We have all come to expect the Bulls to do nothing at the trade deadline for several reasons. The primary reason being they’re the Bulls, and making trades is kind of showing off and comes off a bit desperate and we don’t do that here. Another being that while AKME has had some relative flurry of activity in their tenure, on the whole they have mostly dithered (sorry, ‘thorough evaluation buidling on personal relationships). Lonzo Ball’s injury has also been cited by observers as reason the Bulls are stuck.
But there’s another big reason for inactivity that doesn’t get as much attention: they’re cheap. Ownership supposedly has this ridiculous threshold (that has never been proven, interestingly) that they’ll only go into the Luxury Tax for a contender. Not to get into the entirety of AKME’s tenure, but he was making moves where either he didn’t think that was going to be a limitation, or legit thought he has a contender of a roster already.
So when I read Bulls beat media reiterate again and again that AKME’s plan for this season was for ‘continuity’, and that was screwed up by Lonzo’s injury, I develop a physical tick.
Why should anyone assume that’s the plan, because it’s one of the few things he’s actually said publicly? Perhaps say “their stated goal” instead of implying it’s actually the goal, because it’s a lie.
The plan was for continuity because they were already at their spending limit.
Continuity means just keeping the ‘core’ together, fine. Maybe there’s a legitimate thought it would work, or only works with Lonzo (bad plan, if that!). But ‘continuity’ doesn’t mean you sit on your full MLE this past summer, the team’s best and one of very few opportunities to add to the roster. And it doesn’t mean that they couldn’t make a more marginal trade this year with an eye to next.
Continuity isn’t providing that limitation, it’s cheapness. They didn’t spend their full summer exception (just bizarrely used part of it to sign Drummond instead of at the minimum) because doing so would put them over the tax line.
They’re currently around $1.7M under that mark. Not only would crossing it at the end of the season mean they’d pay some tax, they’d miss out on the check cut by the Warriors, Clippers, and other real big market franchises to the poor Chicago Bulls.
Now, when we are all wasting our lives on the trade machine (just me?), we have to take that into consideration. That’s not a desire for continuity, or a competitive age window, or improving the asset base or upside. It’s just money! And that’s what AKME has to consider when having their own trade discussions, and it usually will be at odds with other, team-building, goals. If they weren’t willing to go into the tax off of last season, they are definitely not going to in the middle of a wasted year.
And the year is wasted from a fun, competitive, momentum-building season already. A lot of it is due to Lonzo’s injury. But the team can take that as an opportunity to improve the franchise in other areas for upcoming seasons. It doesn’t have to be ‘blow it up’, but they do need to move forward.
But that’s harder to do when you can’t increase payroll this year! And have to think about future seasons’ payrolls. I have referenced plenty how the Bulls need to decide on Vuc now to preserve that ~$25M salary slot, but the team may not want to preserve that slot, which hampers their flexibility but also hampers payroll.
They could open another avenue for transactions by filing for a Disabled Player Exception on Lonzo. That’d mean they know he’s not coming back this year, but...he’s not coming back this year.
The Pistons just did this for Cade Cunningham. Using Lonzo’s salary, the Bulls could get a DPE for half, which would be ~$9.75M.
It’s limited on what you can use that exception for, only trades or waiver claims for players in the last year of their contracts. But it’s some added flexibility.
Now why won’t the Bulls do this before the trade deadline? Because of ‘continuity’? No, they just don’t want to spend the money.
So if there’s a series of transactions this deadline that got the Bulls some picks, prospects, or a rotation player under contract for next year...and were small enough where it didn’t break up AKME’s ‘vision’, they still wouldn’t do it. And they won’t even put themselves in better position to do it.
Because they are not actually serious about building this team. It was evident in the offseason, where the tax line was immediately brought up in the wake of LaVine’s max extension. To meet the standard of building a contender before going into the luxury tax, you have to be damn near perfect in your team building. The AKME regime has been far from that, with or without considering Lonzo’s injury. So now they are stuck, and it’s necessary to spend their way out of it. And that’s not going to happen.