COMMENTARY | For all the championships and MVP trophies Michael Jordan won as a player, his life as an NBA executive has not quite lived up to the same level of excellence. The man who once drafted Kwame Brown instead of Pau Gasol has just made the biggest move of his post-playing career by locking up free-agent big man Al Jefferson to a three-year deal. Although this comes as great news for those Charlotte fans who became distraught when Jordan elected to take Cody Zeller over Ben McLemore in the 2013 NBA Draft, this is absolutely terrible news for the Chicago Bulls.
The Charlotte Bobcats and Al Jefferson have verbally agreed to a three-year, $41 million deal that will bring the former Utah Jazz center to North Carolina to anchor MJ's rebuilding process. The deal, originally reported by ESPN's Marc Stein, is said to include a player option after season No. 2. The Bobcats are expected to use their amnesty clause on Tyrus Thomas to free up enough cap space to make the signing official on July 10, the first date free agents can formally sign new contracts.
The problem is not that Jefferson signing with the Bobcats means he won't be able to sign with the Bulls. Chicago's lack of cap space means that was never a possibility. But Jefferson's signing does almost definitively ensure that the first-round draft pick Chicago acquired from Charlotte will not be in the lottery as the Bulls previously hoped.
Chicago could justifiably have been charged with grand larceny in 2010 when they traded Thomas to the Bobcats in exchange for Acie Law, Ronald Murray and a future first-round draft pick. All of this compensation was for a player who averaged 7.8 ppg in four seasons with the Bulls.
The first-round pick Chicago is sitting on is now at risk of becoming much less valuable after the Bobcat's acquisition of Jefferson. The pick is lottery protected until 2016. If Charlotte would have stayed in the NBA cellar as the Bulls hoped, they would suddenly have been able to add an impact player at the top of the 2016 draft board, but instead this pick may become usable sooner than they would have liked.
The pick is top-10 protected for 2014, and top-8 protected for 2015. This means, if the Bobcats improve enough with Jefferson next season, Chicago could be looking at a mid-to-late first-round pick, instead of one that could have been in the top 5.
It seems as though the ghost of Tyrus Thomas is bent on making his NBA career defined but just how many times he come back to haunt the Bulls. Chicago traded for Thomas during the 2006 NBA Draft, after initially selecting LaMarcus Aldridge. Now, Thomas' poor play makes it an easy decision for Charlotte to amnesty him to make way for Jefferson and leave the Bulls holding what may instantly transform from a once mega-millions lottery ticket into an ordinary two-dollar scratcher.
But perhaps the Jefferson signing still has a chance to turn out to be a blessing in disguise for Chicago. Now that they know Charlotte's future is looking brighter, this could force them to act by packaging the pick to make a splash of their own in free agency this summer. It really just depends on when Chicago feels the Bobcats will improve the most. The Philadelphia 76ers had the No. 11 pick this season after posting a record of 34-48. This means the Bobcats' record of 21-61 would need to improve by about 13 games next season in order for Chicago to have to cash their pick in for 2014.
Adding Jefferson's 17.8 ppg and 9.2 rebounds will immediately improve Charlotte, but this deal by itself will not suddenly make them a playoff contender. Chicago has to be cautiously optimistic that the Bobcats will remain bad, but if Charlotte were to take other steps towards putting together a competent NBA roster; the value of Chicago's first-round pick may start taking a nosedive.
Lucas Bowen is a professional second-guesser who specializes in the Chicago Bulls. After being spoiled with six NBA titles from MJ, Bowen has been eagerly awaiting the next chapter of Chicago excellence.
- Sports & Recreation
- Charlotte Bobcats
- Al Jefferson
- Chicago Bulls
- Tyrus Thomas