Is Bargnani worth long-term inflexibility?
February, 7, 2013
By Nick Friedell
AP Photo/The Canadian Press, Nathan DenetteAndrea Bargnani is shooting just 40 percent from the field this season.DENVER -- Is Andrea Bargnani enough to help put the Chicago Bulls over the top and knock off the Miami Heat over the next couple of seasons?
John Paxson and general manager Gar Forman have to be bouncing around right now after Marc Stein reported Thursday that the Bulls and Toronto Raptors have engaged exploratory trade discussions about a deal that would send Carlos Boozer to Toronto and Bargnani to Chicago.
In the short term, the deal would take the Bulls out of the luxury tax -- which they are on track to pay this season for the first time under owner Jerry Reinsdorf. There have to be other smaller pieces included in the proposed swap, but the move would save the Bulls millions and give them a little wiggle room under the hard cap that they are operating under for the rest of the season.
The move would also save the Bulls some money next season given that Bargnani averages close to $5 million less than Boozer a year. With Taj Gibson's new extension kicking in this summer at $8.5 million per season, the Bulls would hover right around the tax threshold given their corresponding moves.
The most intriguing part of the deal is that if the swap did take place, the idea that the Bulls would have enough space to land a max or near-max player in the summer of 2014 goes out the window. Bargnani has an early termination option in his deal heading into the 2014-1015 season -- but it's unlikely that another team would offer him a deal with a starting salary of $11.5 million, the amount he is scheduled to make in 2014-15, given his recent struggles with the Raptors.
If the Bulls don't do this deal and end up using the amnesty clause on Boozer during the summer of 2014, clearing out his salary of almost $17 million, and Luol Deng's salary worth over $13 million comes off the books, they would have space to add another big time player. That would depend on whether they re-signed Deng and for how much.
If Bargnani decides to opt into his deal, the Bulls wouldn't have much opportunity to land a free agent on the open market, and they would have to re-sign Deng using his "Bird rights" depending again on how much of a salary cut he is willing to take.
If the Bulls knew for sure that Bargnani wasn't going to opt-in to the final year of his deal, then I wouldn't have nearly as much hesitation if I were Paxson or Forman. As it stands, the Bulls appear, at least on the surface, to be one piece away with or without Boozer.
If Boozer gets dealt, Bargnani can slide into the starting lineup and play the pick and pop with Derrick Rose when he returns. If Tom Thibodeau wanted to put a more defensive-minded look on the floor he could use Gibson, or in some cases, Jimmy Butler on the floor at the four position. The move would give the Bulls a little wiggle room under the hard cap and would save them money in the future, a fact that will not be lost on a portion of the fan base that crushed the Bulls' front office for some of the financial decisions they made last summer.
Bargnani would actually be earning his money to play, instead of Boozer being paid to walk away, as would be the case if the Bulls amnestied his contract.
It's the third year in Bargnani's deal that should give Paxson and Forman pause, though. Do they really believe that Bargnani can push them over the edge? They can't make this deal unless they feel that way because they have to make this deal with the mindset that he is staying three more seasons.
They shouldn't do it believing that he will end his contract early. Another factor in all this is the development of draft pick Nikola Mirotic. The Bulls have always been privately confident that Mirotic would be able to get out of his deal in a year and a half and come play in Chicago. Is he enough of a difference maker to off-set the loss of Boozer's offense and help bolster a strong roster? How confident are they that he will be able to get out of that contract?
These are all questions the Bulls are pondering at the moment -- but the biggest one should be: Is the organization confident enough that a roster led by Rose, Noah, Deng and Bargnani is good enough, with a solid supporting cast, to win a championship?
Barring another major unforeseen deal in the future, that would be the Bulls' core, and take up most of their cap space, for better or worse. If the answer to that question is yes, then the Bulls should make the deal and see what happens.