30 teams in 30 days is a series to get you ready for the NBA offseason — a quick preview of each team’s free agent and salary cap ramifications to help set the table for their summer.
Two decisions will shape the Bulls’ summer before the summer begins on July 1: Dwyane Wade’s decision on his $23.8 million player option for 2017-18 and their own decision on whether to pick up Rajon Rondo’s non-guaranteed $13.4 million for the coming season. Their cap space varies wildly based on what happens with these two players, ranging from being over the cap to having over $52 million in space, depending on what happens with their other free agents as well.
Reports out of Chicago are that the Bulls are happy with Rondo and will bring him back next season. Wade’s player option will also pay him more than he could get on the open market, so it’s safe to assume he’ll be back with the Bulls next season. Nothing is certain — Wade has made a lot of money in his career and could take a smaller deal with a contender to boost his chances of winning a fourth championship.
Outside of Wade and Rondo, the Bulls have four restricted free agents and one unrestricted: Nikola Mirotic, Michael Carter-Williams, Joffrey Lauvergne and Cristiano Felicio are all restricted this summer, and Anthony Morrow is unrestricted. If Rondo is brought back, then Carter-Williams will probably be renounced. He simply didn’t show enough to warrant another contract with the club, especially since they would have Rondo, Cameron Payne, Jerian Grant and Isaiah Canaan already on the roster at the point guard position. Mirotic has the highest cap hold and the Bulls are already starved for spacing with their current roster. With Rondo and Wade in the fold, Chicago wouldn’t have cap space to go out and replace Mirotic if he were to leave, so he and his agent can and will probably use that to their advantage by wrangling an overpay out of Chicago’s front office.
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If Wade were to opt out, then the Bulls would have a lot of flexibility to use. Without Wade and Rondo, they could get up to $52.3 million in cap space, which could put them in the hunt for multiple big free agents this summer. Keeping Mirotic on their books carves out $10.2 million of that space, but they would still have a significant amount of money to go out and improve the team. How would the Bulls look with Jrue Holiday and J.J. Redick replacing the outgoing Rondo and Wade?
In this scenario, Holiday signs a three-year, $66 million contract with Chicago, and Redick signs for two years and $40 million. Mirotic is retained on a three-year, $33 million contract as well, leaving the Bulls with over $4.1 million in cap space in addition to their $4.3 million Room Exception to add to the team. Holiday and Redick would certainly be an upgrade on Rondo and Wade on both ends of the floor, although the Bulls might miss Wade’s isolation ability in certain moments next season. With just a few moves, the Bulls could launch themselves into the non-Cleveland contender class in the Eastern Conference, vaulting at least three spots up the standings and showing Jimmy Butler that they can be the team that pushes him to the next level.
Wade opting in to his contract doesn’t eliminate all of Chicago’s cap space — they could still go out and get Holiday to replace Rondo if Wade opts in and they stretch Rondo.
While still two years away, Butler’s impending free agency in the summer of 2019 hangs over everything Chicago does these next two summers. A blockbuster trade throws everything into chaos for them. Depending on when the trade is agreed and what package of players and picks they get back for their superstar, their needs could drastically change. For instance, a trade with Boston that includes the first overall pick in the 2017 NBA Draft would mitigate the need for Rondo to be retained.
Chicago’s ability to retool around Butler is heavily dependent on what Wade decides. Although Wade’s decision isn’t due until after the draft, it’s important for them to know what might happen beforehand so they can plan accordingly.