Some Bulls fans are wondering why the team hasn’t been aggressively pursuing free agents, particularly Ben Gordon, whom they lost to the Pistons. As always, the answer is all about money.
As reported by Mike McGraw of the Daily Herald, the NBA finally released the new salary cap and luxury-tax threshold: “For the second time since the cap was instituted in 1984, the number dropped. The new cap is $57.7 million, about a million less than last year. The luxury-tax threshold is $69.92 million. The mid-level exception, which is supposed to represent the average salary, is $5.85 million.”
What does that mean for the Bulls? A lot.
McGraw crunched the numbers for the 11 players the team already has under contract and the qualifying offer they made to Aaron Gray. Read ’em and weep:
Brad Miller $12.25 million
Luol Deng $10.37 million
Kirk Hinrich $9.5 million
Jerome James $6.6 million
Tim Thomas $6.47 million
John Salmons $6.35 million
Derrick Rose $5.18 million
Tyrus Thomas $4.74 million
Joakim Noah $2.46 million
Aaron Gray $1.0 million
James Johnson $1.59 million
Taj Gibson $1.04 million
Total (including Gray): $67.544 million
Luxury tax threshold: $69.92 million
As you can see, the Bulls are already about $10 million over the new salary cap. Even worse, they’re within a couple million of the luxury tax threshold. Remember, for every dollar the Bulls go over that threshold, they have to pay a dollar in taxes. With the economy swirling down the toilet, that’s a penalty almost every NBA team has been bending over backward to avoid. The Bulls are no exception.
Even assuming the Bulls retain Gray, they’re still required to have a 13th player on their roster. Some teams even sign 14 players as an injury contingency. So, if Gray ends up wearing red this season, that means the Bulls have just under $2.4 million left to sign one or two more players. Realistically, the team could end up spending most or all of that money Jannero Pargo. And there’s no guarantee the Bulls can or will do that.
It’s also possible the Bulls will try to fill out the last couple roster spots with players from their summer league team. Pippin Ain’t Easy posted the Bulls’ summer league roster, and there are some potentials there: “Actual Bulls on the roster consist of new draft picks James Johnson and Taj Gibson as well as Anthony Roberson, Linton Johnson III and DeMarcus Nelson. The Bulls will play five games from July 14-19 at Cox Pavilion and the Thomas & Mack Center at UNLV. Others included are some players with memorable NCAA Tourney experience/performances: Lorenzo Mata-Real from UCLA was a fun player to watch during the tourneys. James Augustine from the Illini and their 2005 tourney run. Taurean Green filled it up and won with the Gators.”
I said “potentials,” not “great potentials.” The bottom line is this: Bulls management wants to avoid the luxury tax while maintaining financial flexibility for next summer. They’re willing to bide their time and field an average to slightly-above average team this season, in the hopes that they’ll be able to make a move at the trade deadline or next summer. All I’m saying is, don’t expect John Paxson and Gar Forman to bring in any major help for the 2009-10 campaign.