We’re just reporting on a rumor, nothing is substantial or set in stone or likely to happen. When you hear word of the Chicago Bulls initiating trade talks to acquire Andrea Bargnani in exchange for Carlos Boozer, though, the deal makes sense. Not on any sensible level that would involve basketball reasons, but mainly because Chicago’s front office has a knack for saving its owner from paying the luxury tax while utilizing their typically expert grasp of timing and context and sway over the team’s fan base.
In this case, as the team continues to hit new lows offensively, the Bulls would be trading a much-maligned screamer in Boozer for a player that ostensibly could stretch the floor and help the team’s mediocre three-point shooting. That’s what would be explained to the press, if this deal ever went down.
What in actuality would go down would be a deal involving Boozer and Nate Robinson, a player the team’s coaching staff has issues with, being sent out for Bargnani and John Lucas III. The Bulls coaching staff loves John Lucas III, and would explain to the team’s fans that Robinson was a shooting guard the team didn’t need with Kirk Hinrich, Rip Hamilton and Jimmy Butler manning the spot upon Derrick Rose’s return. And that Bargnani would help the team’s spacing once D-Rose’s drive and kick game returned. And that Derrick Rose is actually good at pick and roll passing, which he is not.
And what they wouldn’t tell you is that it would be all about saving team owner Jerry Reinsdorf money.
From Chicago's perspective, sources said, Bargnani's arrival could help address its glaring lack of 3-point shooting and brighten the overall look of its payroll, given that the Italian forward makes $5 million less than Boozer this season.
Despite his well-chronicled defensive deficiencies, Bargnani would figure to be an effective pick-and-roll partner for Derrick Rose once the point guard makes his expected return from knee surgery after the All-Star break.
The biggest impediment to such a trade, sources said, is believed to be whether Toronto can realistically afford having both Rudy Gay and Boozer on its payroll beyond this season.
ESPN.com's Marc Stein first reported the talks, which a source told the Tribune were initiated by the Bulls and initially dismissed because of the Raptors' desire to land the Lakers' Pau Gasol. Though talks are not currently active, a source said the Raptors know the trade is available and could expand to include Nate Robinson and John Lucas III. Another source suggested it's unlikely the Raptors would take on Boozer's contract, which has $9.1 million more than Bargnani's over the next two seasons.
So, it’s all about Chicago wanting this. Obviously.
Why would they? Because the team is currently $3.2 million over the luxury tax, a penalty they’ve never paid despite ranking as a top-three income-earning team for over two decades now. If the squad can make any deals to shed that difference between now and the Feb. 21 trade deadline, they’ll avoid the tax again; a tax they’re set to pay next season as well.
Because the team overpaid for Kirk Hinrich last season and overestimated the rest of the league’s interest in Richard Hamilton, they’re up against the tax and finding that expected “Rip Hamilton for conditional draft picks and [insert scrub here]” deal hard to come by. All of this could go away if the team uses the amnesty provision on Carlos Boozer this summer, but that sort of move wouldn’t work for Chicago – because each of the team’s financial decisions are easily explained away in basketball terms to fans that are more interested in the Chicago Bears’ third round pick.
Waiving Boozer and receiving nothing in return in terms of press conference talking points is the worst case scenario. The team’s front office has to have something in place to save face, be it “future flexibility” or “we’re getting a player we really like.” Even though Boozer is often derided by both hardcore and fair weather Chicago Bulls fans, there’s very little that the front office can tell the team’s followers after waiving someone like him; outside of being honest. And honesty would admit that the team would prefer to move ahead with Taj Gibson up front and a capped-out payroll (that is to say, no “future flexibility”) that doesn’t go over the luxury tax.
This is why a trade for Bargnani – a well below-average player who is amongst the NBA’s worst defensively and a declining factor on offense – works for Chicago.
Bargnani is often credited as a force from the outside, even though he’s shot 36 percent – exactly the NBA’s average – from behind the three-point line on his career. He hasn’t topped the average mark in three years, not since 2010 when he shot 37 percent. His rebounding work is famously poor, even by small forward standards, and he’s still treated as a project with room to grow even though he’s already 27 years old. His overall shooting percentage has declined for three straight seasons, down to 40 percent this year, he’s not a passer, and defensively at times he makes Nate Robinson look like Darrell Walker.
While overpaid, he makes far less than Boozer, though. And a deal swapping the four players listed above would cut just enough from Chicago’s payroll to avoid paying the tax. Should the Bulls decide to pass on bringing Richard Hamilton back next season, it will keep them from paying the tax next year, as well.
As both Stein and Johnson noted, though, the deal was only discussed. Toronto made their big awful move already in committing a ton of money to Rudy Gay; and though Boozer is far from complete and terrible defensively on his own (that is to say, “Bryan Colangelo’s perfect acquisition”), he is owed over $32 million past this year spread out over two seasons. The deal, as much as Chicago probably wants it, probably won’t happen. Despite Toronto’s attempts to be mediocre and Chicago’s hope to avoid paying the luxury tax.
Which leaves Chicago either left to attempt to deal Hamilton for nothing – a move that would be unexplainable to Bulls fans on basketball terms even with Jimmy Butler’s emergence – or to waive Carlos Boozer for nothing this summer.
Or, the team could pay the luxury tax for the first time in its sold-out, large market history.