Melo as a free agent AND trade for Love? Bulls can do it

Melo as a free agent AND trade for Love? Bulls can do it
Chicago Tribune

Can the Bulls sign Carmelo Anthony as a free agent (without a sign and trade) and then have enough assets left to trade for Kevin Love?

A reader sent me that question (kudos to Jay Sparkz), but when he asked, it was with the attached condition that Melo sign for the same salary as Derrick Rose (who will make $18,862,876 in 2014-15). That answer is... well, I can't tell you in the second paragraph, where's the fun in that? I'd rather explain the reasons on the way.

To start, we'll assume that Rose and/or Joakim Noah won't be dumped to sign Melo, and they won't be traded for Love. I wouldn't consider either move, and most Bulls fans wouldn't, either.

The Bulls will have to send out a minimum of $12,495,250 in order to absorb Kevin Love's salary in a trade. And they are required to have 12 players on the roster during the summer- every empty roster spot incurs a charge of $507,336 (the rookie minimum salary) against the salary cap.

The current estimate is that the salary cap will be $63.2 million next season (according to Larry Coon). If the Bulls sign Melo for $18,862,876 next season, while keeping Noah and Rose, that's a combined $55,325,110 in salary (that total includes the $334,000 cap charge for the last year of Rip Hamilton's buyout).

In other words, outside of Noah and Rose, the Bulls can only have $7,874,890 in salaries and roster charges if they want to sign Melo to a free agent contract that pays him a first-year salary equal to what Rose makes. This tells you two things:

  1. To answer Jay's question- no, the Bulls cannot sign Melo as a free agent paying him Rose's salary and then trade for Love.
  2. Even if the Knicks refuse to send Melo to Chicago in a sign and trade, the Bulls can still sign him as a free agent and trade for Love. AND bring Nikola Mirotic over this summer.

Yes, you read that correctly. The Bulls could field a team that has Derrick Rose, Carmelo Anthony, Nikola Mirotic, Kevin Love and Joakim Noah next season. (And Greg Smith)

It would take several things going the Bulls' way, and how likely each one is to happen will vary based on each reader's own personal opinion.

  • The Bulls would have to trade the #16 pick this summer for a future first-round pick.
  • The Bulls would need to be able to move Mike Dunleavy and Tony Snell without taking back any salary in return.
  • The Wolves would have to agree to trade Love for Taj Gibson, Jimmy Butler, the #19 pick this summer and future picks.
  • Melo would have to take a bigger pay cut than most expect him to in his pursuit of a championship.
  • Real Madrid would have to be willing to work out a "payment plan" on Mirotic's buyout.
  • Mirotic and the Bulls would have to trust each other to execute a deal that would skirt the legality of the Collective Bargaining Agreement.

Are all of these things possible? Maybe. Let's look at them in the order in which they would most likely occur:

The Bulls shouldn't have any trouble trading the #16 pick for a future first-round pick. They need to clear as much cap space as possible, this move gives them another $911,864 to spend this summer.

Dunleavy and Snell should be fairly easy to move to teams with either cap space or a trade exception. The Bulls might even be able to get a future first-round pick in return, but if not, it's no biggie.

Trading For Kevin Love

kevin love bullsville

Chicago Tribune photo

A package of Gibson, Butler, #19, the Bulls' pick next summer, and the first-round pick Sacramento owes the Bulls? Some people might disagree, but I feel that's a pretty good return for Love. (The Bulls' pick includes a swap option, and the Sacramento pick is protected, complete info can be found here) This trade would most likely be agreed to before the draft so the Wolves get the player they want at #19, but it wouldn't become official until after the July moratorium, when the Bulls have spent their cap space (presumably on Melo).

And if the Wolves insist, I'm sure the Bulls would make a separate trade that would send Minnesota the #16 pick this summer, plus more future first-round picks, for a few second-round picks. I may be slightly biased, but isn't this scenario pretty good for Minnesota:

Before this summer's draft:

CHI trades:
#16 pick in 2014
CHI 1st-round picks in 2017 and 2019 (both unprotected)

MIN trades:
#40 and #44 picks in 2014 draft
MIN 2nd-round pick in 2015

On July 11th:

CHI trades:
Taj Gibson
Jimmy Butler
#19 pick in 2014
SAC 1st-round pick in 2015, 2016 or 2017 (top-10 protected)
CHI 1st-round picks in 2015 and 2021 (both unprotected)

MIN trades:
Kevin Love

If Love has made it clear that he won't resign in Minnesota next summer, I don't see how they can expect to get much more in return.

Bringing Mirotic Over Without The Full Mid-Level Exception

Going under the salary cap to sign Melo would mean the Bulls lose the Mid-Level Exception for this season, but they can still get Mirotic to Chicago this summer if all sides get creative. Mirotic would have to agree to sign for the Room Mid-Level Exception, which would pay him $2.732 million next season. According to most reports, this is significantly more than he would make next season if he stayed in Europe, but of course the problem is his buyout, and the fact that his skill level probably is worth a higher salary.

nikola mirotic bullsville

Chicago Tribune photo

International buyouts are said to be negotiable, and Mirotic's would have to be for him to take the Room MLE. His buyout is reported to be $3 million (possibly a little more), of which the Bulls are only allowed to pay $600,000. Mirotic would be stuck paying the other ~$2.4 million. If Mirotic waits until the summer of 2015 to leave Spain, he has no buyout, so I would expect Real Madrid to allow him to negotiate it down, pay it over a few years' time, or possibly a combination of both.

