The 2020 NBA Draft wrapped up what feels like minutes ago. At 5 p.m. CT, free agency opens. The one-week offseason waits for no one.
The Bulls were well-positioned on draft night with a top-five pick and middle second-rounder in hand for the new front office regime to toy with. With the fourth overall pick, Artūras Karnišovas took his swing on Florida State forward Patrick Williams and with No. 44, he snagged (and stashed) Serbian big man Marko Simonović. After the end of the festivities, the Bulls also signed Kansas guard Devon Dotson to a two-way deal.
Another chance to alter and improve the roster awaits, but this time, their options aren’t so plentiful -- at least on the surface. Here’s a quick rundown of where the Bulls stand entering free agency and what options they have:
*All salary figures via Spotrac
The Bulls enter free agency likely capped out and short on roster spots. Williams hasn’t officially signed his rookie scale contract yet, but projecting $7,068,360 in first-year salary onto the current books, the Bulls would sit with 13 roster spots filled and a little over $113 million committed after he signs -- $4 million over the $109.14 million salary cap line.
(There also technically remains the possibility the Bulls could stagger Williams’ official signing until later and enter free agency around $3 million under the cap. Until signings are finalized, take everything below mentioning the Bulls as an over-the-cap team or discussing exact financial figures as “projection” under the assumption Williams signs that deal.)
Either way, when Karnišovas says, “we’re going to be really picky in free agency,” believe him.
Roster spot constraints (15 guaranteed, two two-way) aren’t enforced until the day before the regular season, so that shouldn’t completely hamstring the Bulls yet; they can still go over and dip back below the line later.
An obvious option in that vein would be to waive Cristiano Felício. Though releasing Felício does nothing to aid the Bulls’ financially -- his $7.5 million salary is guaranteed and would remain on their books -- right now, it would open up an additional roster spot, and his contract is entering its final year, meaning there’s no long-term pain associated. Of course, the counterargument to such a move is that Felício’s expiring salary could be a useful asset in trade negotiations through the deadline. We’ll see.
Operating as an over-the-cap team, the Bulls have the non-taxpayer mid-level exception and bi-annual exceptions at their disposal, valued at $9,258,000 and $3,623,000 respectively. (Full details on the rules and restricts that govern said exceptions here.)
Free agent decisions
The Bulls also have four free agents of their own in Kris Dunn, Shaq Harrison, Denzel Valentine and two-way player Adam Mokoka. Days before the Nov. 19 deadline to extend qualifying offers (which all four were eligible for), they came to decisions for each: Valentine and Mokoka (per Keith Smith) received qualifying offers, Dunn and Harrison did not.
If Valentine inks his qualifying offer -- or agrees to a deal of any other terms -- it would push the Bulls to 14 guaranteed roster spots for the time being and close to $118 million in committed salary, give or take (again, including Williams). That doesn’t materially change their financial situation; they’d still be nearly $9 million over the cap and a non-dangerous roughly $15 million under the luxury tax line, with exceptions still available.
And if Mokoka returns on another two-way deal, along with Dotson, the Bulls will have both of those slots filled for the 2020-21 campaign. The NBA changed the active list limit for two-way players from 45 days to 50 games for this season, which should afford both opportunities to contribute.
Who could they target?
As mentioned -- ad nauseum at this point -- the Bulls will have the non-taxpayer mid-level and bi-annual exceptions to outright sign players in this free agency window. How the Bulls might utilize said options is anyone’s guess.
Some passing thoughts, though: Whoever the Bulls next bring in is going to have to get acclimated quickly with players due back in market Nov. 30 and training camp set to open Dec. 1, which, speculatively speaking, might make a veteran presence appealing. Karnišovas also said, in explaining the aforementioned qualifying offer decisions, that shooting is an area in which the Bulls “need to add.” Point guard is a position the front office has telegraphed an intention to address this offseason. Keep an eye on those considerations.
And, of course, underscoring all of this is the remaining possibility of a large-scale roster shakeup. The new front office operated under the shroud of mystery all draft season, pulled the plug on Jim Boylen without leaking much in the way of indicators and remained tight-lipped when asked about free agency plans on draft night. This is a roster they inherited and Karnišovas has proven a dispassionate evaluator so far.
“We’re going to sit down (Thursday), spend some time talking about free agency,” Karnišovas said. “We will address all the questions about the roster and free agents.”