Melodrama 2014 might be over in a few days with Carmelo Anthony wrapping up his scheduled meetings with the Lakers and Knicks on Thursday. It will be perceived as a big loss here in Chicago if he chooses to stay in New York, but the Bulls have several options they will quickly move on if that's what happens.
First, we need to clear up a misconception about Carlos Boozer. There were conflicting reports on Wednesday night about the Bulls using the amnesty provision on the power forward. Regardless of what they decide, the Bulls cannot officially use the amnesty until July 10. They will have seven days to make a decision, though in reality it likely won’t take seven minutes.
We’ve discussed the Bulls' free-agency plan before, but let's go into more deal about “Plan B”: how the Bulls can get a mid-tier free agent and keep both the mid-level and bi-annual exceptions. Using the amnesty provision on Boozer only creates $11.8 million in cap space (and a max of $10.3 million for one player). That $11.8 million is only practical cap space if they renounce all their exceptions and free agents. The Bulls are technically over the salary cap even after using the amnesty on Boozer, and that is a good thing because that will give them an avenue to keep their two exceptions.
Let’s assume the Bulls renounce their rights to free agents and their two trade exceptions. They will still have cap hits for Nikola Mirotic, Mike James, Ronnie Brewer, Lou Amundson and the mid-level and bi-annual exceptions. The cap hit for Mirotic still counts unless the Bulls sign him, trade him, enter an agreement that keeps him in Europe another year or renounce his rights. So where does that leave the Gar Forman and John Paxson? My opinion is that the front office will make a hard push for a sign-and-trade that brings in a mid-tier free agent because they want Mirotic in a Bulls uniform next season.
Let’s talk about the financial benefit of doing a sign-and-trade for a mid-tier player and use Pau Gasol as an example (if you'd like, substitute your favorite mid-tier free agent for Gasol). I’ll let others debate whether bringing Gasol to the Bulls is a good idea, but let’s just use him instead of the boring “Player A.” If the Bulls convince Gasol to come to Chicago on a three-year, $30-million contract (again, let’s just focus on the numbers and not if he is worth that money), they could sign him as a free agent. But that would eat up almost all of their cap space. A straight signing means the Bulls would have no exceptions to use, leaving Mirotic in Europe and only room for veteran minimum contracts.
The better option is to do a sign-and-trade keeping the exceptions intact. To do a sign-and-trade for a $10-million player, the Bulls would need to send out approximately $7 million in outgoing salary (this potential trade uses the non-taxpayer rule of 150 percent of outgoing salary has to equal the incoming salary). Hypothetically, the Bulls could trade Mike Dunleavy, the three non-guaranteed contracts of James, Brewer and Amundson and a draft pick for Gasol. Dunleavy works for any team because he is an expiring deal, and the addition of Doug McDermott makes Dunleavy expendable from the Bulls' perspective. The Lakers can immediately cut the three non-guaranteed deals, and they will get a draft pick as well. Remember, sign-and-trade deals aren’t designed to give the sending team equal “value.” It’s a way for the sending team to get something back versus losing a player for nothing in free agency. To give you an idea of sign-and-trade value, the Cavaliers received just two first-round picks, two second-round picks and the rights to swap picks for sending LeBron James to Miami in 2010.
Completing a sign-and-trade for Gasol or any other mid-tier free agent allows the Bulls to keep their mid-level exception (max of $5.3 million first-year salary) and bi-annual exception (max of $2.07 million first-year salary). The mid-level could be enough to bring over Mirotic (who has an approximate $3.4 million buyout from his contract with Real Madrid which the Bulls can only pay $600,000 of with Mirotic paying the rest). And the bi-annual could be used for a backup point guard. This scenario allows the Bulls to spend $17 million versus only about $14 million if they were just free-agency signings.
This isn’t the “home run” plan of Anthony or even Kevin Love, but it does allow the Bulls to make some significant upgrades to their roster and compete in a weak Eastern Conference.