Of course Mirotic can always take out a personal loan to cover the buyout as well. I'm not sure why I haven't seen one media outlet ever mention this option, but I guess maybe there are less stories to write if his buyout is a non-issue?

When it comes to his salary, he can sign for $2.732 million next season with a player option for 2015-16, which will guarantee him $2.855 million for 2015-16. It also allows him to (most likely) opt out so that the Bulls can give him the Full MLE of $5.464 million next summer. They can also include a player option for a second year of this contract, which would guarantee Mirotic $5.70988 for his third season (2016-17).

That would also allow him to opt out and resign in the summer of 2016 with his Early Bird Rights, which would allow the Bulls to pay him up to 175% of his 2nd year salary, or $9.562 million in his third season. Since Early Bird contracts must be at least two years in length, the maximum raise (7.5%) would pay him $10,279,150 in his fourth season.

Add it all up, and Niko could come over this summer for the Room MLE and still make $28,037,150 during his first four years in the NBA. The #1 overall pick in the 2014 draft will make a maximum of $21,970,923 over the first four years of his NBA career. I'll be shocked if he doesn't spend the 2014-15 season in a Chicago Bulls uniform.

Melo Has To Take A Big Pay Cut

That leaves Melo, who has said he'll take less money to play for a winner. Well Mr. Anthony, it's time to put your money where your mouth is.

melo bullsville

Chicago Tribune photo

After renouncing all of their free agents and making the moves I proposed, the Bulls can go into the summer with this cap situation:

Rose $18,862,876
Noah $12,700,000
Taj Gibson $8,000,000
Jimmy Butler $2,008,748
#19 pick $1,266,000
Lou Amundson $1,310,286
Greg Smith $948,163
5 cap holds $2,536,880
Rip Hamilton's buyout $333,334
TOTAL $47,966,087

A salary cap of $63.2 million would allow the Bulls to offer Melo the following contract:

1st year- $15,741,249
3 years - $49,348,816
4 years - $67,215,133

That's obviously quite a pay cut, but does he really want to win? He's already earned $135,865,275 in his NBA career, if he signs the contract I just mentioned he will wind up having made over $200 million for 15 years of playing basketball.

If Melo isn't willing to "only" make $67.2 million over the next four year for a chance to play with-

  • Joakim Noah, who just completed the 1st-Team All-NBA, Defensive Player of the Year, and 1st-Team All-Defense trifecta
  • Kevin Love, who has been 2nd-Team All-NBA the last two years* and is a Top-5 scorer and rebounder in the NBA
  • Derrick Rose, whose only question mark is his health
  • Nikola Mirotic, 2nd-Team All-Euroleague the last two seasons and reigning Spanish League MVP
  • Tom Thibodeau, easily the best defensive coach in the NBA

Then he is lying when he says that he cares more about winning than money at this point.

The Bulls would be down to six players, and they would have to fill out this year's roster with minimum-salary veterans and 2nd-round picks, but you absolutely have to do it for this group. You would have last season's:

  • #3, #9 and #13 in Win Shares
  • #4, #15 and #18 in Total Minutes Played
  • #2 and #4 in Points Per Game
  • #3 and #6 in Rebounds Per Game
  • #12 in blocked Shots Per Game
  • #3 and #7 in PER
  • #8 and #16 in 3-point Shots Made
  • #5 and #9 in Free Throw Attempts
  • The Defensive Player of the Year

And you're going to add (hopefully) Derrick Rose and Nikola Mirotic to that?

The Bulls Roster After All These Moves

derrick rose bullsville

Brian Cassella, Chicago Tribune

While it's true that Melo, Love and Mirotic aren't known for their defense, I should point out that Paul Pierce and Ray Allen weren't know for their defense for the first 10 years of their careers. But then they teamed up with KG and Thibodeau, and their team was 1st, 2nd, 5th and 2nd in Defensive Rating.

Melo just turned 30, and Noah will be there in February- but Pierce, KG and Allen were 30, 31 and 32 when they first teamed up in Boston. And while you probably wouldn't see these five guys on the floor at the same time, can you imagine if Thibs threw out a huge offensive lineup of:

PG- Derrick Rose 6'3"
SG- Carmelo Anthony 6'8"
SF- Nikola Mirotic 6'10"
PF- Kevin Love 6'10"
C- Joakim Noah 6'11"

Those four scorers with Noah, who not only grabbed the fourth-most offensive rebounds in the NBA last season but also had more assists than any center in the last 30 years? Thibs might not agree, but I'm not sure that lineup would have to play any defense to win against all but about five or six teams.

Fill out your roster with Greg Smith- who has shown himself to be a very good backup center when healthy- and a bunch of veterans who can defend and rebound for the minimum salary in pursuit of an NBA Championship? I don't see how that team isn't the preseason favorite to win it all in 2014-15.

Unless another team blows Minnesota away with an offer better than Gibson, Butler and seven 1st-round draft picks, it's all up to you, Melo.

Salary information from the amazing ShamSports and the incredible Larry Coon's Salary Cap FAQ.

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    Don Ellis started covering sports professionally when he was 15. He attended Ball State University, and some of his past credits include InsideHoops (NBA Runaround, The NBA According to Ellis) and ESPN Florida (The Florida Sports Reporters, SportsCenter anchor) . In addition to running Bullsville.net and ChicagoSportsWriters.com, and writing for ChicagoNow and SportsBlog.com, he is also a KHSAA and semi-pro 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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