State of the Cap: Chicago Bulls

Tue, 05/08/2007 - 9:04am

By Josh Redetzke

2007/08 Chicago Bulls Payroll: $46.7 million
2007/08 Estimated NBA Salary Cap: $55 million
Roughly: $8.3 million under cap

[img_assist|nid=3887|title=Luol Deng - AP Photo: Jeff Roberson|desc=|link=none|align=right|width=250|height=333]The Good: The Baby Bulls aren't babies anymore and they are reaping the benefits in a big way. First on the list is Ben Gordon. If there is a star on the Bulls, Gordon is it. He raised his scoring average four and a half points to 21.4 and shot an excellent 41% from the three point line to go along with respectable 45% shooting. Ben really took his game to a new level this season and will bring Chicago high value for his $4.8 million salary next year, the final year of his rookie contract.

Another player with a breakout season was forward Luol Deng. His 18.8 points per game were second on the team and his 51% shooting and 7.1 rebounding average showed what a valuable player he is. Deng has had some really explosive games this year and is very close to being a star himself. The $3.3 million he'll be paid next season is peanuts compared to what he'll get a year from now. Chicago needs to enjoy Gordon and Deng's contracts while they last.

The Bulls thought about moving P.J. Brown and his expiring contract in a mid-season trade. When nothing worked out, they were forced to keep him and let his contract run out to the tune of an $8 million dollar savings. That's not too shabby considering the pricy extensions that are coming up.

The Bad: The big splash in free-agency last summer was when Chicago gave boatloads of cash to lure Ben Wallace away from the Pistons, a division rival. Four years and $60 million dollars is an awful lot to give to a 34-year-old guy that is more of a specialist than an all-around player. Not surprisingly, his numbers were down a little compared to recent years. Don't get me wrong, Wallace was the type of player that the Bulls needed, they simply paid too much for him. It also didn't seem to hurt the Pistons since they retained the #1 seed in the playoffs anyway. Big Ben's contract could make it difficult for this team to retain its entire core of young players.

The Future: Things can't get much better for the Bulls right now. They are one of the best teams in the Eastern Conference, their starting five is young and has great chemistry, and they have a fiery coach in Scott Skiles who knows how to keep them in line. Not only do the Bulls play defense (opposing teams shoot 43.5%, second lowest in the league), but they can score as well (38.8% three point shooting, second highest in the league). And even though Wallace's contract is a concern, he did help Chicago lead the league in team rebounding. They even have the Knick's lottery pick in the upcoming draft. So what's not to love?

The only problem with having so many good young players is that they all get huge raises at roughly the same time. Kirk Hinrich's new deal starts next year at a pricy $11 million. Even though he did shoot very well and scored 16.6 points a game while leading the team with 6.3 assists, that kind of money will be just a tad high for his services. However, Hinrich's contract is a rarity in the NBA because it actually decreases over time. It starts at $11 million but gradually goes down each year until he makes $8 million in the fifth and final year of the contract. (Ben Wallace's deal also declines, from $16 million last year down to $14 million in year four).

I don't know why teams and players don't do this more often since it helps both parties. For the player, they get paid more in advance and still have the security of a long-term deal. For a team like the Bulls, they can get more of the contract money out of the way when they can afford it and save more later on when they might need the extra cash. Trades are also made easier because there are no balloon payments in the final years, which can be a logistical nightmare for a player looking to leave or a team wanting to make a change.

Chicago will need to do more payment structuring magic if they want to keep this team intact. Valuable, hard-nosed, do-anything Andres Nocioni is up this summer. How much can they give him knowing that both Deng and Gordon will need new contracts the following season? They also have up and coming defensive stalwart Thabo Sefolosha waiting in the wings. The Bulls will likely have to run well over their salary cap in order to keep it all together, but for this group, its probably worth it.

Free Throw: The rest of the league had better hope Chicago doesn't jump into the top two picks by way of a friendly bounce of a ping-pong ball. Even so, knowing that they will probably add a quality big man prospect to their front line is scary. Imagine their roster with someone like Joakim Noah or Roy Hibbert as role players. Yikes.

Grade: A-

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