By signing Terry Taylor the 15th and final roster spot, the Chicago Bulls made a statement that they were ready to begin preparations for the 2023=24 season. In classic Chicago Bulls fashion, however, I believe the front office had an ulterior motive here. That’s because Taylor signed a veteran’s minimum deal, likely in order to avoid paying a high luxury tax bill.
But, frankly, I understand why. The team as constructed today does not have a good chance to be a championship team in the Eastern Conference. Only considering teams in the Eastern Conference that are surely better than the Bulls are the Bucks, 76ers, Celtics, Grizzlies, Cavs, and Heat… a longer list than you’d like if you are going to foot the bill for the luxury tax.
It makes a lot of sense why Jerry Reinsdorf and the Bulls didn’t want to fill the 15th roster spot with a player who commands a higher salary than the veteran minimum. But the fact the team is avoiding the luxury tax as best as possible indicates they have little faith in their ability to compete this year.
If the front office feels so confident that the team won’t be competing for a championship, however, then why is the team paying so many older players to take playing time from the young players who need to grow, like Colby White and Patrick Williams?
How are the Bulls spending their salary cap?
This also raises another issue, why are the Bulls so close to the salary cap if they are also mediocre? Having your third highest-paid player (Lonzo Ball) dealing with serious injury doesn’t help, but the biggest issue lies with Zach LaVine’s salary. LaVine is set to make over $40 million this year – just five million dollars shy of a true superstar guard such as Damian Lillard.
Zach LaVine is a spectacular basketball player, but he is not Damian Lillard. When you have a player taking up such a massive portion of the salary cap, they have to give a good return, and Zach has proven in his time in Chicago that he cannot be “the guy” for this team.
DeMar DeRozan’s $28 million salary is only a little better, and with DeMar only getting older, it seems that his time to lead a team to a championship may have passed.
How the Bulls can move forward and save money
The only thing that DeRozan, LaVine, and Nikola Vucevic are doing for this team is keeping them in playoff contention. There is no benefit to being a seven or eight-seed team. The Bulls are ready to hit the reset button, and the front office seems to agree that the team can’t compete. So what is it that is keeping the Bulls from making the final push and blowing up the team?
It’s time for the Bulls to pull the plug on the team as constructed. They should get as many draft picks and young assets as they can for Zach, DeMar, and Nikola, and then let Patrick Williams, Colby White, Dalen Terry, and Ayo Dosunmu get the playing time they need to develop into the talent that the team so desperately needs. If they follow this path, then in five years the Bulls may just have the kind of team they have been lacking since Derrick Rose got injured.
If they don’t, then it’s only a matter of time before DeMar walks and Zach requests a trade. In this situation, Bulls fans have a long future of mediocrity to look forward to.