A follow up to last week’s scintillating rumor about the Bulls going after Rudy Gobert. Nobody really committing to there being much, but it’s not going away either.
Jake Fischer at Bleacher Report is a one-man rumor mill this summer, and had the initial report. There was a brief stir earlier this week, somehow, when a Twitter thief relayed something that a gambling site blogger said on a fan podcast. Marc Stein at first was on the hot mic saying that while Gobert may not be traded at all, if he’s traded it’ll be to the Bulls. But then walked it back in digital print saying it was the Bulls who had ‘reservations’ about such a move.
Then our ol’ faithful bucket of cold water, KC Johnson at the team-owned media partner (and sponsored by an insurance company, which I can’t judge) had sources say it all was ‘overstated’.
First reaction: at least the Bulls are now mentioned as ‘suitors’ for big time players on the move. That’s fun, and I get why it’s something for fans to talk about.
But this is not happening.
And we can all speculate that it’s because of the trade package, and evaluate Gobert with the Jazz, and speculate how he’d fit on this Bulls starting lineup. Even dredge up conversations about Patrick Williams’s upside and why he shouldn’t be included in any trade.
But there is one reason why the Bulls would not trade for Rudy Gobert:
$38,172,414 / $41,000,000 / $43,827,586 / $46,655,172
That’s Gobert’s remaining salary starting next season, with the last figure being a player option that he’s very likely picking up when he’ll be 33 years old.
Meanwhile, the guy he’d be replacing in the lineup and on the payroll, Nikola Vucevic, is only making $22M on the last year of his contract. Part of the reason the Bulls were so aggressive in trading for Vuc in the first place was because of the contract he was on. An All-Star player for a starter-level price.
This was a factor because the Chicago Bulls are a franchise on a budget. And though management has been similarly aggressive since that initial Vuc trade in adding talent, they have stayed within that budget. Even last year, they balked at an addition for multi-year salary in the Markkanen sign-and-trade and made no similar additions at the trade deadline for budgetary reasons.
Heck I consider it still a question of whether the Bulls will make a full five-year maximum contract offer to Zach LaVine, or if they do immediately figure they’re going to immediatly shed payroll elsewhere. So no I don’t think they are going to pay $16M more at the center position next year. They are not going to have a ‘big three’ of LaVine, Gobert, and DeMar DeRozan all making greater than $27M next season and none of them being what you’d call highest profile STARS.
I won’t bother to do the math, but adding Gobert and re-signing LaVine will put them into the luxury tax. And despite what they claim or what KC says they claim, history suggests the Chicago Bulls will not pay the luxury tax. And even if they do, it’ll only be after the team has already established itself as a ‘contender’ (I recall a past interview saying that in ownership’s view this means making the conference finals). They are not going to preemptively pay a gigantic payroll with tax penalties for the mere prospect of joining the East’s elite. So we can theorize how a Gobert-anchored Bulls defense would look like on the court and whether that would put them in that class, but it wouldn’t be a guarantee, and the Bulls aren’t going to pay for a non-guarantee .
In short, they are not the Golden State Warriors. Who, yes, have a historically-great player you’d more easily build around, but also committed a huge outlay in contracts even when they knew they weren’t competing (when Klay Thompson was injured). They kept high payroll ‘slots’ after Kevin Durant’s departure, which allowed them to upgrade as well as paper about mistakes with brute force of money.
(Contrast that to how the Bulls behaved ‘when Derrick got hurt, which was tough for us’.)
Speaking of Durant, our pal Ricky was daydreaming over the prospect of him forcing his way out of Brooklyn and the Bulls being a destination. This kind of path could be made easier after getting Gobert. Instead of waiting for a Friedell-ian over-the-top move, make upgrades where you can and then it’s easier to make the big upgrade.
But the Bulls don’t have the stomach or foresight for this. It’s been refreshing to have a front office that is creative and looks to add talent, but there is still the same ownership limitation. I think they’d actually go into the tax if it was for a superduperstar like Durant, even without that mentioned guarantee of on-court success. But they will not spend that much more money to simply get incrementally better and put themselves in a better position to get someone like Durant.
Later in KC’s piece, and remember he certainly ‘has knowledge of the Bulls thinking’ (though less so in the AKME era), it’s plain:
With so much draft capital expanded to land Vučević and DeRozan, the importance of adding contributors on rookie-scale contracts is legitimate. The Bulls may not be one player away from winning the Eastern Conference.
See, while it’s fun to entertain thoughts of them being in the thick of the hottest trade rumors, that’s the Bulls I know.