Chicago Bulls creating offseason trade options with latest signings (updated)

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Update: I miscalculated. The Bulls are safe from the luxury tax — at least unless Joakim Noah and Taj Gibson each get $500,00 bonuses.

Because Andrew Bynum signed with the Pacers, Chicago can set off a portion of his salary ($105,564 in this case) — an amount I didn’t account for. That leaves them $791,165 beneath the tax line — more than the $750,000 in leeway discussed below.

Noah ($500,000 for All-NBA first team) and Gibson ($500,00 for All-Defensive first team) could still send the Bulls into the tax. However, even if the Bulls hadn’t signed Ronnie Brewer, Lou Amundson, Mike James and Greg Smith, they still would have had more than $750,00 but less than $1 million in leeway.

So, Chicago can absorb a $500,00 Noah bonus for All-NBA first team and a $250,00 Gibson bonus for All-Defensive second team and avoid the tax. But if Noah and Gibson each get $500,000 bonuses, Chicago will pay the tax.

It’s the same situation regardless of whether the Bulls made their latest run of signings.

In sum, these signings won’t make the Bulls more likely to pay the luxury tax, but they’ll cost Chicago a few extra real dollars. In return, the Bulls get more trade flexibility — a definite win for them.

Original post: The Chicago Bulls, like every team, would like to avoid the luxury tax.

Not only are luxury-tax penalties already costlier than ever, repeater penalties loom. If a team might be willing to pay the tax only while contending, it’s especially prudent not to pay the tax when out of contention.

That’s what makes the Bulls’ situation so fascinating.

With all due respect to the marvelous job Tom Thibodeau, Joakim Noah and crew have done this season, Chicago is an extreme longshot to win the 2014 championship. But once Derrick Rose gets healthy, Nikola Mirotic signs, the Bulls use both their 2014 first-round picks (one from Charlotte) and exhaust their pending cap space… Chicago could get really good – and really expensive – in a hurry.

Yet, the Bulls have flirted with the luxury-tax line this season while still remaining pretty competitive. It’s a tight line to walk – wanting to keep salary low without completely blowing up the team (a dichotomy the Luol Deng trade accomplished).

Chicago caught a big break in that quest when they waived Erik Murphy and the Jazz claimed him, removing his salary from the Bulls’ books. That positioned Chicago to add up to three players and leave $750,000 in leeway under the luxury-tax line for performance incentives potentially due to Joakim Noah ($500,00 for All-NBA first team) and/or Taj Gibson ($500,00 for All-Defensive first team or $250,000 for All-Defensive second team).

The Bulls opted to go another way, though.

Chicago signed Ronnie Brewer, Lou Amundson and Mike James to minimum-salary multi-year contracts, according to Larry Coon. Amundson’s’ agent, Mike Bartelstein, confirmed his client’s contract was for two years. James’ agent, Bernie Lee, did the same for his client.

The multiple years matter, because the NBA pays a portion of the minimum salaries for veterans with at least three years experience and the league’s portion of the payments are not taxed – but only for one-year, 10-day and rest-of-season contracts. By signing those three to multi-year deals, Chicago assumed all payments and the increased tax burden that comes with them.

On the positive side, the Bulls signed Greg Smith – who surprisingly cleared waivers – without having to worry losing their $750,000 leeway, because they’d already lost it.

Smith – like Brewer, Amundson and James – could prove useful in trades after the season. Smith is a talented young big man, and the other three have unguaranteed contracts, according to Coon. That allows their salaries to help a trade match, and then they could be released them without penalty.

All in all, the Bulls are now $685,601 below the luxury-tax line – meaning they can absorb only one of the bonuses potentially due to Noah and/or Gibson without paying the tax.

If the bonuses due to Noah and Gibson fall short of $750,000, the Bulls win. They’ll avoid the luxury tax and will have added potentially useful trade assets.

But if Noah and Gibson both hit their incentives, the Bulls will pay the tax, though they’ll still have tradable assets in Smith, Brewer, Amundson and James.

