Billy Donovan: Bulls open to longer-term deal with Daniel Theis

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Rob Schaefer
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Billy Donovan: Bulls open to longer-term deal with Theis originally appeared on NBC Sports Chicago

Artūras Karnišovas and the rest of the Bulls' front office have a busy offseason ahead.

That much was evident after an active trade deadline that Karnišovas capped with the declaration: "We're not done." A 4-9 post-deadline stretch that has seen the Bulls slip in the standings raises the stakes.

Whatever external avenues the Bulls explore to improve the roster, a few internal matters need to be resolved as well, including reconciling the contract situation of the recently-acquired Daniel Theis, who the team nabbed at the deadline in a three-team deal with the Boston Celtics and Washington Wizards.

Theis, 29, is in the final season of a two-year, $10 million contract signed with the Celtics in July 2019 and will be an unrestricted free agent this offseason. His toughness, well-rounded skill set and versatility have all shined in 11 games with the Bulls, but with other pressing items likely on the offseason agenda, could he merely prove to be a rental?

Head coach Billy Donovan sounded open to the possibility of extending Theis' stay before Saturday's win over the Cleveland Cavaliers.

"We didn't get into maybe that depth of conversation (before trading for him)," Donovan said of his and management's talks about re-signing Theis this offseason. "But I would say in our conversations, there's no question that myself and Artūras and (general manager) Marc (Eversley) really like him (Theis) as a player. So I would think that our hope would be a long-term possibility.

"With free agency coming up and guys having the opportunity to make their own decisions, I understand that. But he's someone we really like a lot and feel like could be somebody that could be really good for us going forward."

Donovan demonstrated that goodwill by elevating Theis to the starting lineup for the Bulls' last two games, and has multiple times praised the German-born big man's physicality, switchability and reckless-abandon approach to defense.

Theis is averaging 9.5 points and 4.6 rebounds in 22.8 minutes per game since his arrival in Chicago. He's playoff-tested -- having started all 17 postseason contests for the Eastern Conference finalist Celtics in 2020 -- and, with his rim-protection, shooting and passing chops, takes virtually nothing off the table as a rotation big. Perhaps most importantly, he plays with an intangible level of grime that has been sorely missing from the Bulls for years.

In that sense, bringing Theis back would be a no-brainer, especially if the price is comparable to his current $5 million salary. The Bulls acquired Theis' Bird rights along with his immediate services at the deadline, meaning they can exceed the salary cap to re-up him.

But Theis also carries a $9.5 million cap hold this offseason that won't clear from the Bulls' books until the team either renounces his rights -- which would strip them of the ability to go over the cap to re-sign him -- or extend him. Should the Bulls desire to carve out significant salary cap room for a bigger move, renouncing those rights could be a necessary casualty.

If the Bulls do maneuver to get under the cap this offseason, there also remains the possibility of renouncing Theis' rights, then bringing him back using, say, their room exception (which last offseason carried a first-year maximum salary $4.8 million). But it takes two sides to tango, and wherever that number lands this year could prove below market value.

Uncertainty surrounding Theis' financial future was reported to be a motivator behind the Celtics' decision to trade him at the deadline. Boston slipped under the luxury tax line with the move, which netted them Moe Wagner (since waived) and Luke Kornet. Performance was far from the issue.

And it hasn't been so far in Chicago either. Much remains to be resolved related to the Bulls' summer plans, but Theis' status is an under-the-radar storyline to monitor closely, especially if fellow frontcourt mate Lauri Markkanen's impending restricted free agency leads him elsewhere.

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