Ok, stop, and breathe Bulls fans. It’s been a whirlwind start to the most exciting free agency period in professional sports. Just after midnight ET on July 1st, contract reports began rolling in, and they were major. The first major domino to fall was Paul George, who took a break from partying at Russell Westbrook’s mansion to announce that he was indeed in Oklahoma City for the long term. A myriad of other smaller contracts were agreed to as well, including Doug Mcdermott to Indiana, Aaron Gordon staying in Orlando, and Nikola Jokic receiving a max in Denver. Oh, and LeBron James calls the Staples Center home now.
So what does this flurry of activity mean for the Bulls? Obviously none of the major decisions the Bulls face have yet to be made, but that doesn’t mean we can’t read into what’s already occurred and get a better idea of what kind of free agency period lays ahead. So, let’s put on our prognosticator hats and figure out what this all means for the Bulls.
A Fighting Chance in the East
For the first time since 2005, the path to the Finals in the East does not run through LeBron James. LeBron’s latest move produces seismic shifts throughout the NBA, and the Bulls are not immune to those waves. LeBron’s move provides an opportunity for the Bulls to show they’re committed to patiently waiting out the rebuild and building a real contender. They could also show they’re too eager to wait and take the easy shot at the playoffs. Their attitude will dictate some important decisions in free agency, as well as in the trade market. But regardless of their attitude, the Bulls could suddenly find themselves as a potential playoff team much earlier than they expected. Don’t be surprised to see the Bulls slide into the playoffs in the Eastern Conference this season.
Due to the salary situation in the NBA, the deals have been flying faster than ever. This trend suggests fans will not be waiting long for the resolution of the Zach LaVine and David Nwaba situations. In LaVine’s situation, it is likely that with the top tier free agents now mostly off the market, his time will now come to see his interest spike. With Lance Stephenson, Will Barton and Kentavious Caldwell-Pope all off the market, some desperate team will likely be springing an offer to LaVine to his liking. As for Nwaba, the Bulls will likely resolve his situation soon. They likely don’t want to let Nwaba have has his value determined by another team, and will work quickly to resolve his situation. Much like they did with Cristiano Felicio last summer. Hopefully it works out better this time around.
So speaking of LaVine, what is his value? LaVine found the idea of him being worth $60 million dollars laughable.
— Zach LaVine (@ZachLaVine) July 1, 2018
Looking around the league, there are a few deals that shine some light on what LaVine’s value may look like. One of the first deals that broke on Sunday morning was Denver Nuggets guard Will Barton signing a new deal worth $50 million dollars over four years, or just over $12 million dollars a year. When that news broke, it was viewed as a positive sign for the Bulls in negotiations. Barton is a fairly similar prospect to LaVine, and actually had a better 2017 season than LaVine did. Barton’s deal seemed to set the stage for a LaVine deal in the comfortable $60 million dollar deal range for the Bulls.
Then late Sunday night news broke out of Orlando that Aaron Gordon, the fourth overall pick in the 2014 Draft, had signed an $84 million dollar extension over four years with the Magic. That deal sets a concerning market for LaVine. One where a player who has yet to prove much in his four years in the league, is worthy of an $84 million dollar extension. Unfortunately, LaVine’s value now seems to be more that $84 million dollar range, and that will likely be too pricey for the Bulls’ taste.
Both the Kings and Hawks have shown interest in LaVine, expect one of them or another mystery suitor to spring on LaVine for something in the $75 million dollar range. At that price point, the Bulls likely let LaVine walk.
Restricted Free Agent Targets
While the resolution of LaVine and Nwaba’s situations are the Bulls main priority right now, there have still been reports of some restricted free agents the Bulls could potentially be interested in. Among those names are both Jabari Parker and Marcus Smart. Smart and Parker represent two players that could more than fill the role LaVine would leave should he leave.
Both players come with cons that the Bulls must consider before signing either player to an offer sheet. Parker has now torn his ACL twice and missed an obviously significant amount of time. Smart has never put up eye popping numbers during his time in the NBA, and any deal would be based on both future value, and the value Smart brings outside the stat book. While Smart’s value is contingent on his ability to defend and do things that don’t show up in the stat book, any offer would likely be in the area of LaVine money-wise, and such a commitment would come with the assumption the other areas of his game will continue to grow.
While both players come with obvious risks, they also come with tremendous upside. Parker showed in the playoffs this past season the kind of star player and difference maker he can be. Smart turned into the motor of a Celtics team that had found themselves on the verge of disaster when both Kyrie Irving and Gordon Hayward went down with injuries. As a result his value is higher than ever before, and for good reason. Should the Bulls sign Smart, he’d become a nice compliment to Kris Dunn, and would likely fit better with Dunn than LaVine ever would. The Bulls have a series of tough decisions to make, but look for them to extend an offer sheet to one or both Smart and Parker.
The Bulls approach to the trade market will be heavily dictated by how tempted they find themselves at the prospect of an early playoff run. If the Bulls Front Office decides they’re tempted to make a run at the playoffs, they will likely mostly sit out of the trade market, and focus on free agency. Should they stick to the plan and direction they set out last year when they traded Jimmy Butler, they will likely be looking to pick up a bad contract in exchange for draft pick compensation.
The Lakers are likely going to be more motivated than ever to move Luol Deng’s contract, and are likely now feeling generous with their draft picks. The Chandler Parsons contract is one that Memphis will likely still be looking to unload. Look for the Bulls to be linked to contracts such as those all offseason.
With the NBA offseason moving at a breakneck pace, the Bulls have no time to sit back and watch it unfold. It’s a good thing I got this piece out early today, or else a lot of the information could be late. That’s a joke, but the pace of this free agency period is nearly unprecedented, and our questions will likely be answered very soon.
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