The Chicago Bulls certainly regret not signing Jimmy Butler to a large extension this off-season. However, there's no reason to view that decision harshly. Jimmy Butler has improved more this season than perhaps any player in the history of the NBA over one season.
Unlike most players who "improve" they really see stat increases due to minutes (seriously try to find examples of guys who take huge jumps without huge minute increases).
Butler's not playing more minutes. He just went from role player to all-star in the same number of minutes. He improved radically on offense in terms of his efficiency and volume in one year.
If Butler had stayed the same, cap smoothing had been implemented, and the Bulls gave him the money he wanted, they could have ended up paying him 18 million per year for a solid wing defender with pedestrian offense.
However, it didn't go down like that. Butler has take then all-star leap and looks like a stud on both sides of the ball going forward, and he's going to get paid. However, with the NBA Players Association rejecting cap smoothing, the question is how is he going to get paid?
The NBA announced Wednesday that the players' union formally rejected a so-called "cap-smoothing" proposal that would pay players the same 51 percent of basketball-related income they get under the current collective-bargaining agreement, while artificially lowering the cap over several years. The plan was put forth to manage the influx of revenue that is coming with the $24 billion television deal that begins after next season.
NBA teams using internal data are projecting the salary cap to jump to between $88 million and $92 million per team, sources told ESPN. To compare, this season the cap is set at $63 million and next season it is projected to land at about $66 million. To put it into perspective, the largest salary-cap jump in history is $7 million in one season. What happens in 2016 could triple that leap.
I'm not sure why the Player's Association rejected smoothing per se. I'm sure they felt it limited the maximum salary any player could get paid, so it must be bad. However, cap smoothing would have taken the money a few people will get and spread it to everyone in the league evenly.
A 20% raise for everyone seems like a much better deal than a massive spike for just the FAs. Wouldn't more players vote for that? It's hard to imagine why the players would vote to give all the money to a small minority rather than to everyone. Especially if you implemented the smoothing over a small cycle like a two year period.
At any rate, whether the Players Association made the right choice for its members or not, the decision is in now. The consequence for Jimmy Butler is this.
The Bulls will give Butler the qualifying offer and max qualifying offer. That means the Bulls will effectively meet the all in requirements, because it would be crazy for them not to. At this point, according to the CBA FAQ, the minimum offer Butler can accept from another team is a three year deal (not including option years).
This locks Butler into a fairly tight spot.
He can take the qualifying offer at a shade over three million then hope to bank in big time in the next season as an unrestricted free agent where he'll likely be eligible for a 4/96-98 type deal. This would put his total earnings over five years at around 100 million while taking a risk that he could tear his ACL or have some other huge injury and then end up with something considerably less (like 5/15 or so).
He could take the Bulls max deal which will end up being something like 5/90 right up the front in which case, he'll end up locking in huge amounts of money and be set with just a shade under the amount he would take if he tried the QO route.
He could try to play hard ball with the Bulls and demand a shorter contract so he can re up at the new max sooner. A couple options would be 2/34, 3/51, 4/70 with the possibility of one of those years also being an option year. However, the Bulls have very little incentive to do a two or three year (with option) deal since he can't get that offer with another team anyway.
Which means the only "short" deal he's likely to have any leverage to obtain is a 4/70 with the fourth year being a player option since another team could offer it. However, the whole world knows the Bulls will match anything on Butler since they'll have already gone in with the "max QO", so it would mean some team has to do Butler's agent a favor to force the Bulls hand on that one if the Bulls play hard ball. I'll assume Jimmy's agent can make that happen though.
That means for Butler the practical choices are this:
|Plan||5 year Min||5 year Max|
|QO + Unrestrected||$3 million||$100 million|
|Full Max now||$91 million||$91 million|
|4yr/PO+FA||$70 million||$110 million|
In short, the QO route is a non starter. If everything went well with it Jimmy Butler could make an extra 10 million over five years while taking the risk of losing 87 million dollars if things go poorly.
This effectively means no matter what happens that Jimmy Butler is a Bull for the next three seasons at a minimum. The final two plans each have their strengths and weaknesses. The smart plan for Butler is probably the three year + 4th year PO play where he aims at becoming a UFA in year three.
Even if Butler regresses some over these next three years, as long as he doesn't have catastrophic injury then he will almost certainly still be worth 2/20 in years 4/5 to break even with the full max plan. If he does have catastrophic injury then locking in 71 million total is enough that he will still have no regrets.
The real bonus for Jimmy is that he's 25 now, so if he plays enters free agency in three years at the age of 28 and is still at the top of his game then a four year max contract still looks pretty reasonable. That deal will likely be around 4/130.
His odds of playing well for the next five years and still deserving that deal at 30 (almost 31) seem considerably smaller. Taking the 20 million dollar risk to position himself much stronger for the follow up contract seems like a good option to me.
We'll see what Butler does, but my bet is on the three year deal with a fourth year player option. I suspect the Bulls will agree to that without playing hard ball and forcing Butler to find a team with money to offer it because it is a nice hedge for them too.
Butler's rise has been unprecedented, but that also creates its own worries about whether he'll really stick there or not. He still isn't a great ISO creator and most guys with this type of money are. Even if Butler declines some, his new deal will be the equivalent of a 10-11 million dollar deal with the new CBA. A risk they could easily live with.
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