Joakim Noah’s ‘recruitment’ of Carmelo Anthony is making headlines today and many Bulls fans are already dreaming of a core that contains Melo, Rose, Noah, Butler, and Gibson. Some national writers are even saying that the Bulls will have approximately $15 million in cap space without making a trade to lure Anthony, but that number is simply wrong. In reality, the Bulls will likely only have $11M in cap space to spend on any free agents including Melo.
The Bulls have approximately $45.5M committed to 6 players for next season (Rose, Noah, Gibson, Dunleavy, Snell, and Butler). Most experts believe the 2014-15 NBA salary cap will be approximately $62.5M. The difference between those two numbers is $17M but the NBA has several rules in how cap space is calculated and assign ‘cap holds’ limiting teams on what they can spend.
First round draft picks have guaranteed salaries, and their salary is slotted based on where the pick falls. As of 3/6/14 the Bulls will have two first round picks (16th overall from the Bobcats and 19th overall). Those two picks holds total $2.74M.
Teams are also assigned holds for their own free agents. The Bulls will have cap holds for DJ Augustin at $915K and Kirk Hinrich at $5.2M for example. The Bulls have the option of renouncing that hold, which means that Hinrich’s $5.2M slot wouldn’t count against the Bulls cap space. The major negative of renouncing a free agent’s rights is that a team can’t go into their cap space to re-sign him (via Bird rights). The Bulls are expected to try and retain Augustin and renouncing his rights only saves them about $400k in cap space. For this purpose, let’s assume they don’t renounce Augustin.
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And lastly the league requires that teams carry 12 players. For every roster spot under 12, teams are charged a cap hold based on a rookie free agent salary (approx. 500K). This summer the Bulls will likely have 3 ‘roster charges’ for a total of $1.5M.
This grand total gives the Bulls a dedicated payroll of $51.7 million this summer. That leaves them about $11.5M to spend on any free agents (like Anthony). That’s half of what he could get signing with the Knicks or another team like the Lakers.
The Bulls do have trade options to create more space if they went all-in on Melo. Trading Mike Dunleavy for a future 2nd round pick would add another $2.8M in cap space and trading Taj Gibson would create an additional $8M.
But remember what happened in 2010, the Bulls traded away Kirk Hinrich and Kevin Seraphin (their 1st rd pick) to the Wizards to create two max slots. Lebron, Wade, and Bosh formed their own superteam and the Bulls ended up regretting that trade.
Of course any discussion about the Bulls plans in free agency this summer is dependent on the team using the amnesty provision on Carlos Boozer. Eligible teams can use the amnesty on the first day of free agency, July 10, 2014. If the Bulls unexpectedly choose not to use the amnesty on Boozer, they'll have no cap space to work with.