Obvious statement - not much has gone right for the Bulls this season.
Retrospectively looking back on the season to date, little headlines of the season jump out as bright spots. Derrick Rose has looked terrific after starting the season horribly, but has recently begun to periodically miss games. Jimmy Butler has been terrific, but he too has succumb to a recent spate of injuries. Doug McDermott has shown signs under the tutelage of Fred Hoiberg, but the same cannot be said of Tony Snell and Nikola Mirotic.
It wouldn't be an overreaction to categorize the season as an unmitigated disaster relative to expectations placed on the team by its management group, but through all the mess and chaos that continues to plague the organization, the emergence of E'Twaun Moore has arguably been the biggest highlight of the Bulls' season.
In some ways, this realization is overly disheartening, but ignoring the obvious disappointment surrounding the team, reveling in Moore's growth is the positive fan's should focus on in the interim, particularly as the Bulls participation in the upcoming playoff schedule has yet to be sealed.
Early in the season, finding himself playing behind Kirk Hinrich, Tony Snell and Aaron Brooks in Fred Hoiberg's rotation, Moore would only feature in 15.6 minutes per game in all games played prior to the 2016 calendar year. After seeing no playing time in 12 of the Bulls' first 44 games up until Jan. 25, 2016, Moore has since featured in all of the Bulls' next 23 games, averaging 29.2 minutes, 11.4 points, 3.0 rebounds and 2.8 assists.
Moore's ascension has coincided with the departure of Hinrich, as well as the sub-optimal play of Brooks and Snell, but greater opportunity would be a lazy explanation for Moore's uptick in play. Persevering and making the most of every minute given to him, Moore has earned the trust of Fred Hoiberg by proving that he could control the ball, make smart decisions and defend both guard positions.
So good has Moore been that the obvious question to be asked is why he wasn't an option for Tom Thibodeau last season? The gaping whole on the roster last season could have been filled without external roster moves, with Moore sitting on the Bulls' bench all along. Whilst Tony Snell and Nikola Mirotic have gone backwards since the arrival of Fred Hoiberg, the same cannot be said about Moore.
The Moore's development is yet another example of the Bulls management finding another minimum salary guard from the free agency dumpster, and watching him grow into a key rotational piece. Though heavy criticism has followed Chicago's front office in the wake of Thibodeau's exit, Moore's improvement cannot be denied as a great value signing by Gar Forman.
Unfortunately, like many of the cost-controlled finds that Chicago have managed to secure throughout Forman's tenure, the great irony in Moore's current level of play is that he may be pricing himself out of the Bulls' frugal balance sheet, just as Nate Robinson and D.J. Augustin did year's earlier.
A perception exists that many - if not all - team's will have huge amounts of cap space to splash on the pending crop of free agents, thanks largely to the rising cap line, which is expected to grow from $70 million to $92 million in the space of week in early July. Though it is true, that many team's will be strapped with more cash than sense to spend, for the Bulls, depending on their thought process with free agents to be, Pau Gasol and Joakim Noah, their cap position threatens to be extremely meager relative to the majority of their foes.
As we've come to learn, the Bulls have every interest in retaining Gasol, and the big man is said to have Chicago atop of his preferred offseason destinations. The free agency market is fluid and ever-changing, as is the decision making of all parties involved, but if we're to take this information as gospel, Chicago will be prioritizing Gasol, which will mean that retaining E'Twaun Moore will shutout many opportunities to bring in quality talent from outside the Bulls' organization.
Things are going to be crazy this summer. Potential contract figures will be thrown around now that we will all immediately scoff at, but it would be a safe bet to assume the lofty numbers we deem "fair" in a new cap environment today, will likely be dwarfed by the actual spending we'll see by team's league-wide in July.
Navigating through the pending madness will be a difficult task, and for Chicago, there is only two ways to retain the services of Moore; using the available Early Bird rights or re-signing the guard with cap space.
Focusing on the use of the Early Bird exception, as per Larry Coon's NBA Salary Cap FAQ, "A team may use the Early Bird exception to re-sign its own free agent for up to 175% of his salary in the previous season (not over the maximum salary, of course) or 104.5% of the average salary in the previous season, whichever is greater".
Given Moore's current salary barely exceeds $1 million, we can safely assume a figure that is 175% of his current deal will not surpass the average NBA salary. Therefore at a minimum, to retain Moore with his Early Bird rights, a deal starting at the equivalent current Non-Taxpayer mid-level exception multiplied by the available 104.5%, or $5.7 million, will be the magic number that brings E'Twaun Moore back to Chicago using his Early Bird rights.
