The Bulls always loved Omer Asik's potential to become a quality all-around center.
So do the Houston Rockets. According to multiple reports, the Rockets came to an agreement Sunday with Asik for an offer sheet of $25.1 million over three years.
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Asik is a restricted free agent and the Bulls will have three days to match the offer once it becomes official. That won't happen until at least July 11 when NBA free agents can begin signing contracts.
Three years and $25.1 million may not sound like an exorbitant offer -- and the Bulls probably a expected the total dollars to be more -- but it requires a closer look.
The league put in a rule several years ago that allows teams with a coveted second-round draft pick to have a chance to match an offer sheet. It's commonly known as the "Gilbert Arenas Rule," because Arenas was a second-round pick who jumped at a big offer from Washington after spending just two years with Golden State.
Because of the Arenas rule, the first two years of Asik's offer can be for no more than $5 million and $5.2 million. That means the third year in Asik's offer from the Rockets is worth a whopping $14.9 million.
The Bulls planned on matching offers for Asik, but this one might be too far out of bounds to make sense, especially since the penalties for a team's payroll exceeding the luxury-tax threshold will increase starting with the 2013-14 season.
Luol Deng's contract will have ended by the time Asik would receive his balloon payment in 2014-15. But the Bulls already have Derrick Rose under contract for $17.8 million that season, Carlos Boozer for $16.8 million and Joakim Noah for $13.1 million.
There's always a chance the Bulls could use the amnesty clause on Boozer by then, to avoid paying luxury tax on his salary. They might also assume Noah will be in demand if they need to trade a center in the summer of 2014.
Asik has quickly become a reliable defender, but he averaged just 2.9 points and 2.8 rebounds last season.
Maybe the Bulls will try to turn this transaction into a trade and get back shooting guard Courtney Lee, for agreeing not to match the Asik offer sheet. If they let him go, the Bulls will be scrambling to find a replacement big man, but could try to use the three players with nonguaranteed deals for next years -- Kyle Korver, Ronnie Brewer and C.J. Watson -- as trade chips.
Asik also reportedly met with Portland late Friday night in Los Angeles. The Blazers turned around and agreed to a four-year, maximum contract offer for Indiana center Roy Hibbert, another restricted free agent.
The Bulls don't have much to offer free agents, just a $3 million mid-level exception. On Day 1 of free-agent negotiating, ex-Bulls guard Kirk Hinrich was the Bulls' top priority. He's someone who can play both guard spots and defend well.
The Bulls could probably get him for $3 million, but will they ask him to take less and go after someone else with the mid-level exception? Tough to tell.
They'll also be in the market for a 3-point shooter if they don't bring back Kyle Korver. There's a good chance John Lucas III will return for another year at the minimum salary.