Chicago Bulls Free Agency 2018 Part 1: To Thine Own Self Be True

With the NBA Draft Lottery still a few weeks away, and Free Agency following so quickly after the draft, I thought it would be best to start looking at what the Bulls might do in free agency. There will be several weeks between the Lottery and the Draft to over-analyze possible Bulls picks, but before that maelstrom of speculation, I am putting together another: a three part guide(?) to Bulls free agency. I plan on exploring:

– Who is, or might be, available this summer via free agency

– Who the Bulls might be interested in

– Who I am interested in

– How all of these players might fit with the Bulls

Today’s portion of the guide will focus on free agents from within the Bulls roster. There are three players currently on the Bulls that will become free agents this summer. A decision will need to be made, whether or not an option should be picked up, on a fourth player. And rumors have swirled as to the possible contract extension of a fifth Bull…

Chicago Bulls Free Agency 2018 Part 1: To Thine Own Self Be True

Let’s begin our dive into free agency with a player most casual Bulls fans don’t even know is on the team; Noah Vonleh was acquired at the trade deadline from the Portland Trailblazers in an attempt by both teams to circumvent salary cap penalties. Vonleh, as a player, did not blossom the way the Trailblazers hoped he would. Faced with a Luxury Tax penalty, Portland decided to part ways with Vonleh, shipping him (and his $4 million contract) off to the Bulls, who were more than willing to give the young power forward another chance to prove himself.

Vonleh did not play well for the Bulls. He certainly showed flashes of his talent on both ends of the floor, but for the most part he looked slow and over-matched. Some of that can be attributed to rust, he was not used consistently by the Trailblazers last season, and some of that comes from his mid-season change of scenery. It must be difficult to pick up your life and drop it into a new city, with a new set of coworkers and bosses, a new set of plays to learn and a different way of playing that same old game of basketball. That being said, Vonleh did not impress.

Averaging 19 minutes a game with the Bulls, Noah Vonleh managed to score nearly 7 points while grabbing nearly 7 rebounds a game. I suppose that is normal production from a bench player, but I was hoping for more. He will be a restricted free agent this summer, meaning the Bulls will be able to match any offer a team makes him, and retain his services. I don’t see a lot of teams trying to sign Vonleh this summer, so the Bulls should be able to re-sign him to a team friendly contract relatively easily. I doubt the Bulls will sign him. The Bulls have been very proud of their “flexibility” (read as “stinginess”) in regards to the salary cap. They have the second lowest payroll in the NBA, falling behind the Dallas Mavericks when it comes to “flexibility.”

I don’t see Noah Vonleh as a long term piece of the Bulls future. By renouncing the rights to Vonleh, letting him become a normal free agent, the Bulls will free up more of their coveted cap space, and a roster spot. The reason the Bulls might re-sign Vonleh, would be to help reach the salary cap minimum (the reason they traded for him in the first place), or to have a trade-able player on the roster, one whose salary size and contract length might be attractive to teams trying to get under the cap. After four seasons in the league and not much improvement to show for it, I’m not sure how trade-able Noah Vonleh is anymore. I would pass on re-signing Noah Vonleh.

David “Nwowza!” Nwaba is an all together different story. He has done nothing but impress in his first full season as a Bull. He has been an “energy guy” for the team, injecting a much needed boost of hustle on both the offensive and defensive ends of the court. Nwaba has been good in fast-break situations, running the court and helping push the pace. He has shown a knack for driving the base line and getting to the basket. His ability to get to the rim has also resulted in him drawing fouls. Nwaba led the Bulls this season in Free Throw Attempts with 203. He only made 65% of his free throws, but it’s his ability to get to the line that is impressive.

Like Noah Vonleh, David Nwaba is a restricted free agent this off-season. I believe he will have a number of teams interested in his services after his breakout season with the Bulls. Having proved he belongs in the NBA and no longer an unknown, the Bulls might be forced to over pay Nwaba just to keep him, as I expect he might receive several large contract offers from other teams.

The great thing about salary cap “flexibility” is that it will allow the Bulls to easily match any contract offer Nwaba receives. The question is: should they?

I want David Nwaba on the Bulls for the next few years, and I think most fans would agree with me. While he needs to improve his long range shooting, his defense and ability to drive to the hoop fill several of the teams deficiencies. He has shown improvement in his long range shooting, especially when attempting corner 3’s. But most teams will be focused on Nwaba as a defender, he could help a team off the bench with his ability to switch onto almost any player and provide decent defense. At 6’4” he is a little undersized and can’t defend all positions, but he has shown the ability to stick with guards, small forwards, and the occasional power forward, a very handy skill in the modern NBA. The Bulls should re-sign David Nwaba.

