One of the heaviest and longest-lasting criticisms leveled at the Bulls’ front office in recent years is their insistence on scrimping and saving wherever possible to avoid going into the luxury tax despite ostensibly trying to compete for a title. For every role player lost, team doctrine has dictated that the team was saving money by letting them go for whatever the open market dictates their worth. As Yahoo’s Kelly Dwyer said during the summer of 2012, this is what the Bulls do.
This is what they always do. Spend enough to skirt complete and total criticism. Leave enough not entirely unreasonable influences and timing issues to help you understand. Leave it so the moves in a vacuum — taking apart that bench just to save money — that seem so abhorrent are easily argued with a nice pull quote from a team employee or sound bite in a call-in radio show from the team’s owner. You don’t need to be an NBA junkie to shake your head at the team’s moves, but the Bulls’ front office makes it so you don’t need to be an NBA salary capologist to understand their impetus behind those moves. The fair-weather fan can be persuaded away from his anger in a manner of minutes, or space of two paragraphs.
Along with the requisite player-bashing and front-office buffering stuff you’ve come to accept (did you know that CJ Watson was always bad and the Bulls never liked him? Same for Ben Gordon and Omer Asik, apparently), the Bulls always manage to be impervious to the sorts of criticisms that, say, Daryl Morey and the Rockets have suffered through this offseason. That their insistence on numbers (stats in Morey’s case, cash money in the Bulls’) has robbed a talented core of any real chance at a title run. What I’m starting to wonder is how much, if any, has the Bulls jettisoning of role players actually saved them on the open market?
To that end, I found and listed the salaries of every “major” contributor the team has employed since Derrick Rose’s rookie season in 2008-2009. I didn’t take minutes or production into account, just a gut feeling of guys who were rotation players. I could have started with Thibodeau’ first year, 2010-11, since the two 41-41 teams under Vinny Del Negro can hardly be called contenders. In a way, though, I’m actually giving the front office a little more leeway, since massive contract Ben Gordon got from Detroit will fall under this purview.
Not including traded contracts that carried over to the new team, amnesties or retirements, here’s the list of players wished the best of luck in their future endeavors by the Bulls since the end of the 2008-2009 season.
|Player||Year||Old Contract||New Contract||Difference|
|Ben Gordon||2009||$6.404m||$10.00m (Pistons)||+3.596|
|Brad Miller||2010||$12.250m||$4.400m (Rockets)||-7.850|
|Hakim Warrick||2010||$3.00m.||$4.250m (Suns)||+1.250|
|Acie Law||2010||$2.216m||$665k (Warriors)||-1.551|
|Jannero Pargo||2010||$2.00m||$1.223m (Hawks)||-0.777|
|Keith Bogans||2011||$1.600m||$848k (Nets)||-0.752|
|Ronnie Brewer||2012||$4.710m||$1.069m (Knicks)||-3.641|
|C.J. Watson||2012||$3.400m||$2.016m (Pacers)||-1.384|
|Omer Asik||2012||$1.857m||$8.374m (Rockets)||+6.517|
|Marco Belinelli||2013||$1.957m||$2.750m (Spurs)||+0.793|
|Nate Robinson||2013||$1.146m||$2.016 (Nuggets)||+0.870|
|Luol Deng||2014||$14.275m||$10.00m (Heat)||-4.275|
|D.J. Augustin||2014||$1.267m||$3.00 (Pistons)||+1.733|
|Total Outgoing Cost: $56.082m||Total Market Cost: $50.601m||Difference: -5.481m|
As you can see, things started off understandably enough. Ben Gordon’s price tag was always going to be too high for the Bulls to reasonably match, especially with how well he played in the 2009 playoffs. Brad Miller stings, but he was declining fairly rapidly and Asik was set to come over. Warrick, Law and Pargo were all barely contributors as it was, and nobody really wants or needs those guys on a title contender. Bogans getting less than a million from the Nets is confusing, but ultimately unimportant.
Then we hit 2012, when, despite Rose’s ACL injury, the Bulls should have been in prime position to spend as much as possible. Asik’s case was understandable, but arguably the biggest loss on this list that realistically could have been kept. Now, it’s true that the Bulls probably would have had to choose between Omer and Taj, and it’s hard to say that they chose incorrectly, but still. The team often seems to be afraid of the “open market” in this scenario, and they knew exactly what Asik was going to get. They chose not to match Houston’s offer. Belinelli and Robinson were contributors who ended up getting more than they signed with the Bulls for, but not that much more. Personally, I’m fine with neither still being employed by the Bulls, but it’s hard to say that their respective replacements, Tony Snell and D.J. Augustin, were upgrades.
Speaking of Augustin, his loss appears to be one of the most deleterious, and while he’s making more than Hinrich will this season, he’s also probably a lot better at the role they would have asked him to fulfill. Deng’s loss is part of a problem too big to address here, suffice it to say that he didn’t get nearly as much as the Bulls seemed sure he was asking for, did he? Looking at the rosters as a whole, the Bulls seem to get as much as they possibly can out of their rookies, even though they only currently employ three of their own draftees since 2008, including Rose.
In the end, just as KD so eloquently said in 2012, the Bulls keep doing just enough to avoid real criticism. These moves make enough sense in a vacuum that to see the pattern takes more than merely one or two offseasons. While there have certainly been times when the Bulls’ prudency has paid off (Dunleavy’s contract looks better and better, even if they almost certainly won’t bring him back after this season), even this limited and context-less look at things proves that if the Bulls aren’t openly trying to sabotage themselves, then at least they aren’t even good at the thing they claim to aspire to. They haven’t saved money at all. They’ve actually spent more than these players got on the open market, and that doesn’t even include trading Kyle Korver for a trade exception that they never ended up using. While sure, the number ($5.48 million over the last six offseasons) is negligible, what else was the point if not to save money? Omer Asik would have only ended up costing six and a half million more than he was making the previous season in the first year of his deal with Houston. Rip Hamilton alone would have taken care of most of that, unless you really don’t think the team would’ve been better with Asik in place of the corpse of Rip and the near-corpse of Hinrich, in which case, get out?
At the very least, this is evidence of incompetence if not out and out deceit. Add in the Jordan/Pippen/Jackson Bulls never once paying the luxury tax, the early sell-highs on Elton Brand, Tyson Chandler and Ron Artest, among others and the general mistreatment of players and personnel by front office people and front office mouthpieces alike, and one has to wonder: what, exactly, were the #2010Plan, #2012Plan and #2014Plan about if not saving money? And if they can’t even do that, how long until we really start to question if there were ever real plans to begin with?
Hmmm. I need to re-read this a couple times to be sure I understand your argument. But in case I don’t get back to it, here’s my first reaction:
Although I love the obvious effort and thought you put into this post, I don’t agree with your conclusion. It feels like you have cherry picked players (where’s Boozer, Gasol, Mirotic, Salmons, etc). Also, your criticizing GarPax from hindsight, which is much easier than predicting the future as a GM is required to do. (Did anyone think Deng would land such a poor contract after watching the other SF’s on the market get paid?)
Finally, are any of those former players the difference-maker that gets the Bulls a title? No.
(Sorry, …I got interrupted.)
The difference makers all spurned Chicago’s advances. If anything, I blame GarPax for not being good enough to recruit the big prizes. However, I cannot blame them for trying to be fiscally responsible once they lost out on the “championship caliber” talent.