Looking ahead to 2016 free agency

Looking ahead to 2016 free agency

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?

Wrong.

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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  • I think it's high time to take advantage of Bird Rights and Exceptions as much as possible because I believe the league is going to move to a hard cap after the owners opt out after 2017.

  • In reply to The Butler did it!:

    That's a great point. I think you're right about a hard cap coming. Whenever there's a new CBA, the owners always get what they want. It's much easier to get 30 owners to agree than it is 5000 or so players. Also, the owners are much more likely to sit out part or all of a season and lose money than the players are. There are hard caps in the NFL and NHL so the NBA is likely to follow. MLB doesn't have one but the MLBPA is one of the most powerful labor unions in the history of labor unions. The NBAPA is not.

  • In reply to Roman F:

    A hard cap would suck for the fans too, just look at what happened to the Blackhawks after they won the cup in 2010, and the same thing looks to be happening this year after another cup victory.

    I'm not sure how many owners would be in favor of it, certainly not those who want to win first and foremost, or the major markets flush with local TV money that they don't have to share directly. You would think that most teams want the flexibility inherent in a soft cap system which allows them to think that they can win the game by being smarter than everyone else.

    I think that the revenue split is the most important thing to the owners, followed by the max salary structure and contract length. Even with the current system in place the contracts signed by the players didn't add up to 50% of revenues, so the teams are going to have to cut a check to the players to make up the difference. Adam Silver said that it could be as much as $500 million.

    I don't think that the players will ever settle for less than a 50/50 split. They are probably looking to recoup some of the losses from the last work stoppage which had them at 57%.

    Really with the amount of money being thrown around this summer and next, it would seem that neither side would have much to complain about, or opt out about. But I'm sure that greed will rule the day and one side or the other(maybe both) will look to blow things up.

    As for free agency, don't you owe it to yourself to have max cap space next summer just incase Rose and Durant have a secret handshake agreement already in place.

  • In reply to BigWay:

    Agreed, the NHL's hard salary cap is a huge drawback, it might foster parody, but overall you'd benefit more from letting teams go over the cap to resign their own players; or at least the ones they drafted. I've always thought the NHL would ideally like to have a flexible cap but simply cannot afford it. The NFL is structured such that you can always make enough room to resign your draft picks because of non guaranteed contracts. Yes you might let a good player you drafted go because of the cap, but if he's good enough, there's always a way. So really the NHL is the only league with a cap that truly restricts resigning your own free agents, and I would hate to see the NBA become another.

  • Some thoughts on the hard cap scenario:

    1. The NBA Players Association is much more organized than before. Michele Roberts is significantly more intelligent, tougher, and more experienced than the incompetent pushover who preceded her.

    2. As a Bulls fan a hard cap may not be desirable. Chicago is a major market and the Bulls have mucho dinero. Theoretically, this should give the Bulls a competitive advantage over small market teams. (Unless that team is owned by Paul Allen.)

    3. As stated, the NHL has a hard cap. As a result, the Blackhawks had to trade a terrific 22 year old budding star (Brandon Saad) in order to maneuver under the cap. They also had to trade another core player (Patrick Sharp) and a good prospect (Stephen Johns) for garbage in return. The Bulls could be forced to do the same thing with guys like Mirotic, McDermott, and Portis. If MLB had a hard cap the Cubs could be forced to choose from Bryant, Schwarber, Russell, etc. in order to get under the cap. How would you feel about that?

    4. David Stern was able to keep the owners together. Does Adam Silver have the same clout?

    5. Has a hard cap really created competitive balance? Results seem to be mixed.

    6. As a citizen I really get turned-off by, what I perceive, as the greed of professional athletes and owners when there is substantial income inequality in our society. As a fan, I want to see my team win-regardless of the cost. Perplexing indeed. Perhaps we should save that discussion for another time.
    .

  • In reply to hgarbell:

    agreed on all counts

  • If the Bulls move Gibson for no 2016-17 salary, and Gasol doesn't opt out, they will be at a total team salary of $65,425,045 million for 10 players next summer.

    Rose
    Butler/Snell
    McD/MDJ
    Mirotic/Portis/Bairstow
    Gasol/Fellatio

    Add a cap hold of $543,471 and you're at $65,968,516 for 11 roster spots.

    That would leave $24,031,484 to sign Durant, assuming a cap of $90 million. That's a little bit short of his max of $25.3143 million, but we can give him a team option on the 2nd year so that he could opt out and resign for 120% (Non-Bird Rights), so he'd get $28,837,781 in 2017-18.

