As I'm sure most are aware, the salary cap is going up next year. By a lot. All thanks to ESPN and Turner's new deal with the NBA that will ultimately fetch the league $24 billion over nine years.
(It physically hurt to type that figure)
With that, cap space will be coming to Chicago, as well as a ton of other clubs, next July. Joakim Noah will be coming off the cap, as will Pau Gasol's deal if he declines his player option at just over $7.7 million - Although, to be fair, it will be a small amount to deal with all things considered, if the cap reaches the $90 million area.
The big prize that summer, obviously, is former MVP and all-around superstar Kevin Durant. The Bulls haven't been linked to him, and would actually have to shed some contracts anyway to make a considerable offer to him, but I'm sure they'll send out feelers to get an idea about his level of interest - if there is any.
Pending waiving of rights, options getting picked up, cap holds for draft picks, and minimum roster spots, the Bulls could be armed with anywhere from $15 - 25 million in cap space, and even more if they move Taj Gibson for nothing. It's an intriguing plan, right?
Outside of Durant, the vast majority of top line free agents on the market are restricted free agents, who are bound to have any offer sheet matched by their respective clubs. Detroit isn't going to let Andre Drummond walk, neither is Washington with Bradley Beal. Michael Kidd-Gilchrist probably could be had, but not without a significant overpay, and I doubt anyone would be interested in a one-way player earning $60 million over four seasons.
Dwyane Wade is going to be 34 next summer. Joe Johnson 35. LeBron will opt out and re-sign with Cleveland for $200+ million.
The only player who fits an age criteria, and who could be had, is Toronto's DeMar DeRozan, and even then, he's probably going to ask for something ridiculous that Toronto will give him as they just invested in DeMarre Carroll and wants to see how things play out.
Note: Hassan Whiteside is technically available. But given that we have no idea what he can do over the course of a full 82-game schedule, he's somewhat of an unknown at this point.
In short, the 2016 free agent marked projects as somewhat uninspiring.
Therefore, it could make some sense approaching the summer in a similar manner as in 2010. After signing Carlos Boozer, the Bulls failed in picking up other high-caliber players, so instead, they built a team. They spent money on Kyle Korver, Ronnie Brewer, and C.J. Watson, thus adding depth to the rotation, and readying themselves for a 62-win season.
The Bulls could decide to package away a lot of young bucks on the roster, in order to make a consolidation trade for an All-Star (if one becomes available), and then stocking the roster with free agents such as Kent Bazemore, Marvin Williams, Marreese Speights, and players of that nature. Now, those names are dreadfully uninspiring to read, but this would only hinge on the idea that the Bulls would upgrade their starpower, by moving McDermott, Mirotic, Snell, etc. And to that note, it needs reminding that these players will have to show something to carry enough value.
But assuming they do, the Boston model might not be that bad. As is becoming increasingly apparent in this league, you need stars. Plural. Would the Bulls be championship contenders if they traded their youth for Carmelo Anthony and hit free agency to stock up on veterans following the deal? There's not an answer to that question until we know which side of the best/worst case scenario these Bulls lean, but it's something that needs to be talked about, since we're just a little over 11 months away from another bout of free agency.
The worst outcome next year would be entering a free agent market and spending money on players who aren't game changers. The Bulls are used to that since they keep signing Kirk Hinrich of course, but that sort of money doesn't affect the salary structure that much. It's something else entirely to go out and spend $15-20 million on players, whose influence can be summed up by saying "Meh".
What would also be a poor outcome, is hanging onto that cap space and saving that money for extension time when it comes to Snell, Mirotic, and McDermott. To properly become a contender, you need assets. If those assets can be acquired without giving up anything in trades, it should always be prioritized, even if it means swallowing tax penalties down the road. You then use your Bird Rights on these guys to re-sign them, or extend them, when it's time. But this logic leads us back into the worst outcome, which is spending money on non-stars. Assets are fine, and assets are necessary, but they need to be the right ones. Essentially, the Bulls need to find bargains. Low-cost, low-gamble players, with at least medium-upside to the point where they can outplay their contract by a fair bit.
The Bulls, thankfully, have a solid eye for potential as they've proving over the last decade, thus increasing the odds of securing new assets with cap space, that could play significant roles in the years to come.
So to rehash:
1. Boston model
Ship off youngsters for a star, follow up with veteran signings. Quality of youngsters and a star being available being the keys in making this possible.
2. Gathering the right assets
Use free agency to locate younger players at costs that generally will be viewed as under market value, and who carry the chance of performing at a higher level than their deal suggests. Use said assets, or the already-established youngsters, to make a move for a star.
3. Don't stash money away for extensions out of principle
This goes hand-in-hand with point number two. If the right assets aren't available, then no, money shouldn't be spent. But don't forego valuable assets only to save up for extensions. Spend, build, and shuffle.
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