Aside from the Zach LaVine situation, the Chicago Bulls aren’t expected to make conventional noise when free agency starts Sunday. They most likely won’t talk with the likes of LeBron James or pursue an expensive young gun like Julius Randle.
However, they do have an opportunity to make a different type of noise. Unlike some teams throughout the league, the Bulls have a ton of cap space. But instead of using it to go hog wild on a regrettable deal, they can use it to absorb bad contracts.
That’s right! The Bulls should happily collect trash.
Are you looking to acquire another star to attract LeBron? They can clean up that steaming pile muddying your aspirations of a super team. Crazy for that whacky DeMarcus Cousins? John Paxson and Gar Forman can remove those handcuffs locking your team’s cap space.
The Bulls should be acting as the league’s loan sharks this summer. Need cash? Get it fast… at very high interest, of course.
And they can’t be shy about it. GarPax not only should field calls from desperate general managers, but they also should be circling the waters around frantic teams.
Here are a few scenarios where the Bulls could capitalize.
The Los Angeles Lakers
The Lakers should be firmly in the Bulls’ crosshairs. Magic Johnson and company are reportedly looking to strengthen their pursuit of LeBron James by adding another max-level player or two.
However, they need to shed Luol Deng’s contract to create enough cap space to field their super team. When the salary cap ballooned nearly $24 million in the summer of 2016, the Lakers gave him a head-scratching four-year, $72 million deal just a few months after turning 31.
He proceeded to average a career-low 7.6 points in 56 games in 2017. This past season, Deng suited up for only 13 minutes in one game.
The Bulls could help the Lakers by taking the remaining two years and $36 million of his contract. But they’re not here for charity. Any deal involving Deng MUST include a young asset or multiple draft picks.
It might seem harsh, but that’s the price for taking junk. The hypothetical trade below would provide relief to the Lakers and give the Bulls extra assets going forward.
- Bulls acquire: Luol Deng, 2021 first-round pick (top-five lottery protection), 2022 or 2023 first-round pick (unprotected)
- Lakers acquire: Omer Asik and Denzel Valentine
Asik’s contract would make the deal feasible, but the Lakers could waive him and use the stretch provision to pay out his contract over several years. Denzel Valentine, who is set to make around $2.2 million over the next two seasons, would be thrown in as a sweetener to give them a young but cheap role player.
Sure, the Lakers will be winning games, meaning draft picks will be later in the first round. However, they’re still assets that could be used down the road in trades to land a young, affordable gem.
Would you rather keep a solid, low-ceiling player like Valentine, or gain assets that either position you to trade for an All-Star or draft a younger player with potentially higher upside? Seems like a no-brainer.
If the Bulls aren’t interested in late draft choices, they could take one of the Lakers’ young ascending players for very low value. The deal below might be a good route for GarPax to explore.
- Bulls acquire: Luol Deng, Lonzo Ball
- Lakers acquire: Omer Asik
You might be spitting out your drink or falling out of your chair at the thought of Lonzo Ball in a Bulls uniform. With Lonzo comes the Lavar Ball sideshow, and that is always a risky proposition.
Crazy family aside, Lonzo Ball is still a top, rising talent at the point guard position. Given the recent rumblings about the Bulls’ soured relationship with Kris Dunn, this move would make a ton of sense.
Ball is by no means a great shooter or scorer, but he has great playmaking skills and the court vision to be a master floor general. It would also give the Bulls an opportunity to try and trade off one of their young pieces for a future draft choice.
Depending on which player emerges as the better starting point guard, GarPax could trade either Dunn or Ball at the deadline or next offseason for draft capital or cap flexibility to acquire a big-name player.
The Denver Nuggets
As we mentioned before the draft, the Nuggets are another team itching to shed a bad contract. Without some cap relief, re-signing key pieces like Nikola Jokic and Will Barton would put them deep into the luxury tax. And that’s not worth it for a team fighting for a low seed in the Western Conference.
Kenneth Faried has $13.7 million left on his expiring contract. Given his lackluster performance the last couple seasons, the Bulls could easily snatch a future first-round pick to absorb his contract. The proposal below could get a deal a done.
- Bulls acquire: Kenneth Faried and 2019 or 2020 first-round pick (unprotected)
- Nuggets acquire: Justin Holiday
Similar to the suggested trades with the Lakers, the Bulls would be charging a high price to take on a bad contract. In order to match a portion of Faried’s salary, they would need to ship out a veteran role player like Holiday.
Faried could be stashed away on the Bulls’ bench and serve as a mentor to the young guys in the locker room. If neither side is interested in that role, he also could be bought out before the season, allowing him to sign with a contending team for the veteran minimum.
The Phoenix Suns
The Suns have spent several years piling up young players, but they still have some oddball contracts on the books for 2018. Both Jared Dudley and Tyson Chandler have contracts worth $9.5 and $13.5 million, respectively.
The Bulls could take one of those bad contracts off the Suns hands if the Suns want to add high-quality players to go with young cornerstones like Devin Booker, DeAndre Ayton and Mikal Bridges.
- Bulls acquire: Tyson Chandler and 2020 or 2021 first-round pick (top-five lottery protection)
- Suns acquire: Justin Holiday
Given the Suns youthfulness, convincing them to part with an unprotected first-round pick could be difficult. In the scenario above, there would be top-five protection placed on their future draft choice. And since they might struggle again next year, the Bulls would probably have to take on a future pick after the 2019 season.
By 2020 or 2021, you would assume the Suns would be a fringe team that either barely misses or makes the postseason. Regardless, the Bulls would still cash in with a first-round draft choice that can be used in another trade or to select their next mid- or late-round gem.