The Chicago Bulls officially signed Jabari Parker to a two-year, $40 million contract Saturday. When reports circulated Friday that the move was imminent, reaction on social media and sports radio was split.
Those who support the signing see Parker as a 23-year-old with a lot of upside. In their eyes, he can be a diamond in the rough who reaches All-Star status and becomes a valuable piece moving forward… if healthy.
Those who hate the move see it as an effort to kill the tanking process and any cap flexibility moving forward. To them, it’s a typical GarPax move designed to excite the meathead portion of the fan base, sell tickets and bring the Bulls back to mediocrity.
In reality, the signing is somewhere in the middle.
The good news is that signing Parker shouldn’t be detrimental to the Bulls long-term plans. The contract includes a team option after the first year, making it a low-risk, high-reward proposition.
Prior to both ACL injuries, Parker looked like he was on the verge of becoming an All-Star caliber forward. While his defense is still a major question mark, he’s been an efficient scorer in his four-year career, averaging 15.3 points per game while shooting 49 percent from the field.
While he entered the league primarily as an inside scorer and mid-range jump shooter, he’s expanded his range the last couple of years. He shot 25.5 percent from the 3-point line his first two seasons in the league, but he’s improved to shooting 37.1 percent from deep the last two years.
Where he plays is up for debate. He’s a more natural fit as a stretch power forward given his 6-foot-8, 250-pound frame. But according to NBC Sports Chicago’s Vincent Goodwill, the Bulls see him as a small forward with their current group.
The concerns over his fit are valid. His lack of athleticism and inconsistent conditioning are not ideal when manning the small forward spot. And if he ends being slotted into the power forward role off the bench, how will that affect Lauri Markkanen, Bobby Portis and rookie Wendell Carter Jr.?
But that’s why NBA GMs and coaches get paid the big bucks. Talent is what matters, even if it means juggling around minutes to make it work.
Parker is still very young and signing him to short-term deal is the type of move you make when trying to see what pieces could fit your core. As long as he doesn’t take shots away from Markkanen or minutes away from Carter, it’s worth the roll of the dice.
If Parker plays at or near an All-Star level next season, it means the Bulls could opt in at a palatable price next summer. If he plays below his potential or gets hurt, the organization can cut their losses after one year.
The Bulls would have about $15 million in cap space if they pick up Parker’s option after next season. But if they choose to opt out, they’ll have closer to $35 million in cap space, allowing them a shot to sign a max-contract free agent in 2019.
Also, Parker adds another asset to the roster that lets the Bulls potentially make some trades before next offseason. If Parker is playing to his full capability by January, the Bulls could use him as a trade piece to acquire future draft picks at the deadline.
If he’s to gel with the core players like Markkanen, Carter and Zach LaVine, then they could opt to part with other pieces like Portis or Kris Dunn to acquire picks and expiring contracts.
While acquiring a bad contract in exchange for a future first-rounder would’ve been ideal this summer, there was never a guarantee of it happening.
The Bulls probably would’ve jumped at taking Carmelo Anthony’s contract from the Oklahoma City Thunder in exchange for a future first-round pick. However, there were never indications that Thunder GM Sam Presti was willing to mortgage valuable draft equity for luxury tax relief, which is why reports are emerging that they’re likely to exercise the stretch provision on Anthony instead.
If you’re worried about Parker getting in the way of tanking, you shouldn’t be. The organization’s shot at actively tanking died when they matched LaVine’s offer sheet last week. And given the current state of the Eastern Conference, a 35-win squad might have a shot at the seventh or eighth seed.
Although, there is no guarantee the Bulls are making the playoffs next year with their current roster. The core is still very young, and two pieces (Parker and LaVine) have an injury history. While they might not be assured a top-five pick, getting back into the lottery next year is still very possible.
Attracting a star free agent in 2019 or 2020 isn’t going to happen with just cap space. Eventually, the Bulls are going to need their core to start ascending to entice a star to come to Chicago.
Signing Parker to a prove-it deal is the type of move that rebuilding teams make. Buying low on a player who could end up making the core more attractive makes a ton of sense. And if it doesn’t pan out, they can cut their losses and move on.
What makes people uneasy isn’t Parker but the guys signing him. If any other front office made a similar move, there wouldn’t be a ton of angst. However, the distrust of John Paxson and Gar Forman makes Bulls fans question each and every move.
Given GarPax’s track record, the reaction is warranted. You worry that they might fall in love with Parker and the rest of the core, opting to stand pat when there is a chance to acquire a star or attractive assets.
However, their recent decisions to trade Jimmy Butler and Nikola Mirotic indicate that they’re willing to sell high if it helps their pursuit of building a title contender. So is signing Parker really going to change that?
Bringing the Chicago native and former Simeon product home shouldn’t destroy the team’s long-term outlook. Whether he ends up being trade bait, cut or another piece to the core, it keeps the Bulls in a position of flexibility.