Chicago Bulls Can Sign Jimmy Butler To Max Contract; Maintain Core of Team


With the offseason fully upon them, the Chicago Bulls‘ management has some tough decisions to make about how they will go about improving the team this summer.

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In order to keep their championship window open, the Bulls need to sign guard Jimmy Butler to a max contract, while preserving the core group of players on this team.

The question becomes is this possible and is this the best way to keep this team relevant for years to come?

At the beginning of the 2014-2015 season, Jimmy Butler rejected the Bulls’ contract extension rumored to be worth $40 million across four years.

At the time the move looked foolish. Butler was regarded as a great defensive player, but hadn’t shown a polished enough offensive game to warrant more money than he had been offered.

However, Butler was confident that his summer training regimen had elevated his game to the next level and was willing to bet that he would have a breakout season.

"“It came down to me deciding that I want to bet on myself. It was about me believing that I put the work in this summer to become a better player with the hope that my improvement will give the Bulls a better chance to win a championship.”-Jimmy Butler’s text message to Yahoo Sports’ Adrian Wojnarowski,, 10/31/14"

Fast-forward eight months and Butler looks like a genius.

During the 2014-15 season, he averaged 20 points per game and was selected to his first NBA All-Star Game. He continued to solidify his status as one of the best defenders in the league and his drastic improvement offensively has made him among the best two-way players in the NBA.

Butler has certainly earned a big payday when he becomes a restricted free agent this summer. The question becomes how much the Bulls can afford to pay Butler, and how this figure will impact the organization’s ability to keep their other core players?

The salary cap figure is expected to rise to an approximate $67.1 million during the 2015-16 season. The luxury tax line will also be raised to $81 million. (Information courtesy of a NBC Sports report citing info from DraftExpress‘ website.)

With these numbers in mind, here is how the math works out when figuring if the Bulls can afford to sign Butler to a max deal while keeping their core group of guys on the roster.

PlayersTotal Salary in '15-16
Derrick Rose$20,093,094
Joakim Noah$13,400,000
Taj Gibson$8,500,000
Pau Gasol$7,448,760
Nikola Mirotic$5,543,725
Doug McDermott$2,380,440
Tony Snell$1,535,880

Total: $58,901,869

If the Bulls were unwilling to violate the salary cap, the money committed to these seven players would be problematic. The Bulls would only be able to offer Butler $9 million per year, which is less than the offer he rejected at the beginning of the season. In addition, the Bulls wouldn’t be able to sign Butler to a large extension and fill out the rest of their roster with only $9 million of available cap space on the table.

Sep 29, 2014; Chicago, IL, USA; Chicago Bulls general manager Gar Forman during media day at the Advocate Center. Mandatory Credit: Jerry Lai-USA TODAY Sports

Fortunately for Chicago, owner Jerry Reinsdorf has already stated that he is willing to pay the luxury tax to make sure that Butler stays with the Bulls this summer.

Chicago Tribune reporter David Haugh assured Bulls fans in a January column that the Bulls are prepared to do whatever it takes to keep Butler in Chicago.

"They began preparing for that inevitability one year ago this week when they reset the clock on the NBA’s repeater tax – which penalizes teams that pay the luxury tax three of four seasons – by trading Luol Deng to the Cavaliers. They fully expect to sign Butler to a max deal next July before another team even gets involved to tempt him with an offer sheet, which the CBA says they can after the moratorium ends. They accept that the size of Butler’s contract will put the Bulls in position to pay the luxury tax, something Chairman Jerry Reinsdorf says he will do for a championship contender his team is."

For every dollar that a team exceeds the salary cap line, they must pay that amount back to the league.

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  • The Chicago Bulls have $58,901,869 committed to these seven players meaning they have $8,198,131 to distribute across five other contracts to fill out the roster before violating the salary cap.

    (I realize I’m excluding Jimmy Butler, but this is only for the time being).

    So assuming the Bulls stay under the salary cap line when divvying out these five contracts, let’s explore Butler’s situation.

    A technicality in the rule only allows teams to offer a max contract eligible player that has been in the league for less than six years, 25 percent of the current salary cap. With the 2015-16 salary cap projected at $67.1 million, the Bulls can offer Butler an approximate $16.8 million dollars.

    Add Butler’s potential dollars to the approximate $67,100,000 committed to the other players on the team ($58 million to the “core guys” and then the five other contracts are projected to round out to around $67.1 million) and the Bulls are at $83,900,000 in committed salary for the upcoming season.

    It is important to note that the Bulls are able to exceed the salary cap line without being penalized due to the “Larry Bird Exception” named after Hall of Famer Larry Bird.

    Under this provision, teams are allowed to exceed the salary cap mark if they are re-signing one of their own players to an extension.

    May 4, 2015; Cleveland, OH, USA; Chicago Bulls forward Taj Gibson (22) and guard Jimmy Butler (21) help guard Derrick Rose (1) to his feet in the fourth quarter against the Cleveland Cavaliers in game one of the second round of the NBA Playoffs at Quicken Loans Arena. Mandatory Credit: David Richard-USA TODAY Sports

    If these projections are correct, the Bulls will exceed the luxury tax line by approximately $2.8 million. Owner Jerry Reinsdorf has already stated that he is willing to pay a luxury tax to preserve his team, so this isn’t a major problem.

    The premature demise of the Chicago Bulls this season was more due to mismanaged rotations and the disappearance of the “edge” that has defined this team for so long than a lack of talent or championship potential on the roster. The Bulls need to embark on a quest to rediscover their gritty identity, not try to blow-up a talented core group of guys.

    The Bulls have more than enough to win a championship. They have a bunch of players that have completely bought into the championship philosophy put in place in Chicago.

    Sure, the Bulls need to make some adjustments if they expect to compete for a title next season. However, these adjustments shouldn’t include breaking up a group with this much talent and potential.

    Securing the services of Butler for the long-term is the first step in extending the Bulls’ championship window for a longer period of time. Surrounding Butler with a group of guys that he has played with for his entire career will go a long way towards making this a reality.

    Next: Jimmy Butler selected to NBA's All-Defensive Second Team

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