$5.7 million. That's a nice little pay rise for Moore, but is this a realistic scenario?
The Bulls could certainly offer him less by using cap space, but in no way is it rational to assume Moore will be receiving anything less than a $5.7 million contract - at least not from other team's. In fact, I would argue that this number isn't even likely, and that a contract value almost double this amount, is more than feasible. A deal that exceeds the value of Moore's Early Bird rights number will require cap space to be used, which could significantly eat into the Bulls' cap space plans for 2016, which could present several unplanned problems.
Imagine yourself one year ago evaluating Moore and his future earnings, if someone were to say to you one year ago that he would be commanding a $10 million annual salary in the 2016 offseason period, deranged would be one of many of the superlatives launched at anyone brave enough to make such a claim. A year ago, I never said Moore would demand a $10 million a season, but those were my exact words on Feb. 28, 2016, on the last episode of Dennis Podman.
On the surface, that sounds completely insane. Don't worry, this thought has plagued my mind often, but after justifying my logic to myself, it made complete sense why a contract of 4-years, $40 million is fair value for Moore.
Hear me out.
Assuming the an NBA team's cap number makes the predicted $22 million jump in the offseason, this would represent an increase of the salary cap by 31.4% year-on-year. At a minimum, we should be applying this logic to current salaries and expecting them to increase by this percentage under the principle of "fair" value.
The application of this theory onto the projected 2016-17 non-tax payer's mid-level exception of $5.63 million - which the Chicago Bulls likely won't have access to - suggests that the equivalent of a mid-level exception salary will equate to $7.4 million a season.
It would be fair to suggest Moore is an average player in the NBA, no? If so, $7.4 million a season can be easily justified. Hell, if you're in an overly generous mood, which I'm in, I'd argue his 2015-16 performance may be worthy of more. If this is the case, it would be extremely optimistic to think that Moore could be resigned to a deal commencing at a $7.4 million, particularly when we've witnessed contemporaries such as Cory Joseph and Rodney Stuckey recently receive contracts with a starting value of $7 million last offseason.
In a comparison, Moore has shown less than both Joseph and Stuckey in their respective careers, but they're comparable player's in the present, and both have set the market for reserve combo guards.
So, if this type of player has the capacity to earn $7 million prior to the cap spike, is $10 million annually really that crazy? Again, using the fair value principle of a 31.4% increase, a $7 million salary quickly rises to $9.2 million. That seems fair and equitable to both parties.
Let's assume an overly simplistic scenario where Moore receives a nice and easy round number this summer of $10 million a season, or a 4-year, $40 million deal commitment from team to player. While we're at it, let's also conclude that the Bulls will wave goodbye to Noah, Brooks and Cameron Bairstow, draft a rookie in their current draft slot (#18) and proceed with full intentions of re-signing Gasol by maintaining his cap hold. Should such an example transpire, the Bulls' books will be as follows.
Notice the minimal available cap space?
Retaining Gasol with his Early Bird rights while aiming to hold onto Moore with a deal that looks extremely exorbitant as of now (though won't be in several months), means the Chicago Bulls will be hard pressed to fill out their remaining roster deficits with only $4.5 million in cap space, a $2.9 million Team Room mid-level cap exception and a middling first-round draft pick.
And therein lies the problem with stumbling onto Moore. His play has been a highlight in a season to forget, but his future cost will require Chicago's management to position their cap accordingly.
Questions will be raised, but which answers will prove to be sound?
Do they choose to retain Moore and Gasol and essentially run back the same team that has lacked a consistent identity all season?
Do they remove Gasol from the equation by letting him sign elsewhere, and only retain Moore, thus using the newly available $14.1 million in cap space to find another wing or center option that better fits Fred Hoiberg and the modern NBA's offensive schemes?
Maybe the best decision is to lose both players, and instead, chase after max-level free agents with a potentially available $24.1 million in cap space?
Perception will differ, but personally, this decision isn't a problem. It's easy. The list of the 2016 free agents isn't an appealing one, so investing in Moore with a $4-year, $40 million deal should be on the table, no matter how lavish the contract currently seems. Importantly, this newly life-changing contract for Moore should be the catalyst to drive Pau Gasol out of the Bulls' calculation. That may seem like a disrespectful notion given Gasol's great yet often maligned play in Chicago, but it's time to move on.
Progressing with a younger core to mold around Hoiberg would be logical, but as an aside, finally committing long-term to a player who has been brought in from the depths of free agency and rewarding their timely emergence with a well deserved contract, would be a step in the correct direction for this franchise.