Shifting Gears: The Bulls Front Office Boldly Takes Up the Challenge of Free Agency

John Paxson and Gar Forman at a press conference. Photo stolen from the Chicago Tribune.

In recent summers, Gar Forman and John Paxson have taken a passive approach to NBA Free Agency. Their mantra has been “Let the market come to us.” This has meant the Bulls have been reactive in their transactions. They have waited until the initial dust from free agent signings has settled and then picked through the leftovers, finding functioning NBA talent (David Nwaba, Shaq Harrison), taking chances on players with superstar potential but damaged bodies (Jabari Parker), and re-signing their own (Zach LaVine). These past few summers in Bulls free agency have been nothing more than treading water, waiting for the young core to mature, keeping the team talent starved so they finish at the bottom of the standings/top of the draft. But all that changed when the Bulls acquired Otto Porter Jr.

Whether through blind luck or brilliant GM-ing, Forman and Paxson changed the trajectory of the Bulls rebuild when they traded Jabari Parker and Bobby Portis for Otto Porter Jr. In Otto, the GarPax had found themselves a solid NBA veteran, still young enough to grow, just old enough to guide, and well-rounded enough to have a strong positive impact on the court. He was a game changer, and to the credit of GarPax, they recognized that his addition meant they had to shift gears.

Porter Jr. brought confidence back to the Bulls. When he started knocking down threes and driving to the rim, he opened up a new world of possibilities for Zach LaVine and Lauri Markkanen. They both played better with Porter on the floor, and it led to some of the best basketball the Bulls had played in two or three seasons. With Porter, Markkanen, and LaVine on the roster, the Bulls are no longer a bottom of the barrel team, they are “in the hunt.” Understanding the building blocks they had in front of them, GarPax charged into NBA Free Agency 2019 with a renewed sense of direction and a goal: Stay “in the hunt.”

One of the disappointing side effects of trading for Otto Porter Jr. were the ramifications his bloated contract had on the Bulls financial flexibility. Before the trade, the Bulls were looking to have nearly $30 million in salary cap space to spend in free agency this summer, enough to sign a superstar to a max contract. By acquiring Porter, the Bulls took themselves out of the running for the Kevin Durants, Kahwi Leonards, and Kyrie Irvings of the NBA, they no longer had the cap space to offer a lucrative max contract. Forman and Paxson tried spinning the trade as an early free agent acquisition. Their reasoning was something along the lines of:

-We aren’t an attractive enough team to sign a big name free agent, so all the extra cap space we have this summer will go to waste. Otto Porter Jr is exactly the kind of player we would be able to sign this summer, so instead of trying to get a superstar, lets just use our cap space on Porter. Therefore, in terms of using cap space, trading for Otto Porter Jr. is basically the same as signing a free agent.-


Cap space aside, Otto Porter showed how important it is to have talented veterans mixed into a young roster. GarPax saw this importance and decided to use the remainder of this summers coffers to flesh out the roster with talented vets.

Thaddeus Young was the first free agent signing the Bulls made this summer. They reached an agreement with the former Indiana Pacer’s Big within the first day of free agency. The speed with which this deal was done indicated an aggressiveness to the Bulls Front Office we haven’t seen in several summers. GarPax had a plan for Free Agency 2019, and more importantly, they had Targets.

The next domino to fall was Washington Wizard combo guard Tomas Satoransky. In a brilliant maneuver, GarPax helped orchestrate a sign and trade for the talented Satoransky, bolstering the point guard position with another versatile player. GarPax continued their positive offseason momentum by rewarding fan favorite Ryan Arcidiacono with a multi-year contract. Discontent with the lack of shooting off the bench, GarPax signed New York Knicks stretch Big Luke Kornet to a two year deal. They also re-signed Shaq Harrison to a partially guaranteed deal just weeks after waiving him to make room for Young and Satoransky.

“I know about Arch and Shaq, but who are these new guys GarPax signed?” You might be asking. Good question.

Thaddeus Young is a 31 year old, 6’8” 220 lbs, defensive minded Big, and 12 year veteran of the league. He has been the starting Power Forward for the Indiana Pacers the last 3 seasons. It will be interesting to see how he handles coming off the bench behind Lauri Markkanen, but I can also see the two of them playing together for long portions of the game. Besides from his steady play, Young will bring a maturity to the locker room that hasn’t always been present the past couple seasons. Many of the Pacer players regard Young as a mentor, let’s hope he can be that for the Bulls.

Tomas Satoransky, the 27 year old Czech, was drafted by the Washington Wizards in 2012, but didn’t join the NBA until the 2016-17 season. With only three years of experience, he still has some room to grow at the NBA level. At 6’7” 210 lbs, Satoransky brings size to the guard position. He also brings a high basketball I.Q. and the ability to play both on and off the ball. When Wizard’s starting Point Guard John Wall went down with a season ending injury, Satoransky stepped up and filled in for the former All-Star. He played well along side the Wizard’s other star guard Bradley Beal, giving us all a hint of what a backcourt featuring Satoransky and Zach LaVine might look like. His height and I.Q. make Satoransky a versatile option for Jim Boylen to experiment with.

Luke Kornet is a 7’1” 250 lbs shooter. He’s 24 years old, and shoots 36% on three pointers, which he takes a lot of. While the bulk of his offense might come from beyond the arc, he’s no stranger to defending the rim, averaging about a block a game in just 17 minutes of game time. Kornet is no superstar, but he brings a different component to the Bulls roster and should be more fun to watch than Cristiano Felicio.

After watching the highlights it’s easy to see why the Front Office targeted these particular players, and make no mistake, these guys have been on GarPax minds ever since the Otto Porter deal, if not before that. Young is the veteran leader this team needs. Satoransky is a versatile, young-ish, guard that compliments the rest of the roster in both play style and age. Kornet adds another dimension to the bench and could develop into more than just a role-player given time and opportunity. This was one of the most important free agency periods of this Bulls rebuild, and GarPax have seemingly knocked it out of the ballpark.

By signing a small contingent of complimentary players, GarPax have given the Bulls core a talented support web that should help them reach their full potential. They’ve shifted gears from Tanking to Competing. I’m expecting LaVine, Markkanen, and Wendell Carter Jr to grow exponentially this season. The Bulls are a much better team than they’ve been in a while. The talent level of their roster has been given a much needed boost this offseason. They may not make the playoffs this season, but they should be firmly “in the hunt.”

That’s it for this week. A surprisingly complimentary post for the GarPax. There are still several moves they need tomake before the regular season starts. Decisions must be made about Kris Dunn (trade, waive, or keep), Antonio Blakeney, and (fingers crossed) Cris Felicio. Until those happen, thanks for reading and GO BULLS!