Bulls offseason preview: Zach LaVine’s free agency, Nikola Vucevic extension, more

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The new front office of the Chicago Bulls took the path that often punishes teams if they fail. They surprised the league at the 2021 trade deadline by acquiring Nikola Vucevic, a move that nobody saw coming. That signaled that they were open to moving young players and draft picks for veterans with an intent to reshape the roster into a competitor overnight.

And it worked!

They followed that trade by sign-and-trading for Lonzo Ball and DeMar DeRozan, as well as signing Alex Caruso to fill out their core. They also hit on drafting Ayo Dosunmu in the second round. Getting a young player like him cancels out some of the assets they traded away in the past year.

The Bulls were in first place in the Eastern Conference for a significant chunk of the season before injuries and defensive regression pushed them down to the sixth seed. They will now look to build off their success this offseason for a push into the second round. Their roster is set for the most part but still have some flexibility and moves to make improvements.

Re-sign Zach LaVine

Andrew Wevers-USA TODAY Sports

Chicago’s first and primary objective this offseason is to re-sign Zach LaVine. The eight-year veteran, who has elevated himself to becoming one of the best shooting guards in the league, is set to hit an unrestricted free agent this offseason after bypassing a four-year, $104.8 million extension that he outperformed in value.

LaVine will be eligible to sign a maximum contract projected at $212.3 million over five years. He is the No. 1 free agent in HoopsHype’s free agency rankings and should be a lock to receive a maximum contract. If he leaves or gets sign-and-traded, the most he can get is $157.4 million over four years. Given the low amount of competitive teams with cap space, it seems like a good bet that LaVine will re-sign with the Bulls.

Negotiate an extension with Nikola Vucevic

Dennis Wierzbicki-USA TODAY Sports

The Bulls paid a premium to acquire Nikola Vucevic with 2.5 years left on his deal, so they’d probably like to extend his contract. He will be eligible this offseason for an extension worth up to four years, $118.2 million, which would keep him under contract through 2026-27. He could sign the extension up until the end of next season or else he will become an unrestricted free agent in 2023.

The Bulls could have future luxury tax issues if they both re-sign LaVine to a maximum contract and give Vucevic a maximum extension. In a rising cap environment, they shouldn’t have many difficulties in retaining their core, which would also include re-signing Dosunmu and utilizing the mid-level exception in both the 2022 and 2023 offseasons. Maximizing spending in such a manner could give the Bulls a modest luxury tax payment starting in 2023-24.

Coby White is also set to become eligible for a rookie-scale extension this offseason. It seems unlikely that the Bulls will extend him considering he isn’t guaranteed to be in the rotation when the team is fully healthy. His $7.4 million salary could act as salary filler in a potential trade.

Fill out the roster + luxury tax crunch

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The Bulls are entering the offseason $47 million below the luxury tax with 11 players on the roster, including the 18th overall pick in this year’s draft. It’s a good thing that they have the majority of their roster under contract since a maximum starting salary for LaVine, projected at $36.6 million, would leave the Bulls just $9.2 million below the luxury tax. They will still have room to fill out the roster while avoiding the tax.

Their other top free agents include Derrick Jones Jr., Troy Brown Jr., and Tristan Thompson, though it’s unclear if the Bulls will prioritize re-signing them. They may opt instead to sign an impactful rotation player with the non-taxpayer mid-level exception, projected at $10.35 million.

They would likely need to reduce their payroll a bit, such as offloading a player like White, to fit an MLE while also filling up the roster and avoiding the luxury tax. They could use the MLE to pursue a versatile wing to come off the bench such as Danilo Gallinari, Robert Covington, or former Bull Thaddeus Young, just to name a few.

2022-23 SALARY SITUATION

Guaranteed salaries: $103,181,950

Non-guaranteed salaries: $0

Total salary: $103,181,950

Luxury tax space: $45.8 million

Exceptions:

Non-taxpayer Mid-level: $10,349,000

Daniel Theis trade exception: $5,000,000 (expires on July 7, 2022)

DeMar DeRozan

David Banks/Getty Images

2022-23 salary: $27,300,000

Remaining salary guaranteed: $59,900,000 through 2023-24

Nikola Vucevic

Nikola Vucevic, Chicago Bulls
Nikola Vucevic, Chicago Bulls

Kamil Krzaczynski-USA TODAY Sports

2022-23 salary: $22,000,000

Remaining salary guaranteed: $22,000,000

Additional notes: Vucevic is extension-eligible throughout the season for up to four years, $118.2 million.