    That would work if KD wants to be here, and who wouldn't want to play on this team (ages for 2016-17 season):

    PG- Rose (28)
    SG- Butler (27)
    SF - KD (28)
    PF - Mirotic (26)
    C - Gasol (36)

    With a bench of Snell (25), McDermott (25), Dunleavy (36) and Portis (22)? We'd also have our 2016 first-round pick and the Room MLE of ~$3.6 million.

    Our small-ball lineup of Rose - Butler - McD/Snell - KD - Niko would be damn near unstoppable on offense.

    Of course this is all a pipe dream as KD has never expressed an ounce of interest in playing here, but if he wants to team up with a couple of superstars, I don't see how he can do any better than the scenario I just laid out.

  • In reply to Don Ellis:

    That is a bit of a pipe dream but I agree if he had any interest in playing here the opportunity is there. I think a lot of it will depend on how the team does this season. If we look anything like we did last year then i doubt he even flirts with the Bulls but if this team can finally play up to it's potential I believe we could have a shot. Of course there's always the case where we find ourselves in another situation like Carmelo, but the front office has to take those kinds of risks. Also as always is the case a lot depends on the health of Derrick Rose. I truly believe Rose's health concerns was the deal breaker for Melo. Why would a guy take less money to play for a team in hopes of winning a championship when it's best player may not even be around? Even now after a somewhat healthy season for Rose that still remains an active issue.

  • In reply to Don Ellis:

    First, Don, I loved your two posts on bringing back the same team - posted under the previous article. Super interesting.

    Now this post has the 2016-17 cap which allows the team to land Durant. Stimulating.

    For this coming season, Rose and Butler could be better! That would be a plus. Hoiberg should make the O better, so should the lighter practices and more rest.

    So a question is, who will step up out of M, M, M and Snell? And how much will they improve?

    How much better will Portis and Fellicio make the team? Will Noah and Taj get healthy and in condition? There are a lot of potential positives. If some of these happen, might Durant choose the Bulls?

  • In reply to rustyw:

    Thanks rusty, appreciate it.

    I think Butler should certainly be better, not very many players peak at 25 (though it's certainly possible).

    As much as everyone hates Rose shooting 3's, he really needs to be able to do so at 36% minimum. If he can't our half-court offense will never reach its full potential, because nobody will guard him outside 20 feet, making it much harder for him to drive and dish.

    McD could still suck this year and make a step up from last season.

    I'm liking Snell more and more the more he plays, I think if he keeps working on his aggressiveness and confidence, he and Butler could be one hell of a wing combo for a long time.

    Niko only needs to play (PF not SF, obviously), he's got mad skills and I'm probably more excited to see him this season than anyone else on the roster. Hoiberg seems like the type of coach who will use him properly on offense, and he's been a badass 3-pt shooter far too long to not be good at it in the NBA.

  • In reply to Don Ellis:

    Don, on the contrary, I believe quite a few players peak at 25 years old, and the average peak age is actually more around 27 and 28 years old. Then again I don't believe Rose will ever peak higher than he did 4 years ago, but only because of his injuries, not because of his age.

  • The Bulls had been linked to Joe Johnson in the past. I wouldn't be surprised if he ends up being our gasol like veteran signing for a cap friendly deal in 2016. KD probably is not leaving OKC and the rest of the field isn't that appealing. It sucks but our only advancement is either a trade or the more likely garpax way of hoping one of Mirotic, Snell or McDermott breaks out. The Bulls core is now Rose-Butler tandem, everyone else is short term. Portis looks like he would fit well with that backcourt once he develops as a starter. Guys like Noah, Gibson and Gasol are on their way out. A scoring big to compliment Rose and Butler and a backup point guard/combo guard that can score and run a team would be big on my list.

  • Looking into the future - escapist summer entertainment at its best. 2014: Are we gonna get Melo?! 2010: "Keep it quiet. LeBron to the Bulls in a couple of days." Now it's 2016 and who K.D.?

    Anyone remember the old days when as a kid you pulled out the J.C. Penny catalog, and dreamed of all the toys you would someday play with to your heart's content. Christmas though was never so amazing unless you were rich or somebody won the lottery.

    Well the Bulls most likely aren't winning the lottery when it comes to free agents either. It will take savvy drafting and shrewd trading to develop or acquire such star or super star talents. We're not just gonna order one up like a pizza.

