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After a flurry of moves to open 2022 NBA free agency, Fourth of July Weekend was rather quiet as the Kevin Durant trade situation continues to hang over the entire league. The Chicago Bulls made a move, though, agreeing to a one-year deal with veteran point guard Goran Dragic at the minimum. Nikola Vucevic played a key role in the deal, according to NBC Sports Chicago’s K.C. Johnson.
The move gives the Bulls 15 guaranteed contracts and puts them about $1.5 million below the luxury tax line, which sits at $150.267 million. Chicago still has over $7 million remaining of the mid-level exception and a $5 million trade exception that expires on Thursday. There’s a hard cap at just under $157 million that comes into play if a certain amount of the mid-level is used (about $6.5 million) or a player is acquired in a sign-and-trade, so the Bulls couldn’t use all of these exceptions unless other salary was dumped.
While Chicago does have those 15 guaranteed deals, there can be more on the books during the offseason before having to cut the roster down to 15 for the season. Players like Tony Bradley and Marko Simonovic would be candidates to be waived if this happens and there aren’t trades. Waived salary can also be stretched out in order to dodge the tax if desired, though it’s worth noting that tax payments aren’t calculated until the end of the season.
The question is if the Bulls plan on doing something like that or even plan on making any other moves at all, as opposed to the roster essentially being set after adding Dragic, Andre Drummond and rookie Dalen Terry this offseason. Zach LaVine and Derrick Jones Jr. are back on new deals.
The addition of Dragic as the 15th contract certainly opened some eyes given it seemed like he was destined to join Luka Doncic on the Dallas Mavericks. It’s also notable given Chicago’s abundance of guards, shortcomings at wing/forward and overall lack of shooting on the roster. Will there be any other additions to address these issues? Perhaps Caleb Martin in free agency? Will there be a trade?
The mind immediately wanders to a Coby White trade, but he’s one of the few shooters on the team and the Bulls reportedly want a lot back in a trade. If there’s no trade, how will the rotation shake out with a backcourt featuring Lonzo Ball, Zach LaVine, Alex Caruso, Ayo Dosunmu, Dragic, White and Terry? That’s quite a lot to juggle, and one has to wonder what Dragic was promised in order to get him to join such a deep group. Will he be the backup point guard? He’s more of a pure point guard than all of these players besides Ball, but he’s 36 years old and is coming off a weird 2021-22 season that was split between the Toronto Raptors and Brooklyn Nets.
The veteran was traded to the Raptors as part of the Miami Heat’s Kyle Lowry sign-and-trade and barely played. Dragic sat out for a while before getting traded to the San Antonio Spurs and getting waived. He then joined the Nets for the stretch run and really struggled in the regular season before showing a bit more life in the four-game sweep at the hands of the Boston Celtics.
Dragic was still an impactful player at the end of his time with the Heat, but that version of him might be gone now that he’s 36 years old:
The Bulls have to hope it comes back, especially if they plan on making him the backup point guard. Prioritizing minutes for Dragic over the younger guys seems like a folly, but perhaps he finds the fountain of youth. He has at least looked good playing for Slovenia this summer.
There’s also the Lonzo Ball knee problem hanging over this whole roster. Chicago might hope Dragic can be some level of Ball insurance if his knee continues to be an issue, but the veteran point guard is such a different player and a significant downgrade in 3-point shooting and defense.
Ultimately, the Bulls might very well be content with the moves they’ve made. Arturas Karnisovas preached continuity after this past season, and simply running it back with a first-round rookie and two veteran additions would follow that philosophy. There’s a lot of belief in Patrick Williams taking a leap in Year 3 and hope for improved health after a plethora of problems in 2021-22.
Still, if this is it for the Bulls, there’s a level of disappointment with the lack of activity and creativity since their big offseason in 2021. It’s fair to say it’s not reasonable to constantly expect splashy moves, but the work on the margins hasn’t been great over the last year. That’s made even more frustrating if there are financial constraints in place.
Chicago should still be a pretty good team in 2022-23 given reasonable health. Drummond and Dragic are better options than the likes of Tristan Thompson and Matt Thomas. But, at least for right now, it feels like the Bulls are spinning their wheels and haven’t made a meaningful move toward championship contention, instead opting for cheap moves that are marginal upgrades with no real upside. We’ll just have to wait and see if this outlook changes at all the remainder of this offseason and into the 2022-23 campaign.