The Bulls have some needs to fill in free agency, but they will definitely be shopping at the Thrift Store this summer.
Two reasons: For one, their roster is fairly complete already, but also they’ll be paying luxury tax on any salary added to the payroll.
To make things worse, the NBA’s luxury tax penalties increase next season. It used to be a dollar-for-dollar tax no matter how much a team spent. Now, the Bulls will owe $1.50 for every dollar they exceed the luxury-tax threshold. If they go more than $5 million above the threshold, the rate increases to $1.75.
The Bulls also have limited means. As a taxpaying team that used the biannual exception last year (on Marco Belinelli), they essentially have three ways to add extra players when free-agency officially begins today:
ŸUse the taxpayer midlevel exception worth $3.18 million. It can be split among multiple players.
ŸUse the $5 million trade exception created with the trade of Kyle Korver to Atlanta last summer. The Bulls could take on one player who is paid up to $5 million without giving back salary in return. This cannot be combined with any other exceptions.
ŸThey can sign as many players as they want for the minimum salary until the roster is full.
Needless to say, the top free agents are out of reach. That almost certainly includes guys like Kyle Korver and J.J. Redick, who figure to get much better offers.
Including the two draft picks, the Bulls currently have 10 players under contract, so their needs are few. The projected starting lineup includes Derrick Rose, Jimmy Butler, Luol Deng, Carlos Boozer and Joakim Noah. The reserves are Kirk Hinrich, Marquis Teague, Taj Gibson, plus rookies Tony Snell and Erik Murphy. Their salaries add up to about $76 million.
A backup big man: Nazr Mohammed is ready and willing to return for a second season at the minimum salary.
Just for argument’s sake, should the Bulls try to do better? Mohammed, who turns 36 in September, averaged 2.6 points and 3.1 rebounds in 11.0 minutes last season.
Jermaine O’Neal, who will turn 35 in October, averaged 8.3 points and 5.3 rebounds in 18.7 minutes playing for Phoenix last season. Maybe O’Neal, or veterans such as Chris Kaman or Zaza Pachulia would take the minimum salary from the Bulls in order to have a chance to reach the Finals.
Mohammed is still the odds-on favorite to return, but nothing is set in stone right now.
A veteran shooter: Coach Tom Thibodeau probably won’t count on Snell to play major minutes.
There’s a long list of accomplished shooters who might be had for the minimum salary. The list includes some guys who have dropped off recently after shooting well in past years, like Antony Morrow, Nick Young, Dorrell Wright, Daniel Gibson, Mike Dunleavy, Reggie Williams, Francisco Garcia and Mickael Pietrus.
One guy worth watching might be Martell Webster, the No. 6 pick in the 2005 draft. He moved on from Portland, spent a couple forgettable years in Minnesota, then started for Washington last season and averaged 11.4 points while shooting 42.2 percent on 3-pointers. The Wizards added Otto Porter and Glen Rice Jr. on draft night, so Webster, 26, might be moving on.
An underrated shooter is former Bulls guard Roger Mason Jr. He shot 41.5 percent for New Orleans last season and owns a career percentage of .384 from long range.
Gibson shot better than 40 percent from long range in four of his first five NBA seasons, back when he played with LeBron James in Cleveland. Maybe Rose could create open looks for him.
A wild card in the free agent mix is Jose Calderon, the point guard who always put up nice numbers in Toronto, with little team success. He led the NBA in 3-point shooting last season at 46.1 percent. Maybe he’s ready to move from full-time point guard to designated shooter.
Volume shooter Carlos Delfino (career .365 from 3-point range) was released by Houston. The Rockets may also let go of James Anderson, the former Oklahoma State sharpshooter who hasn’t had much opportunity in three pro seasons.
Ex-Bull Ronnie Brewer could probably be had, if they’d like to add another perimeter defender.
Of course, bringing back Marco Belinelli or Nate Robinson remains an option. The Bulls would probably welcome back either player on a small, one-year deal. The problem is, since both players are coming off strong performances, they’ll probably get much better offers.
So don’t expect either player to return.
Forward Malcolm Thomas, who is expected to play with the Bulls in summer league, could end up back on the final roster.
Among the biggest free agents, Chris Paul reportedly plans to re-sign with the Los Angeles Clippers. Dwight Howard is expected to choose between Houston and Dallas, unless he decides to stick with the Lakers.
Atlanta’s Josh Smith, Denver’s Andre Iguodala and injury-prone Philadelphia center Andrew Bynum figure to attract some interest, since there aren’t many attractive targets on the market.
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