The Chicago Bulls, at least on some level, aren’t totally concerned with how they fare this season.
Derrick Rose is already out for the year, and no matter how well everything else comes together, the superstar’s injury limits the Bulls’ upside in 2014.
They already traded Luol Deng for zero assets that will help them this year. That they’ve gone 9-4 since the deal is a product of a soft schedule and a small sample – not a reason to reverse course from their greater vision.
If that plan includes pairing Rose with Carmelo Anthony (or another high-priced free agent) next season, Chicago will likely need to clear cap room.
Trading Marquise Teague for the expiring contract of Tornike Shengelia was a small start, but the the Bulls still have $64,124,513 committed to seven players (Rose, Carlos Boozer, Joakim Noah, Taj Gibson, Mike Dunleavy Jimmy, Butler and Tony Snell plus the buyout of Richard Hamilton).
Amnestying Boozer, who has a $16.8 million price tag in 2014-15, brings that commitment down to $46,203,593. But that still doesn’t leave enough room for Melo.
With a projected salary cap of $62.1 million, the Bulls would still be $6,561,995 short of being able to offer Melo his maximum starting salary ($22,458,402) – and that’s before factoring Chicago’s first-round pick(s)* and roster charges for having fewer than 12 players remove cap room.
*The Bobcats owe Chicago a first-round pick that is top-10 protected this year.
But if the Bulls removed Gibson’s $8 million salary from the equation, suddenly, they’re right in that Melo range.
That would mean the loss of a solid player, but if the Bulls are willing to take a step back this season to take a step forward in the future – a tradeoff the Deng trade says they find appealing – Gibson’s absence wouldn’t be detrimental.
According to a source, the Lakers, Wizards and Bobcats have each inquired about Gibson, but they were preliminary talks in which the Bulls did not like the return.
First of all, opposing teams calling Chicago about Gibson, who has three years remaining on his contract after this one, hardly means he’s on the block. If I can see why it makes sense for the Bulls to entertain Gibson trades, so can they. NBA front offices discuss trading players all the time. A majority of those discussions are one-sided and lead nowhere.
But let’s look at these three teams.
I doubt the Lakers like Gibson enough to surrender expiring contracts to get him, essentially destroying their own tightly manicured cap room to sign a star free agent. A Lakers deal would almost have to include Steve Nash, who’s under contract for next season and would cut into Chicago’s flexibility. But at a certain point, Nash plus pick(s) for Gibson would appeal to Chicago. It just matters which pick(s).
The Wizards could offer Trevor Ariza’s expiring contract and a sweetener, but they can’t include a first-round because they still owe the Suns theirs from the Marcin Gortat trade – making it much more difficult to find that sweetener. Perhaps, the Bulls really like Martell Webster, and his salary in future seasons is slightly lower than Gibson’s, but it’s unlikely Chicago would accept that drop in production for only a moderate annual savings.
The Bobcats are much more intriguing. With the expiring of Ramon Sessions, who would boost Chicago’s point guard play this season – even if the Bulls aren’t totally focused on winning this season, I doubt they’d mind it – plus several moderately priced young players (Gerald Henderson, Michael Kidd-Gilchrist, Cody Zeller and Bismack Biyombo), Charlotte could put together an appealing and fair offer. Gibson would go a long way in shoring up the Bobcats’ weakest position, power forward.
But, in all likelihood, these teams are trying to buy low on Gibson. The Bulls can always try to use him in a sign-and-trade down the road – I bet, say, the Knicks could use him – so Chicago is not forced to deal him now.
Unless other teams approach negotiations with that in mind, I suspect all Gibson trade talk will remain “preliminary.”