    Jimmy Butler was about as shrewd a draft as you can get other then say a Manu Ginobli or a Tony Parker. Will Mirotic be that shrewd impact pick up? Time will tell.

    When I think of stealing away an up and comer at the right moment the way Dallas did with Jason Terry(who should have two rings not one) or a Joe Dumars did with Rasheed Wallace, Ben W., and Chauncey Billups etc. The old Boston Celtics legend Red Auerbach stole both HOF's Kevin McHale and Robert Parish at the same time if I'm not mistaken.

    If Niko and by some miracle McDNP become impact players then we are in business. Or if whoever traded for a young talent like Moe Harkless if suddenly his career takes off then you've hit the jackpot.

    It's just too bad that $24 Billion will ruin yes ruin so many players basketball careers and year round AAU money driven basketball is robbing the NBA of all it's stars. Imagine if Kyrie Irving would have played in those Finals. Funny how old school pre-crazy money day stars like LeBron and Tim Duncan just keep plugging away year after year.

    This year's largely starless Finals(only Curry and James) was one of the worst I've ever seen even though I wanted G.S. to beat LeBron. Too bad the mega money will just wash people's soul's away and the exploitative overplaying of youths will haunt the league and fans with chronic debilitating injuries for the foreseeable future. Unfortunately when it comes to the NBA the future's not so bright, and I don't have to wear shades.

  • In reply to RoadWarrior:

    one of the worst finals you've seen? really? I mean, one of the worst teams in Cleveland, yea. But worst finals? Come on RW.

  • This may be off topic (or not), but I was wondering if anyone had an opinion about what Kobe said (I think it was a tweet) the other day. He made some comment about finishing his career with some Euro team along with Pau. Is Kobe going to Europe? Does Pau plan on going to europe next year? Are Pau and Kobe that close? If they are, would Kobe try to sign with the Bulls for a year? Was that just to put a feeler out to see if the Bulls were interested in making something happen? He did want to go a few years ago and I doubt management would say no for one year and a reasonable price. Could be interesting....or a dumpster fire. Or am I looking to deep into a throw away comment?

  • In reply to PaBullfan:

    Only a very small fraction of our ideas on trades or GA signings could ever happen - but it is still fun to play arouond with the pieces. No blood, no foul!

  • In reply to PaBullfan:

    It wasn't too long ago I was thinking the same thing. I think Kobe would be a good fit for the bulls on a year deal. We could easily move Butler up to the 3 and on the Bulls Kobe wouldn't have to work as hard and have so much defensive pressure. A lot of people think he's washed up but I still believe on the right team Kobe could still win his 6th ring. It's just not going to happen on the Lakers.

  • Morten wrote: "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."

    Dead on. Mort! That is Money-Ball, but it is much easier said than done.

    Drafting and stashing upcomers from Europe is an example - like both Chicago and San Antonio have done. A FO that consistently does that has their team in play for titles. Of course, they still need a few breaks to win it all.

  • In reply to rustyw:

    Today's discussion is perhaps another reason why drafting Saric last year instead of McDNP might have been the best long term move. The moneyball move as you like to say.

    He will likely come to the NBA in the summer of 2017, 3 years after he was drafted like Niko did. I believe that he signed a 3 year deal to play in Europe right around draft time (2014), so unless he extends he should be free of European commitments that summer. By that time the Bulls will either be rebuilding on the fly(Rose regains his all star form and the Bulls resign/extend him) or in total rebuild mode(Rose never makes it back and the Bulls let him walk). Gasol, Noah and Gibson will all either be gone or useless by then, so we will need an infusion of young talent in the frontcourt.

    Even if Portis is a hit, just Portis and Niko won't be enough. Saric will be 23 in the summer of 2017, same age as Niko was when he came to the Bulls last summer. From his career arc so far Saric seems to be at least the same level of talent as Niko, perhaps even better overall but not as gifted a shooter.

    All that we can do now is hope that McD gets a magical transfusion of athleticism that allows him to transfer his shooting/scoring skills onto an NBA court. Either that or trade him to Philly for the rights to Saric.

  • In reply to BigWay:

    I liked the idea of Saric, too - in fact, as I recall, your comments turned me onto him. He will likely turn out to be a top five pick in value for a lower pick.

    Still not the bargain Mirotic was - 2nd choice for ROY for a pick in the 20s. A few of those help build a contender.

    So now we see what Hoiberg can do for McDermott. And for others.

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