After a flurry of moves to open the 2022 NBA free agency, the July 4 weekend was mostly quiet as Kevin Durant’s trade situation continues to weigh on the entire league. The Chicago Bulls, however, took a step forward by agreeing to at least a one-year contract with veteran point guard Goran Dragic. Nikola Vucevic played a key role in the deal, according to KC Johnson of NBC Sports Chicago.
The move gives the Bulls 15 guaranteed contracts and puts them about $1.5 million under the luxury tax threshold, which stands at $150.267 million. Chicago still has more than $7 million remaining from the mid-tier exception and a $5 million business exception that expires Thursday. There is a hard cap at just under $157m that kicks in if a certain amount of the mid-tier is used (around $6.5m) or a player is acquired as part of a signing and a trade, so the Bulls couldn’t use all of those exceptions unless another salary was dumped.
While Chicago has those 15 guaranteed deals, there may be more on the books in the offseason before they have to narrow the roster down to 15 for the season. Players like Tony Bradley and Marko Simonovic would be candidates for a waiver if that happened and there were no trades. The suppressed salary can also be extended to avoid tax if desired, but it should be noted that tax payments are not calculated until the end of the season.
The question is whether the Bulls plan to do something like this or even plan to make other moves, as opposed to the roster essentially 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 was certainly an eye opener considering he seemed destined to join Luka Doncic on the Dallas Mavericks. It’s also notable considering Chicago’s abundance of guards, gaps on the wing/forward, and general lack of shooting on the roster. Will there be more additions to fix these issues? Maybe Caleb Martin in free agency? Will there be an exchange?
The mind immediately wanders to a Coby White trade, but he’s one of the team’s few shooters and the Bulls would have wanted a lot in return in an exchange. If there’s no trade, how will the rotation go with a backcourt featuring Lonzo Ball, Zach LaVine, Alex Caruso, Ayo Dosunmu, Dragic, White and Terry? That’s a lot to juggle, and one has to wonder what Dragic was promised to get him into such a deep band. Will he be the alternate leader? He’s more of a pure point guard than any of these players besides Ball, but he’s 36 and coming out of a weird situation. 2021-22 season which was shared between the Toronto Raptors and the Brooklyn Nets.
The veteran was traded to the Raptors as part of Kyle Lowry’s signing and trade from the Miami Heat and barely played. Dragic sat out for a while before being traded to the San Antonio Spurs and being waived. He then joined the Nets for the stretch run and really struggled in the regular season before showing a little more life in the four-game sweep at the hands of the Boston Celtics.
Dragic was still a hard-hitting player at the end of his time with the Heat, but this version of him might be gone now that he’s 36:
The Bulls have to hope he comes back, especially if they plan to make him the backup point guard. Prioritizing Dragic’s minutes over younger ones seems like folly, but maybe he finds the fountain of youth. He at least seemed to be playing well for Slovenia this summer.
There’s also the Lonzo Ball knee issue that hangs over this whole list. Chicago might be hoping 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 on shooting and 3-point defense.
In the end, the Bulls could very well be content with the moves they made. Arturas Karnisovas preached continuity after last season, and simply reviving him with a first-round rookie and two veteran additions would follow that ethos. There is a lot of belief that Patrick Williams is making a leap in Year 3 and hoping for an improvement in his health after a plethora of issues in 2021-22.
Still, if that’s all for the Bulls, there’s a level of disappointment at the lack of activity and creativity since their big offseason in 2021. It’s fair to say it’s not reasonable to constantly expecting flashy moves, but the work on the margins hasn’t been great over the past year. It’s 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 Tristan Thompson and Matt Thomas. But, at least for now, it feels like the Bulls are spinning their wheels and haven’t made meaningful progress towards the championship, instead opting for cheap moves that are marginal improvements with no real upside. We’ll just have to wait and see if that outlook changes for the rest of this offseason and into the 2022-23 campaign.