It’s a calculated risk that I think will work. I project Noah to make the All-NBA first team, but I don’t have Taj Gibson making an All-Defensive team.

However, the downside – paying the tax – is high enough that I don’t believe the multi-year deals were worth it. Had the Bulls waited until Saturday to sign Brewer, Amundson and James, Chicago would have kept its $750,000 luxury-tax leeway and still signed Smith, anyway.

Chicago is choosing to play with tax fire to better position itself for a trade later, perhaps a revealing strategy about the franchise’s long-term plans.

Kenyon Martin: I once played high

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Former NBA commissioner David Stern said the league began testing for marijuana because players complained of other players playing high. Chauncey Billups said he knew teammates who played better high.

But Stephen Jackson is the rare former NBA player who admitted to playing high.

Now, he has company.

Kenyon Martin – who played for the Nets, Nuggets, Clippers, Knicks and Bucks in a 15-year career – via Bleacher Report:

We were playing in Indiana one day. I wasn’t feeling well. I had a hamstring, a hip or something. So, I smoked. I wasn’t going to play originally. So, we got to the arena, and I’m like, “I feel good.” I went and told the trainer, “I’m going to go today.” I went out there and had a great game.

If you want to guess which game this was, here are the possibilities.

This was part of a great feature on marijuana in the NBA and NFL. Matt Barnes, Al Harrington and Gary Paton also participate. I highly recommend (pun intended) watching it in full.

Nuggets president Tim Connelly: Next season playoffs or bust

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The Nuggets have steadily improved over the last four years – 30-52 to 33-49 to 40-42 to 46-36.

But even 46 wins weren’t enough to get Denver into the playoff this season, extending the postseason drought to five years.

Nuggets president Connelly, via Gina Mizell of The Denver Post:

On if next season is “playoffs or bust”:

“I think we’re there. How many times can you be the bridesmaid? Our young core, three of our best players are 23 (Gary Harris), 22 (Jokic) and 21 (Jamal Murray), and they’ve proven they’re capable of doing it at the highest level. I think all of us are, quite frankly, sick of this time of the year having a press conference.”

There’s certainly something to be said for injecting urgency. The Nuggets are already good enough to make the playoffs. They just happened to play in a historically deep Western Conference. But that doesn’t mean they can’t take more responsibility.

Denver lost to the Hawks (twice), Grizzlies (twice without Mikey Conley), Mavericks, Kings and Nets this season. Flip any of those games, and the Nuggets would have made the playoffs.

But I’m not sure what “or bust” means.

Connelly said Michael Malone would return as coach next season. If Denver misses the playoffs, would he get fired? Would Connelly come on the hot seat? What if the Nuggets again produce a record that typically qualifies for the postseason?

Even if Denver misses the playoffs next year, the 2019-20 team would have a 22-year-old Jamal Murray, 25-year-old Gary Harris and probably a 24-year-old Nikola Jokic under contract. That’s still a pretty good place to be.

Because of Jokic’s rapid ascent, the Nuggets are trying to accelerate the timeline. They most notably signed Paul Millsap last summer. (Injury cost him most of the season and contributed to Denver falling short.) They could also emphasize the present by re-signing Will Barton this offseason.

But playoffs or not next year, the Nuggets have a bright future. Connelly just doesn’t want them leaning on that excuse, though following through on his edict could create complications if Denver again narrowly misses the postseason with a good record.

Adam Silver: NBA could eventually reseed in conference finals

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NBA commissioner Adam Silver has three major talking points on 1-16 playoff seeding (rather than the current system of 1-8 seeding by conference):

1. He likes the idea of it.

2. He doesn’t feel bound by the tradition of an East vs. West format.

3. Travel is a big impediment. Not only would there be more playoff series between teams farther away, the regular-season schedule would have to be balanced and therefore include more games between teams currently in opposite conferences.

(An important point I think Silver doesn’t raise nearly enough publicly in regard to a balanced schedule: That’d mean more away games that start at 10 p.m. for Eastern Conference fans and more away games that start at 4 p.m. for Western Conference fans. That can’t be good for TV ratings.)

