To free cap space this summer, Bulls will need to clean house

                                                                                                                                                                                                   
  • Milwaukee Bucks forward Jordan Nwora, right, blocks a shot by Chicago Bulls forward Lauri Markkanen during the first half Sunday at the United Center.

    Milwaukee Bucks forward Jordan Nwora, right, blocks a shot by Chicago Bulls forward Lauri Markkanen during the first half Sunday at the United Center. Associated Press

 
 
Updated 5/17/2021 8:52 PM

It would be inaccurate to say anything could happen for the Bulls this off-season.

But this will be a summer of many decisions for Arturas Karnisovas and crew, as the Bulls finished their first year under new management with modest improvement and no playoffs.

 

"At this point in time, I cannot tell you what the plan is going to look like, but I can tell you that we'll look at every possible way to improve the team," Karnisovas said Monday, after the Bulls closed the books on a 31-41 season. "We will not settle for mediocrity here."

Here's the basic rundown: The Bulls will not have a first-round draft pick unless they get really lucky in the draft lottery. The first of two first-round picks headed for Orlando in the Nikola Vucevic trade is top-four protected.

By beating Milwaukee on Sunday night, the Bulls moved from the league's eighth-worst record to a three-way tie for the eighth-worst record with Sacramento and New Orleans, lowering their lottery odds slightly.

If the Bulls clear everything they can from the payroll, they'd free up about $36 million of cap space. But that would require keeping just six players on the current roster.

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Want Thad Young back? Deduct about $8 million from the cap space. Tomas Satoransky would require an extra $5 million because both players have partial guarantees for next year.

Maximizing cap space would require giving Lauri Markkanen a firm pat on the back and an empty box to clean out his locker. Markkanen can be a restricted free agent this summer, which means the Bulls could match any offer from another team or conceivably concoct a sign-and-trade. The team will most likely give him a qualifying offer to keep their options open.

"I thought Lauri had a good year," Karnisovas said. "I thought he was more efficient. He's a 40-percent 3-point shooter. Shooting comes at a premium in our league. I think Lauri's an essential part of our team and we hope he is part of what we're building here. I'm looking forward to talking to his representation."

Should the Bulls bring back Daniel Theis, Garrett Temple or Javonte Green? If the answer is yes, subtract a few more dollars from the cap space.

In other words, the Bulls could try to be a player in free-agency, but would have to whittle away much of the current roster and focus on a nucleus of Vucevic, Zach LaVine, Coby White and Patrick Williams. Al-Farouq Aminu and Troy Brown Jr. are the other two players with full guarantees for next season.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                       
 

Cristiano Felicio's four-year, $32-million contract has finally expired. Denzel Valentine is a free agent. Ryan Arcidiacono has a $3 million team option.

This was Billy Donovan's sixth year as an NBA head coach and the first time he didn't reach the playoffs. That's understandable, since he had Kevin Durant, Russell Westbrook, Paul George and Chris Paul in Oklahoma City.

The rebuilding Bulls are closer to the bottom of the NBA ladder, but for most of this season, it looked like they'd at least reach the play-in tournament.

"I'm disappointed," Donovan said. "I'll always look at things that I could have done better in a unique year. I don't want to talk about the players and what they could have done better, because we were all in this together.

"When (LaVine) got COVID, that three weeks, it would have been a great opportunity to see if our team could gel a little bit more and it's unfortunate it didn't happen."

• Twitter: @McGrawDHBulls

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