead of Green or Derrick Jones Jr., which is uninspiring competition to lose against. The Bulls could extend Brown a $7,228,448 qualifying offer, after which he’d enter unrestricted free agency next summer. He didn’t show enough to warrant that kind of payday, even as a short-term commitment, so it’s possible that he hits the summer unrestricted.

Unrestricted free agents

Zach Lavine, $29,250,000 cap hold

Knee scope or no knee scope, it would behoove us to keep a 27-year-old two-time All-Star shooting guard who averaged 24.4 points, 4.6 rebounds, and 4.5 assists while shooting 47.6% from the floor, 38.9% from deep and 85.3% from the charity stripe during the 2021-22 season. Despite some disconcerting recent chatter, it’s safe to expect this Klutch client to stick with Chicago on a full max.

Derrick Jones Jr., $12,637,170 cap hold

Chicago could have moved Jones’s expiring $9.5 million deal at the 2022 trade deadline, instead... they did nothing.

Matt Thomas, $2,086,473 qualifying offer

We’ve got more pressing concerns than keeping Matt Thomas.

Tyler Cook, $1,576,305 qualifying offer

Cook had an opening after the rash of players in COVID-19 protocols gave him an opportunity to test his mettle in the big leagues. The 24-year-old power forward could earn another two-way deal with Chicago next year.

Malcolm Hill, $1,576,305 qualifying offer

The Bulls opted to waive undersized hometown hero Devon Dotson and convert Malcolm Hill’s 10-day deal with the club to a two-way contract in January. The 26-year-old U of I alum has the outlines of a deep-bench 3-and-D player, but Chicago should look for a younger player with more upside to fill its two-way slots next season.

Tristan Thompson, $1,200,000 cap hold

He was more washed than any of us expected. Thompson was still an upgrade over Tony Bradley, but the Bulls should look elsewhere for their third big man this summer. He’ll make more than his cap hold in the open market.

Draft picks

The Bulls will have the 18th pick (their own selection slot) in the first round of the 2022 draft. Because Portland tanked this season, the first-round pick AKME acquired from them last summer will roll over to 2023 (it is lottery-protected through 2028). If you’re thinking of draft day trades, the Bulls cannot move this year’s pick until after the selection has been made due to their own 2023 first being sent to Orlando.

Cap Exceptions

The Bulls have the $10.3 million non-taxpayer mid-level exception available in free agency this summer. They also still possess a $5 million traded player exception (from signing+trading Daniel Theis last summer) which will expire on July 7th. They do not have the $4 million bi-annual exception at their disposal, as they used it during the season to sign Thompson.