COMMENTARY | The Chicago Bulls are heading into the 2013 offseason sitting in the red of the NBA's luxury tax. With $77,989,266 in total contracts for next year, Chicago will need to lose some dead weight just to ensure they will not have to pay a tax penalty. Dealing Luol Deng, Carlos Boozer, or both, could free up enough liquid cash to not only get under the luxury tax threshold, but also give the Bulls money to spend this offseason.
The league's salary cap is set at just over $58 million per season, but there are so many loopholes and workarounds to this cap number that only the Charlotte Bobcats, Sacramento Kings and Houston Rockets officially made it under the cap last season. In fact, the Los Angeles Lakers paid over $100 million in salaries for 2012-2013, so that salary cap is really just a theoretical line for most clubs.
For the Bulls, they will get roughly $5 million worth of salary relief by not exercising the team options on Richard Hamilton and Malcolm Thomas. Even after cutting their contracts from the payroll, the Bulls will still be over $2 million north of the luxury tax line with their guaranteed player salaries for next season -- and this is before trying to re-sign free agents Marco Belinelli or Nate Robinson.
Expiring Contracts NBA Teams Covet
Only Kirk Hinrich ($4,059,000) and Deng ($14,275,000) have expiring contracts that the Bulls might be able to move to a team looking to clear cap space for the 2014 free agent-aplooza, also known as the summer Lebron James becomes available again. Trading either player could get the Bulls below the tax line, and could allow for some cap room to operate.
Exercising the Amnesty Clause
Fans need a law degree just to be able to make heads or tails of all the rules and sub-clauses in the NBA's Collective Bargaining Agreement. One such rule implemented to make the salary cap an even bigger joke is the "Amnesty Clause." Essentially, this clause allows NBA teams a safety net when they give out bad contracts. Teams can cut one player under this clause and have the salary not count towards the cap and luxury tax. There are a few addendums to consider with this rule.
No. 1: The team still has to pay the player. In essence, teams give free money to a player to have them go away and sign somewhere else.
No. 2: A team can only use this clause once per CBA. The Bulls have not used their one "get out of contract free" card yet, but they can only do this once from now until 2017.
No. 3: The Amnesty Clause is only actionable on players who signed their contract before the latest CBA was installed, and that player must still be on the team with whom they were given the initial contract. Only Deng, Boozer and Joakim Noah are qualified to be amnestied.
Jimmy Butler vs. Deng
It is normal to hear many player's names associated with potential trades around draft night, but few of these talks ever truly have legs. Deng's name has been bandied about over the last month as a player the Bulls have interest in shopping. ESPN cited sources which said the Bulls were in preliminary talks with the Washington Wizards to send Deng to the nation's capital for the No. 3 overall pick in this year's draft and Emeka Okafor, but the NBA Draft came and went without any movement on this front. The free agent signing period does not officially begin until July 10, so expect the Bulls to continue to gauge team's interest in Deng, and for good reason.
Butler came out of nowhere last season to fill the much needed role of a secondary wing scorer who can create his own shot. For roughly $13 million less, the Bulls can slide Butler into the starting lineup and get similar production they got from Deng. In fact, this idea was already given a cold opening when Deng was hurt this postseason and Butler helped lead Chicago to a first-round series win against the Brooklyn Nets. Even though Deng is an All-Star, his big contract makes him expendable.
Trade Carlos Boozer
So it turns out the Utah Jazz's system tricked the Bulls into buying magic beans when they signed Boozer during the 2010 offseason. The Bulls thought they were getting a 20-and-10 center that would be a perfect complement to Derrick Rose. But instead, they received an undersized power forward without post skills that wants to play outside of the lane and shoot 18-foot jump shots. Chicago would love nothing more than to unburden themselves from the two-years, $32.1 million still owed to Boozer.
Together, Boozer and Deng are set to make $29.575 million next season. Trading or amnestying either of them could actually allow Chicago to become a player in the free agent market. Would David West or Al Jefferson look better in a Bulls uniform than Deng or Boozer?
Without Dealing Deng or Boozer
If Chicago does not move Deng or Boozer, it will likely mean the end of Marco Belinelli and Nate Robinson as a member of the Bulls. The play of both players last season will call for salary bumps as free agents, but the Bulls would only be able to offer mid-level exemption contracts to each. Robinson played for the league minimum in 2012-2013, so don't expect him to be giving a hometown discount anytime soon.
The 'Bench Mob' was a big part of the Bulls' success last season, so it may come down to just how important keeping their explosive second unit is to Chicago. The bench did basically win a playoff series by themselves after all.
Lucas Bowen is a professional second-guesser who specializes in the Chicago Bulls. After being spoiled with sixNBA titles from MJ, Bowen has been eagerly awaiting the next chapter of Chicago excellence.
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