The NBA commissioner added another consideration in the debate.

Silver on ESPN:

The other thing you could potentially do is reseed at the conference finals. And that deals with if your two best teams are in the same conference. So, there are some other approaches to deal with. You want the two best teams to meet in the Finals.

A balanced schedule wouldn’t be necessary with this setup. The semifinals would either be fairer and produce a better NBA Finals or have the same matchup we’d get in the current system.

Even more importantly, this could pass.

As fun as it is to debate the optimal postseason format, there’s no way enough Eastern Conference owners (at least five, necessary to create a two-thirds majority) approve. They want to protect their eight playoff spots and guaranteed Finals spot.

But what if Eastern Conference teams were still guaranteed eight playoff spots and two semifinals spots? That be enough. The Rockets and Warriors – two Western Conference teams – are the NBA’s best this season. In coming years, it could be the 76ers and Celtics – two Eastern Conference teams. That’s far more variable than which conference is stronger throughout.

If teams in championship contention feel the very top of their conference will be weaker than the other conference, they could resist. But that still leaves contenders that don’t feel that way and non-contenders that want the additional shared revenue a better NBA Finals would generate.

That’s a plausible path to 20 yes votes and something we should take seriously.

Knicks owner James Dolan: Jeff Hornacek ‘way behind’ in dealing with modern players

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The Knicks fired Jeff Hornacek as soon as they returned to New York following their season-ending win in Cleveland.

Then, they really unloaded on the coach.

Knicks owner James Dolan, via Larry Brooks of the New York Post:

“I think Hornacek had the same kind of issue that Phil did in that he didn’t grasp how different the players are now in the way they think and deal with management and the coaches,” Dolan said. “I think he was way behind on that.

“But I think Jeff is a good coach and he’ll do well when he’s hired by another team.”

“The old-style coaching doesn’t work,” Dolan said. “A coach who tries to do everything himself isn’t going to be successful.

Knicks president Steve Mills, via Marc Berman of the New York Post:

“I think just as we observed the team, there were a lot of things that we just thought would be better at, from attention to detail to player accountability, and Jeff did a good job in some areas. In some areas he could have done a bit of a better job.

Knicks general manager Scott Perry, via Berman:

“The evaluation of Jeff for 82 games, we evaluated everything — practices to games to ability to connect with guys. I think we need to be better in that area and with adjustments. It’s something we could be better at with the expectations we have for our next coach.”

“We could have been a little bit better in situational basketball,” Perry said. “We understand the roster as much as anybody. In terms of consistency, we fell a little bit short in that area.”

This is atypical candor about a fired coach. Most teams just thank him and move on.

But I appreciate it. Don’t we all want to know more of what NBA teams are thinking internally? This is revelatory.

That said, I don’t blindly trust the Dolan/Mills/Perry triumvirate. The Knicks have misevaluated too many people for too long. This more about knowing how they viewed things than knowing this is how things are.

Frank Isola of the New York Daily News:

According to a source, Dolan last season sent an email to Hornacek saying he was disappointed in him for not buying fully into the triangle offense. This took place sometime around the All Star break. So we know that as recently as last season Dolan, who loves to tell you he’s not involved, was actually pushing Phil Jackson’s offense down Hornacek’s throat in a not-so-subtle way.

Dolan had Phil’s back. And then on Wednesday, Dolan trashed Jackson for being out of touch. Man, life comes at you fast.

To be fair, Suns general manager Ryan McDonough also cited Hornacek’s lack of connection with his players when firing him. This will be something Hornacek must answer for if he pursues future head-coaching jobs. Hornacek feuded with Marcus Morris in Phoenix and Joakim Noah, Kyle O'Quinn and reportedly Kristaps Porzingis in New York.

Not that the Knicks set up Hornacek to succeed. They didn’t.

Now, they must find a coach who will perform better in all the areas they just criticized Hornacek for. That’ll be more difficult than criticizing him on the way out the door.