Examining Bulls’ financial situation if Zach LaVine signs max contract

Zach LaVine, Chicago Bulls (Photo by Michael Reaves/Getty Images)
Zach LaVine, Chicago Bulls (Photo by Michael Reaves/Getty Images) /

The summer of 2021 was a crazy ride for Chicago Bulls fans. It was one that involved several unexpected twists and turns as the new front office made aggressive moves to bring genuine star talent to the Windy City. This year, however, is a different story. The Bulls have one primary objective this offseason, and that is to re-sign Zach LaVine.

Although his name was in the discussion early on in the season, injuries and COVID-19 absences ultimately held LaVine back from earning All-NBA consideration. Because of this, he won’t be eligible to sign a supermax extension with the Bulls. He will, however, still be eligible to receive a max deal for up to five years, $215 million.

Re-signing LaVine is obviously the priority, but it’s still important to consider what happens if the Bulls succeed in that endeavor. The team will be operating over the cap all summer, but that doesn’t mean there isn’t a way for the Bulls to improve before next season.

If the Bulls successfully manage to bring Zach LaVine back on a max contract, they’ll have to make a few savvy offseason moves to continue improving.

Here’s the financial breakdown and a look at how things stand for the Bulls as they enter June and prepare for the NBA Draft later this month.

Bulls’ Guaranteed Payroll For 2022-2023 Season

  • DeMar DeRozan – $27,300,000
  • Nikola Vucevic – $22,000,000
  • Lonzo Ball – $19,534,884
  • Alex Caruso – $9,030,000
  • Patrick Williams – $7,775,400
  • Coby White – $7,413,955
  • Tony Bradley – $2,036,318 (player option)
  • Javonte Green – $1,815,677
  • Marko Simonovic – $1,563,518
  • Ayo Dosunmu – $1,563,518
  • Pick #18 in 2022 Draft – $3,148,560

Current Payroll: $103,181,830
Maximum Cap Space: $16,912,146

In order to maintain this meager amount of cap space, the Bulls would first have to renounce all of their expiring contracts — including Zach LaVine — just to afford a mid-level free agent. There’s nobody on the open market the Bulls could sign that would be an upgrade over LaVine, so that feels like a foolish plan of action.

Chicago could raise their maximum cap space over $20 million, but that would require Bradley to decline his player option and the Bulls to trade the 18th pick in this year’s draft without taking any salary back in return. Both of those scenarios feel very unrealistic and unlikely.

Instead of trying to create cap space for free agency, the Bulls will be better off using their Bird Rights to retain LaVine and build a strong team around the current core while also remaining under the luxury tax. Since Chicago holds the Bird Rights of LaVine and Troy Brown Jr. as well as the Early Bird Rights of Derrick Jones Jr., the team can go over the cap to retain these players if they so wish.

Bulls’ Current Cap Holds

  • Zach LaVine – $29,250,000
  • Troy Brown Jr. – $15,511,691
  • Derrick Jones Jr. – $12,637,170
  • Matt Thomas – $2,086,473
  • Adam Mokoka – $1,616,044
  • Tyler Cook – $1,576,305
  • Malcolm Hill – $1,576,305
  • Tristan Thompson –  $1,200,000
  • Incomplete roster charges (2x) – $1,906,024

Until the Bulls officially renounce (or re-sign) these players, their cap holds still count towards the official cap and thus prevent the Bulls from making any free agent signings with their available space. However, it’s unlikely we see most of these players return as the Bulls intend to focus on bringing LaVine back at all costs.

That being said, the Bulls can still tender one-year qualifying offers to Brown Jr. ($7,228,448), Thomas ($2,086,473), Cook ($1,576,305), and Hill ($1,576,305) if they wish.

Any offseason plans should be made with the assumption the Bulls have managed to bring LaVine back, because if he leaves there’s no way anyone could call this offseason a success regardless of what happens in the draft and free agency.

If Zach LaVine re-signs, how else can Chicago improve?

Should LaVine return to the Windy City, we can expect the Bulls to roll out the same starting five that we sparingly saw last year due to a myriad of injuries. Caruso, Dosunmu, and Green are also expected to return as the first reserve players off the bench. The hope is that an offseason of continuity (and a healthy regular season) will allow this team to reach its full potential.

But what if it’s still not enough? The Bulls have three primary routes to improve this year, and their success will depend largely on their ability to succeed in these areas this summer.

The first opportunity comes via the 2022 NBA Draft, where Chicago possesses the No. 18 overall pick and should still be able to pick up a quality player on a cheap rookie contract. Alternatively, the Bulls could trade up in the draft to secure one of this year’s top prospects.

The second of which will be in free agency, where the Bulls will have access to the MLE. This exception allows the Bulls to sign a free agent for approximately $10 million annually and for up to four years. Last year, the Bulls successfully lured Alex Caruso away from LA by offering him the MLE.

Finally, the Bulls will have a third avenue to improve by making big trades. The three assets most likely to be used in a potential trade are Portland’s future first-round pick (acquired via the Lauri Markkanen trade), Chicago’s $5 million trade exception (acquired via the Daniel Theis trade), and 2020 All-Rookie Team member Coby White.

These three options give the Bulls plenty of options to find a good backup for Vucevic, add shooters and strong defenders, and find the next impact player who can help Chicago’s pursuit of an NBA championship.

Next. Cheap Free Agents Bulls Can Target if LaVine Re-Signs. dark