Bulls cap space situation- how far under the NBA salary cap can the team get this summer?

Bulls cap space situation- how far under the NBA salary cap can the team get this summer?
Revisorweb

The Bulls cap space situation has been the subject of major discussions since the end of the season. Which makes sense, as there are no longer any games to talk about, and the Bulls will be looking to make some major moves this summer.

But the Bulls cap space situation has also been a subject about which a myriad of misinformation has been written and subsequently rewritten. Almost all of this misinformation is unintentional, as few writers (and even fewer fans) have the intricate knowledge of the NBA's Collective Bargaining Agreement that is required to discuss the situation with complete accuracy.

nbpa bullsville

NBPA Twitter

Don't blame the writers for this, as the CBA- like most contracts between a company and their employees- is a long document full of legalese and uninteresting details. You can read the CBA here if you happen to be interested, the National Basketball Players Association makes it available through their website.

You can also check out Larry Coon's CBA FAQ, which breaks down most of the pertinent information into a format that is readable to the average person. In fact, 99.9% of the salary cap information I write about is found there, as opposed to the actual CBA itself.

Much of the Bulls cap space discussion currently centers around Carlos Boozer, and whether or not the Bulls should use the amnesty clause to waive Boozer this summer. The Bulls can get under the salary cap if they do this, but not far enough to sign a significant free agent.

boozer bullsville

Photo by Keith Allison

Why not, you may ask? The general misunderstanding most folks have is thinking that removing Boozer's $16.8 million salary from the books means the Bulls cap space will increase by $16.8 million. Unfortunately, that's not how things work in the NBA.

There are a few reason for this- mostly, it's because the NBA has what is known as a "soft cap", which means there are several ways that a team can go over the actual salary cap. It also means that the vast majority of teams are over the salary cap most seasons.

For these reasons, I thought it would be beneficial to look at the Bulls salary cap situation this summer, so that every Bulls fan knows exactly what the actual, factual situation looks like.

Bulls cap space as of July 1st

First we'll examine what the Bulls cap space situation will look like on July 1 (when the NBA's new fiscal year begins), assuming they keep both of their first-round picks in this month's draft. This is all of the players who will be under contract with the Bulls on July 1, along with their salaries for the 2014-15 season (we'll call this Exhibit 1):

Derrick Rose $18,862,876
Carlos Boozer $16,800,000
Joakim Noah $12,700,000
Taj Gibson $8,000,000
Mike Dunleavy $3,326,235
Jimmy Butler $2,008,748
Tony Snell $1,472,400
#16 draft pick $1,468,900
Mike James $1,448,490
Ronnie Brewer $1,310,286
Lou Amundson $1,310,286
#19 draft pick $1,266,000
Nikola Mirotic $1,075,300
Greg Smith $948,163
Rip Hamilton $333,333
TOTAL $72,331,017

Why are Mirotic and Hamilton included? Hamilton's contract was guaranteed for $1 million for the 2012-13 season, and when the Bulls released him, they chose to spread out the cap hit over three years. This figure will eat into the Bulls cap space this summer.

Mirotic counts against the Bulls cap space the same as any other draft pick until the team either:

  • Signs him to a contract for 2014-15, at which point his actual salary will count against the Bulls' salary cap figure
  • Signs an agreement with Mirotic saying that he will not play for the team at all in 2014-15, which will remove his cap hold

Joakim Noah bullsville

Why does Noah count against the Bulls cap space for $12.7 million when his salary for 2014-15 is only $12.2 million? Because his contract includes a $500,000 bonus if he is named First Team All-NBA, and since he earned the bonus this season, he is now considered "likely" to reach the incentive next season as well. That means it counts against the Bulls salary cap.

So as you can see, if Boozer is released using the amnesty clause and Mirotic remains in Europe for another season, the team's total salary will be $54,455,717. The Bulls cap space at this point would be $8,744,283.

Before I get into how it is possible to increase the Bulls cap space, I will point out that during the summer, teams are required to have 12 roster spots filled (assuming they will use their cap space for the 13th man on the roster, as NBA teams must have a minimum of 13 players on the roster). For every empty roster spot, teams are charged a cap hold of $507,336 (the minimum salary for rookies).

Bulls cap space and non-guaranteed contracts

First, to take the Bulls cap space to its highest amount, obviously the team would release James, Brewer and Amundson since their contracts are not guaranteed for 2014-15. Replacing their salaries with cap holds lowers the salary cap figure by $2,547,054, which would make the team payorll $51,908,663. The Bulls cap space at this point would be $11,291,337 (based on the NBA's current estimate that the salary cap will be $63.2 million for 2014-15).