The biggest free agent the Bulls will sign this summer is going to be Zach LaVine. He, like Vonleh and Nwaba, is also a restricted free agent. He was the key piece in the infamous Jimmy Butler Trade. He was, and still is, considered by some to be the face of the Bulls franchise. Although his play, after returning from his ACL injury, was a bit inconsistent, he proved he is still explosive, dynamic, and athletic. LaVine’s crowning achievement last season was out dueling Jimmy Butler down the stretch of the Bulls lone, nationally televised game. He was sensational, leading the Bulls to victory with his strong offensive performance and timely defensive stops. He helped justify the heavily scrutinized trade of Jimmy Butler and the Bulls subsequent plans for rebuilding of the franchise.

The Bulls MUST re-sign Zach LaVine this summer. If they don’t, the front office will be dragged out into the streets of Chicago and crucified. Gar Forman and John Paxson have to re-sign Zach LaVine simply to assuage their own egos, they couldn’t possible admit they made a mistake with the very first move of the rebuild. In my mind, their careers should be tied to the success or failure of Zach LaVine. LaVine was the cornerstone of the trade, Markkanen was a happy accident, and Kris Dunn is a to be determined; the Bulls must re-sign LaVine to justify the continued existence of GarPax.

Also, this is the best time to re-sign LaVine. His stock is still low due to the recent ACL injury and his inconsistent play. The Bulls should be able to sign him to a reasonable multi-year deal that will be beneficial to both parties… unless another team swoops in and over bids for LaVine’s services. The only thing that will stop the Bulls from re-upping LaVine, is if it means sacrificing their precious salary cap “flexibility.” They do not intend on paying him a max contract, and there are less than a handful of teams capable of over bidding for LaVine, none of which seem very interested in the prospect. The Bulls will re-sign Zach LaVine, and he will have several years to work on his chemistry with Markkanen and Dunn.

Paul Zipser is the odd man out. His contract with the Bulls offers the team the option of walking away from him the next two seasons. After an atrocious 2017-18 season where Zipser went from starter to bench player to garbage time player to DNP (Did Not Play) Coaches Decision, it is hard to imagine the Bulls will opt in to the next year of his contract. After two seasons, it looks as though his time in Chicago is coming to an ignominious end. If the Bulls keep Zipser, they will pay him $1.5 million dollars to ride the bench. They know what they have in him as a player. It would be more beneficial, dare I say “flexible,” for the team to opt out of the contract, freeing up more salary cap space and another roster spot. The Bulls should not pick up the option on Paul Zipser.

Zipser

Rumors have spread indicating that the Bulls will offer Bobby Portis a contract extension this summer. He is already under contract for the next two seasons, but based on his improved play, leadership, and the role they see him playing with the team in the future, it makes sense for the Bulls to rework his contract now. With a boat load of salary cap “flexibility” it shouldn’t be to hard for the Bulls and Portis strike a fair deal on a multi-year contract. That being said, the Bulls could be gun shy after last seasons unfortunate Cristiano Felicio contract. I hope Felicio bounces back next season, but his poor play and long contract might have soured the Bulls on extending players already under their control. If I were the Bulls, I would talk with Portis’ people and see if a deal can’t get done. With two years left on his current deal, there is plenty of time to extend his contract.

That does it for the first part of the 2018 Free Agency Guide. I did not do an extensive write up on Ryan Arcidiacono and Antonio Blakeney, the two 2-way contract players that split time between the Chicago Bulls and Windy City Bulls. I believe they are both free agents, and if pressed on the matter I would say sign Blakeney to an NBA contract, and try to sign Arcidiacono to another 2-way deal. ‘Nuff said.

Programming Notes:

I’ll be back next week with part 2 of my 2018 guide to free agency (a look at other teams restricted free agents). The NBA Draft Lottery is Tuesday, May 15th, so in 2 weeks I will recap that fiasco. Then I will do several weeks of Bulls draft speculation, briefly interrupted by the 3rd and final look at 2018 free agency (unrestricted free agents) before it starts. Other posts to look forward to, include the NBA Draft recap, a couple of updates on the Summer League Bulls, and a look back at last seasons “Bold Predictions” (there will be a lot of crow eating in that post). As always, thank you for reading and Go Bulls!