Lonzo Ball

Kamil Krzaczynski-USA TODAY Sports

2022-23 salary: $19,534,884

Remaining salary guaranteed: $61,395,349 through 2024-25

Additional notes: Ball has $1 million in annual unlikely incentives.

Alex Caruso

Alex Caruso celebrates a play
Alex Caruso celebrates a play

Dennis Wierzbicki-USA TODAY Sports

2022-23 salary: $9,030,000

Remaining salary guaranteed: $21,490,000 through 2024-25

Additional notes: Caruso is partially guaranteed for $3 million in 2024-25.

Patrick Williams

Kamil Krzaczynski-USA TODAY Sports

2022-23 salary: $7,775,400

Remaining salary guaranteed: $17,611,281 through 2023-24 (assuming team option for 2023-24 gets picked up)

Coby White

Rick Osentoski-USA TODAY Sports

2022-23 salary: $7,413,955

Remaining salary guaranteed: $7,413,955

Additional notes: White is eligible to sign a rookie-scale extension through the day before the first day of the regular season.

Tony Bradley

Dennis Wierzbicki-USA TODAY Sports

2022-23 salary: $2,036,318 (player option)

Remaining salary guaranteed: $2,036,318

Additional notes: Bradley would become a Non Bird unrestricted free agent if he declines his player option.

Javonte Green

Jeff Hanisch-USA TODAY Sports

2022-23 salary: $1,815,677

Remaining salary guaranteed: $1,815,677

Ayo Dosunmu

Kamil Krzaczynski-USA TODAY Sports

2022-23 salary: $1,563,518

Remaining salary guaranteed: $1,563,518

Marko Simonovic

AP Photo/Marta Lavandier

2022-23 salary: $1,563,518

Remaining salary guaranteed: $1,563,518

Additional notes: Simonovic’s $1.8 million salary for 2023-24 is non-guaranteed.

Zach LaVine

Kamil Krzaczynski-USA TODAY Sports

Cap hold: $29,250,000

Type of free agent: Bird (unrestricted)

Troy Brown Jr.

Troy Brown Jr, Chicago Bulls
Troy Brown Jr, Chicago Bulls

AP Photo/Nam Y. Huh

Cap hold: $15,511,692

Type of free agent: Bird (restricted)

Additional notes: The Bulls can tender Brown Jr. a $7.2 million qualifying offer to make him a restricted free agent.

Derrick Jones Jr.

Andrew Wevers-USA TODAY Sports

Cap hold: $12,637,170

Type of free agent: Early Bird (unrestricted)

Matt Thomas

Dennis Wierzbicki-USA TODAY Sports

Cap hold: $2,076,674

Type of free agent: Non Bird (restricted)

Tristan Thompson

Tristan Thompson and DeMar DeRozan on Bulls bench
Tristan Thompson and DeMar DeRozan on Bulls bench

Kamil Krzaczynski-USA TODAY Sports

Cap hold: $1,811,516

Type of free agent: Non Bird (unrestricted)

Tyler Cook

Scott Wachter-USA TODAY Sports

Cap hold: $1,616,044

Type of free agent: Non Bird (restricted)

Malcolm Hill

Kamil Krzaczynski-USA TODAY Sports

Cap hold: $1,616,044

Type of free agent: Non Bird (restricted)

2022 Pick No. 18

2022-23 salary: $3,148,680

Remaining salary guaranteed: $15,244,891 through 2025-26 (assuming team options on last two seasons are picked up)

Additional notes: HoopsHype and ForTheWin’s draft expert Bryan Kalbrosky has EJ Liddell as the 18th overall selection in his most recent mock draft. Kalbrosky also has MarJon Beauchamp ranked as the 18th best prospect in his most recent big board.

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