With more than half of last season’s unguaranteed to return for next season, the Chicago Bulls are in an enormous state of flux. How they manage this predicament will not only determine how they perform next season, but the direction this franchise will go take moving forward.
Do they restructure this team and highlight the youth? Or should they hold on tight to their talent and make another run next season?
Only time can answer that question, but that doesn’t mean we have to shoot in the dark here. By breaking down the Bulls’ greatest needs and impending payroll for next season, the front office’s offseason plan becomes much easier to predict. Here’s a look at how much cap space the Bulls will have at their disposal this summer, and how they likely plan to utilize it.
Chicago Bulls guaranteed contracts for the 2023-24 season
- Zach LaVine – $40,064,220
- DeMar DeRozan – $28,600,000
- Lonzo Ball – $20,465,117
- Patrick Williams – $9,835,881
- Alex Caruso – $9,460,000
- Derrick Jones Jr. – $3,360,000
- Dalen Terry – $3,350,760
After Jones Jr. made the surprising decision to opt into his player option, the Bulls have seven of fifteen roster spots already locked up for next season. The sum of these contracts comes out to $115.1 million here, meaning the Bulls will already be nearing the cap wall before making any further moves to fill out the roster.
This is the unfortunate reality of having over $20 million tied up in a player who is unable to take the court in Lonzo. Since the Bulls are unlikely to be able to factually prove he’ll be out for the entirety of the 2023-24 season, the odds of Chicago receiving an injury exemption here aren’t looking great. Even if they are granted an exemption, the Bulls will likely prioritize bringing their core players back for another run.
Chicago Bulls unguaranteed contracts for 2023-24
- Andre Drummond – $3,360,000 (player option)
- Carlik Jones – $1,927,896
- Marko SImonovic – $1,836,096
Drummond’s future remains uncertain, as unlike Jones Jr., he has yet to confirm if he’ll be opting into his player option to remain with Chicago next season. He’ll have until June 29 to finalize his decision. As for the other two, Jones and Simonovic, both of these players are easy to cut loose in order to prioritize other free agents since their contracts are guaranteed. That being said, I wouldn’t be totally surprised if one of them is back next season, as their cheap contracts wouldn’t hurt the books and could help the Bulls bring back other players.
The impact of Zach LaVine’s max extension has certainly made that goal more difficult, as the Bulls must navigate rough waters in free agency despite doing a great job locking down DeRozan, and Caruso to great deals. Here are the players Chicago could stand to lose this summer if they don’t get their finances worked out fast.
Chicago Bulls impending free agents
- Nikola Vucevic
- Coby White (restricted)
- Javonte Green
- Ayo Dosunmu (restricted)
- Patrick Beverley
- Terry Taylor
- Justin Lewis
Bringing back these players is sure to be a priority for the front office this summer. After all, Nikola Vucevic looks to be the best center on the market, so it’s not as though there are any upgrades to be had in that regard. By all accounts, Vucevic has indicated he wishes to remain with the Bulls, if we take his comments made earlier this month at face value.
"“For me obviously, the Bulls will have priority… I would like to stay here, but that’s on the front office to decide and work with my agent on the contract part and also I’ll talk to them about their vision and plans and things like that. But that’s as much as I can say. Obviously I’ll be a free agent, so I’ll see what else is out there.”"
Coby and Ayo will fortunately be restricted free agents this offseason, which means they’ll have the opportunity to match offers (to a certain degree, in Dosunmu’s case) from opposing teams in free agency. Like Vucevic, Coby has expressed a strong sentiment that he’d like to stay where he is for the time being if possible.
"“I love Chicago. I love my teammates. I love the front office. So, you know, I would like to be back but a lot of that’s out of my control. It’s a business at the end of the day and I understand decisions have to be made. So if I’m back, great. But if I’m not, you know, you got to live with it.”"
If retaining Vucevic, Coby, or Ayo proves to be an expensive negotiation process, I could see quality role players like Javonte and Beverley being cut loose, even if that isn’t the ideal outcome here. At the end of the day, there’s only so much money to go around for these guys.
Bulls Projected Practical Cap Space: $7,989,364
After taking cap holds and empty roster spot penalties into account, the Bulls are projected to have roughly $8 million to spend in free agency. Considering this won’t be nearly enough to acquire a major difference-maker, I expect the Bulls to forego searching for outside talent and instead go over the cap limit to bring back any outgoing free agents if they’re interested in returning.
The real number to watch isn’t the cap space limit at $134 million, but rather the luxury tax threshold at $162 million. The Bulls’ ownership almost certainly won’t wish to exceed the tax yet again next season, so they’ll have just under $47 million to spend on Vucevic, White, Dosunmu, Green, Beverley, and Drummond.
Of course, Jerry Reinsdorf could always surprise us by ponying up to keep everyone on board, but I wouldn’t count on it. Chicago will still have outside options to consider, as their Mid-Level Exception allows them to sign a free agent to a deal of up to $11 million annually until they cross the luxury tax threshold, at which point the MLE drops to $6.8 million per annum.
As free agency inches closer, make sure to check back in here at Pippen Ain’t Easy to see which players are on the Chicago Bulls’ radar.