Chicago Bulls: Impact Al Horford, Harrison Barnes declined options brings

(Photo by Elsa/Getty Images)
(Photo by Elsa/Getty Images) /

With the recent shocking decision to decline a hefty pay-days, maybe the Chicago Bulls can use this shift in player’s priorities to their advantage.

Although the draft and free agency have yet to begin, that hasn’t stopped the first dominoes of the NBA offseason from falling. With the Anthony Davis trade the obvious blockbuster event to kick off this summer’s festivities, a few quieter moves have been made that could have big implications for the Chicago Bulls‘ plans for the future.

Boston Celtics center Al Horford and Sacramento Kings forward Harrison Barnes recently made the decision to decline their player options and instead opt into unrestricted free agency. This decision was particularly shocking due to the fact they were each set to make $30.1 million and $25.1 million respectively.

As Chicago Bulls fans likely remember from the Carmelo Anthony debacle, turning down a bigger payday in search of a more stable environment is not something that happens very often in the NBA. Horford and Barnes are certain to make less money next year in their search for a longer, more secure deal.

Most players prioritize getting as much money as possible while they’re in their primes and still capable of a big pay-day. Barnes however, seems to enjoy his situation in Sacramento so much that he’d prefer to take a discount to remain with the team long-term.

Horford on the other hand, is at opposite ends of the spectrum. Instead of taking his massive $30 million paycheck and calling it a day, he’s turning down the money to pursue a less toxic locker room environment. While the Celtics certainly struggled to have Kyrie Irving and the young guns co-exist peacefully, this news still came as a surprise to Celtics fans considering Horford expressed his desire to stay just last month.

The reason these recent developments affect the Bulls is simple; NBA players want to enjoy their job just as much as anyone else. If you’re already being paid millions of dollars to play the game you love, why not do it in the company of people you love? Chicago must capitalize on this new shift in player’s priorities by creating a welcoming environment and positive culture.

For that reason, extending Jim Boylen’s contract may have been the best decision after the team professed their support for the new coach.

The CBulls have a similar situation on the horizon with Otto Porter’s player option for the 2020-2021 season. The summer of 2020 is the last year on Lauri Markkanen’s rookie deal and the final year of Cris Felicio’s contract, thus making him movable as an expiring contract. In other words, there will be no better time to make a splash in free agency than 2020.

Unfortunately, Porter’s $28.5 million option that year clogs up the pay roll and makes it unlikely the team will have much flexibility for big free agents. However, if the Bulls were able to dump Felicio’s contract and renegotiate a longer term deal for approximately $20 million a year, Chicago’s pay roll could come all the way down to $60 million between Porter, Markkanen, Zach LaVine, Wendell Carter, Chandler Hutchison and this year’s two draft picks.

That would grant the Bulls at most $56 million to spend in free agency, or $48.5 million if they cannot find a suitor for Felicio. Regardless, that’s still more than enough money to add a few role players this summer and then pursue a max level free agent next year.

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This next season will be a huge test for the Chicago Bulls. LaVine has already made personal sacrifices to support the team when he paid Boylen’s ejection fines. If they can stay healthy this time around and put together a promising season, perhaps Porter will be willing to make a similar (but much more significant) sacrifice to help push the team over the edge.