That would allow the Bulls to add a free agent making $11,291,337 million to a roster of (Exhibit 2):

Derrick Rose $18,862,876
Joakim Noah $12,700,000
Taj Gibson $8,000,000
Mike Dunleavy $3,326,235
Jimmy Butler $2,008,748
Tony Snell $1,472,400
#16 draft pick $1,468,900
#19 draft pick $1,266,000
Greg Smith $948,163
Rip Hamilton: $333,333
Cap Hold $507,336
Cap Hold $507,336
Cap Hold $507,336
Bulls Cap Space: $11,291,337

Obviously, that's not enough to sign a major free agent (Melo, or say LeBron or Bosh if they opt out of their contracts), but it would allow them to sign a 2nd-tier free agent. Lance Stephenson has been widely discussed, and Gordon Hayward is a restricted free agent.

It also would allow the team to make a trade and take back much more salary than they send out.

The Bulls cap space could increase if the team trades away a player or draft pick while taking back less (or no) salary in the trade. While I'm not going to go over each and every scenario, it's really not that difficult to figure out if you would like to play around with the numbers.

How fans can figure out the Bulls cap space

The average fan can use Exhibit 2 to figure out the Bulls cap space using their own theoretical trades. Just remember to do a few things to keep the number accurate:

  • If the Bulls trade a player or 2014 first-round draft pick and don't take back a player or 2014 first-round pick in return, replace the traded player/pick's salary with a cap hold of $507,336.
  • If the Bulls trade away two players for one player, be sure to add another cap hold.
  • You can't trade Rip Hamilton's cap hit, and he doesn't count as a roster spot.
  • If you want a scenario where Mirotic is signed with cap space, you don't have to adjust the cap holds to include his higher cap hold, as it will be absorbed into his salary once his contract is added.
  • Basically, just remember that the total number of players on the roster plus the number of cap holds much equal 12, as the free agent signed will fill the 13th roster spot.

aaron afflalo bulls bullsville

NBA Images

The main purpose of this article was to get the actual, accurate Bulls cap space total out there for everyone to see. But one scenario I will look at- because I think it's fairly possible- is the Bulls trading the #16 pick this summer for Arron Afflalo while still being able to have cap space to bring Mirotic over this summer.

After that trade, the Bulls salary cap situation would wind up looking like this:

Derrick Rose $18,862,876
Joakim Noah $12,700,000
Taj Gibson $8,000,000
Arron Afflalo $7,500,000
Mike Dunleavy $3,326,235
Jimmy Butler $2,008,748
Tony Snell $1,472,400
#19 draft pick $1,266,000
Greg Smith $948,163
Rip Hamilton: $333,333
Cap Hold $507,336
Cap Hold $507,336
Cap Hold $507,336
Bulls Cap Space: $5,260,237

nikola mirotic bullsville

Obviously, that would allow the Bulls to sign Mirotic to a contract that would pay him close to the Full MLE next season. They would have 10 players under contract:

PG- Rose
SG- Afflalo, Snell
SF- Butler, Dunleavy
PF- Gibson, Mirotic
C- Noah, Smith

The #19 pick would be the 10th player, and the Bulls would still have the Room Mid Level Exception of $2.7 million available. I would assume that Augustin gets the Room MLE, and Hinrich re-signs for the veteran's minimum ($1,448,490).

Then you sign another big man for the veteran's minimum, or possibly you use the Room MLE on a big man and the veteran's minimum on a guard (instead of Augustin at the RMLE).

Of course, it's possible that the Bulls keep both draft picks and instead use their cap space to sign a wing player like Trevor Ariza and Mirotic.

This actually might be the best way to go, because they could still field a contender while having a very solid young core of talented players who will be 26 years of age or younger this season:

Derrick Rose
Nikola Mirotic
Jimmy Butler
Tony Snell
#16 pick
#19 pick
Greg Smith

In any case, even if the Bulls miss out on Melo and Love, they will still have plenty of flexibility to improve the roster this summer.

All salary info from the absolute best source on the internet, ShamSports.com of course.

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    Don Ellis

    Don Ellis started covering sports professionally when he was 15. He attended Ball State University, and some of his past credits include InsideHoops (columnist) and ESPN Florida (The Florida Sports Reporters, SportsCenter anchor) . In addition to running Bullsville.net and writing for ChicagoNow and The Sports Bank, he is also a KHSAA baseball umpire. He's a 3rd-generation Cubs fan, a Bulls fan since the days of Van Lier and Sloan, and a life-long New England Patriots fan. Follow Don on Twitter @Bullsville.

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