“Look, we’re set to pay the luxury tax!,” the Chicago Bulls wanted everyone to hear. They wanted to remind that, even after it was assumed that star guard Derrick Rose was set to miss half or even the entire 2012-13 season as he returned from an ACL tear, that the franchise was willing to take on more money in order to keep the team’s fortunes afloat. And even with Rose still possibly months away from returning, the squad has done well to develop a defensive identity around a batch of new players, and eke out a 14-10 record.
Of course, because these are the Bulls, not everything can be done in admirable ways. It’s true that the team spent money in the summer, but they also cut contracts, declined options, and traded key players away for absolutely nothing. All while signing one of the strangest contracts of the summer – a two-year, $8 million deal for front office favorite Kirk Hinrich, bidding against absolutely nobody, strangely constructed outside of the sign-and-trade settings that could have saved the team money (Chicago dealt Kyle Korver to Atlanta soon before, for absolutely nothing in return that will ever be utilized by the team), and put the franchise in a locked-in hard cap position that would have prevented them from even signing minimum salaried players for the first part of the season.
Now, the team is talking to any local reporter that will listen as they point out that guard Nate Robinson could be waived before the start of the 2013 calendar year. Nate, you might recall, is the player that nailed five three-pointers in Tuesday’s impressive win over the Boston Celtics, a player that has kept the Bulls in several games and eventual wins this season. K.C. Johnson has the initial report:
The Bulls signed the veteran guard to a deal that doesn't become fully guaranteed until Jan. 10. That means they can waive Robinson with no penalty any time before that date, an option that always has been under consideration internally.
[Rookie Marquis] Teague's development, not to mention Derrick Rose's expected return, could make Robinson expendable.
Johnson also points out that “solid play when given extended minutes” from Teague could make this a workable option for Bulls brass. And while we’re huge fans of K.C.’s and think he’s great at what he does, Teague has been far from solid when given extended or limited minutes. Though he played well in Saturday’s home win over Brooklyn, Teague has shot 3-10 in two other games that he’s worked double-digit minutes in. During the win over Boston on Tuesday it was Teague’s work in garbage time that allowed Boston to leak out and make what was a 20-point cliff from Boston look like a reasonable 11-point loss.
Put it this way – by all rational and advance measures, Kirk Hinrich has had another miserable year on the offensive end. And by looks or production or some combination of the two, Teague isn’t ready to even take over Kirk’s minutes. And dumping Nate to bring in Teague should least of all occur because of Derrick Rose’s “expected return,” because if Bulls brass are trying to get him back on the court by Jan. 10 then they should be court-martialed by military police.
This has nothing to do with development or not enough minutes to go around, though. These are the Chicago Bulls. They’re over the luxury tax, they have about two months left to figure out a way to chip some $3.2 million off of their payroll so as to avoid it (teams only pay the tax if they’re over it when the season ends, and the trade deadline is in late February), and with the injured Rip Hamilton unable to showcase his skills as year-long trade bait, cutting Robinson is a way toward that end.
Barely, as the great Mark Deeks points out. Because Robinson is playing for the minimum salary and the deal is only partially guaranteed, it would only save Chicago fewer than half a million bucks off of that payroll should they eventually avoid the tax. Waiting Robinson is not the tax-swiping panacea as they’d hoped.
Which allows Mark to wonder aloud as to other factors that could be going into the potential move, after Deeks discusses the fact that Bulls coaches and brass don’t often like it when Robinson preens or takes ill-conceived shots on offense.
Perhaps, then, there is another justification. In the search for a palatable reason for this rumour to exist, perhaps there exists something off the court. It is demonstrably proven to all Bulls observers that Robinson has been better for them this season than the starter ahead of him, Kirk Hinrich, whose perceived defensive value just does not offset the incontrovertible fact that he just can't play the other end any more. Indeed, it's been so apparent at times that it's painful. We should not, therefore, assume that the players don't know this either. Nor should we assume that a basketball locker room is unlike any other workplace in the world. And people in workplaces bitch.
When a backup is wildly outplaying a starter on a nightly basis, but the team is more emotionally and financially invested in the starter, they have two options; they can divorce themselves from that investment and maximise their incumbent assets on the court, or they can get rid of the thing that's making their investment look worse. In doing so, they reaffirm their investment, and, they hope, help it realise its potential. The investment then has every opportunity to succeed, without being able to feel superior breath down its neck all the time. It's asset management, or at least, it pertains to be. And so perhaps that is why we have arrived at this point.
Nate Robinson is so far removed from being Bulls coach Tom Thibodeau’s type of player that it allowed for much laughter from NBA followers last summer when word broke that the team was set to sign Nate. And yet Hinrich has been so poor this season that even Nate Robinson has been able to take minutes from him. Thibodeau has no qualms running starters 40 minutes a night on the second half of back to backs, Hinrich is a defensive-minded coach’s son that never breaks plays, and yet he’s losing minutes to the guy that shot the ball at his own hoop a few years back.
That’s how bad Hinrich – long one of our favorite players for his defensive instincts – has been in 2012-13. Something that, as Deeks noted, should have been predicted considering years of declining play on the offensive end.
Whatever the impetus, cheapness or embarrassment, it’s an affront to even suggest the cut to Bulls fans. He may flex and take the odd 20-footer, but Robinson works his tail off every night and has become beloved by Bulls fans that both know a hard worker and bad shot-taker when they see one. They’re willing to overlook Robinson’s sometimes dodgy instincts for the fact that he absolutely keeps what should be one of the NBA’s worst offenses in games a couple of times a week.
And, once again, cutting him won’t put the Bulls under the luxury tax threshold.
Cutting him won’t free minutes for a player in Teague that, at age 19, seems a ways away from contributing.
Cutting him won’t re-teach Kirk Hinrich how to shoot.
Cutting him won’t stop bad shots from being taken within the Chicago Bulls offense.
And yet, according to Chicago’s paper of record, cutting Robinson before the mid-point of the season “always has been under consideration internally.”
Until they do, or until they commit to Robinson for the full season, you’re more than welcome to speculate as to why.