The National Basketball Association often has a more interesting off-season than actual season and that’s no different this year. The draft will take place on Thursday June, 21st and free agents can begin negotiating with teams on July, 1st. The Chicago Bulls embarked on a rebuild in 2017 and while it didn’t go according to plan, the organization is in a much better spot than they were previously. The Bulls finished 27-55 and will pick 7th and 22nd in the upcoming selection show.
John Paxson is trying to re-make the franchise and build around a young core. He referenced their “seven” young pieces that they are excited about going forward frequently throughout the season. Possible franchise cornerstone and 7th overall pick in 2017, Lauri Markkanen is one of those players. Kris Dunn and Zach LaVine, both acquired in the Jimmy Butler trade on draft night last year are two more guys often referenced by Pax. 2015 first rounder Bobby Portis and 2016 first rounder Denzel Valentine are the others. They are all in their early twenties and expected to be given the opportunity to be around for awhile. Even though we aren’t sure who they are just yet, two more young players will be joining Paxson’s core on June 21st.
Paxson has preached patience since going down this road to eventual contention. At his end of year press conference, the man at the top of the front office hierarchy said that this would be “as important of an off-season as the organization will face in a long time”. John also stressed that they wouldn’t be running out to sign veteran players in order to make some faux playoff push before the time was appropriate. These young players need to play and Paxson knows that. He referred to it all season.
Like Rick Hahn has said on the south side, the Bulls are much closer to the start of this process than they are the end. Paxson even uttered the phrase, “We have a long way to go”. This is why a report from ESPN basketball czar Adrian Wojnarowski last week left some Bulls fans and analysts a bit per perplexed. The Latest #WojBomb said that the, “Bulls are going to be sneaky in free agency. They’ve got a young core that people want to play with. They have sped up the rebuild”.
Are the Bulls going to dip into free agency a year earlier than expected? Are they being used in the media by agents looking to get their clients to a large market situation? The latter makes much more sense than the former but one can never be sure with the previous history of the decision makers at 1901 W. Madison. The Bulls have roughly $24 million in cap space and they could easily create more room. Zach LaVine is a restricted free agent and that situation could linger as the off-season moves along. Spending money during this free agency period would go against everything that Paxson has told us and I actually believe him this time.
It’s too early to spend. The franchise needs to continue to play their young assets and find out who will be a part of the core moving into the future. LaVine has a cap hold of $9.6 million and the Bulls could theoretically open plenty of space to sign a max contract player this off-season. I highly doubt that guys like LeBron James, Kevin Durant, Paul George and DeMarcus Cousins are itching to get to Chicago at this stage though and those are the only potential franchise changers available this summer.
The Bulls could put an offer in for one of the many restricted free agents on the market due to being plush with space but that would also run on the contrary to what they’ve stated publicly. Jabari Parker, Aaron Gordon, Mario Hezonja, Marcus Smart, Julius Randle and Jusuf Nurkic are all interesting players. None of them push this team over the top however and all of them would put a dramatic dent into the cap space that the club would have available during their target stage. It wouldn’t stun me if they added one of these players but I do believe that it would be a mistake. This is the same organization that stated the need to get younger and more athletic prior to adding Dwyane Wade and Rajon Rondo though so anything truly is possible.
In my opinion, it’s likely that Chicago is being and will be fed to insiders as a destination for free agents regardless of how true it actually is. There are a dearth of large market, big city clubs with money to spend. The Bulls are one of them and like any Reinsdorf organization, they don’t comment on trade or free agent speculation. While the Bulls aren’t likely to be super active in the free agent market, they could make some moves to help the organization going forward.
The Bulls will make two draft picks on June 21st in order to add a couple more young pieces to their core group. It’s not out of the question that they would move up or down in the draft or try to acquire an additional pick as well. While players like Robin Lopez, Omer Asik and Justin Holiday are currently on the roster, they are likely very available in trade talks. Instead of spending money in free agency, a better use of financial resources for the team could be to take on a big contract or two in exchange for draft capital. There are rumors that the Denver Nuggets would be open to moving the contract of forward Kenneth Faried with draft pick compensation attached. Luol Deng is a guy with the Lakers who could be in the same boat with. The Bulls must explore any option that nets them more valuable assets.
This is Chicago. It’s a big market city and there are six banners hanging in the rafters for a reason. It’s been a long time but that is still the standard. This is about winning championships. John Paxson traded Butler and went down this path because sometimes you need to get really bad before you can get really good. It’s not time yet to think about getting really good. Jabari Parker, Clint Capela and Jusuf Nurkic are interesting players. They aren’t what the franchise needs at this time though. The Bulls need to keep their financial flexibility while finding young pieces for the core and leaving themselves ready to pounce on potential superstar additions once they become available. That is in fact what the league is all about.
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