This post will mainly focus on the Bird Exception (yes, named after that Larry Bird) and how it would apply if the Bulls were to make a run at Boogie Cousins. First, a brief synopsis on the salary cap to allow you to follow along:
- League Salary Cap: The salary cap next year for each team is predicted to be at $101 million. I’ll spare you on how this is calculated, but basically, the NBA divides a lotttt of money (“Basketball Related Income” – ticket sales, TV deals, merchandise, League Pass, etc.) pursuant to it’s Collective Bargaining Agreement.
- Max Salaries: This term gets thrown out a lot and is actually misleading. For purposes of this article, I’ll be referring to max salary tiers based on years of service here .
- Team Options: If a player signs a contract that has a team option, the team has the choice to pick up or renounce that option. For example, Mirotic is on a two-year, $27 million dollar deal, with the second year being a team option. The Bulls have a choice to either pick up that option, or let him go (renounce it) – making Mirotic an unrestricted free agent. If the Bulls renounce, the salary that was supposed to go towards Mirotic’s contract will be added to the Bulls cap space. The team cannot negotiate a new contract when picking up the team option (the team is bound to the dollar amount the team option was agreed to), and the team has a deadline for when to pick up the option. Mirotic’s option deadline is on June 29th, 2018.
- Bird Rights/Bird Exception: The whole premise of the Bird Exception is to allow teams to retain their own players who are about hit free agency; even when they don’t have cap space. This exception allows the team to resign the player to his maximum salary, at an extra year with annual raises. Other teams can’t offer this as they don’t have Bird Rights over the player. A team won’t be able to lose it’s prized free agent because of a bidding war, and that’s what makes Bird Rights so important.
A good example to put all of this together (besides the team option part) is the Bulls failed attempt to land Carmelo Anthony in 2014. The Bulls were never in the ballpark with Carmelo financially, as the Knicks had his Bird Rights. The Bulls were limited to offer Anthony a maximum of $96,000,000 over four years, and the Knicks ended up signing Carmelo at $124,000,000 over five years. Nobody is going to leave that much money on the table.
Back to present day, Boogie Cousins is an unrestricted free agent after this seasons, and the Pelicans have his Bird Rights. Building off Danny Leroux’s great work (subscribe to the Athletic if you’re not), let’s say the Bulls keep Mirotic for the year and renounce his team option – this puts the Bulls at around $37,000,000 to play with. So what can the Bulls offer Boogie? I failed business calculus twice in college, so let’s do the math together. Boogie is at 9 years of NBA service, which would put his max offer at 30% of the $101,000,000 salary cap, or $30,300,000. This number fits under the $37,000,000 in the Bulls cap space, but there are two major road blocks: 1) Resigning Zach LaVine and 2) the Pelicans using Boogie’s Bird Rights.
- Although LaVine is a restricted free agent in a market where teams are low on cap space, he’s going to get paid. His number at $9.6 million for next year, but that’s simply his “cap hold”. It’s a book-keeping measure used so teams don’t automatically receive cap space to sign another player, and then resign their own restricted free agent. In other words, that $9.6 million is not the number LaVine will be making next year, it’s just a placeholder. Even though LaVine is coming off an ACL injury, and possibly won’t get that big offer from another team that the Bulls will have to match, I don’t think its far-fetched that LaVine will be making $20 million a year. He’s a major piece of the Bulls rebuild and is turning only 23 years old this March. That would leave $17,000,000 to sign Boogie, and that’s not realistic. That $37,000,000 in cap space if the Bulls renounce Mirotic’s team option is just not enough money for LaVine and Boogie.
But you might know that the Bulls have LaVine’s Bird Rights. If you’re a good student; you might think to yourself that the Bulls can sign Boogie Cousins first, and then resign LaVine and go over the cap using the Bird Exception. However, the Pelicans having Boogie’s Bird Rights is a major roadblock.
- I’ve already explained the importance of Bird Rights above, but lets again put some number to this together. The Bulls hypothetical max offer to Boogie using that $30,3000,000 above would be 4 years/$121,200,000. The Pelicans using the their Bird Rights would be able to offer that extra year at the maximum, which would be 5 years/$151,500,000. That’s over a $30 million dollar difference WITHOUT factoring in his raises. That difference is simply too much to overcome.
So what happens if the Bulls don’t find a trade partner for Mirotic? I have the Bulls at around $28,846,695 if they bring back everyone on their current roster. As I mentioned before, a huge chunk of that would go to resign LaVine, but the Bulls would be wise to use whatever’s remaining to resign Nwaba (who’s an upcoming restricted free agent). He’s a young player who’s a corner three away from being a real force on both ends of the court. The Bulls backup plan of keeping this team intact for next year is a pretty good alternative. The Bulls could ride out that roster for 2018-19, and go into that off-season with big wallets. Robin Lopez, Nikola Mirotic, Justin Holiday would be off the books, and Cameron Payne, Jerian Grant, and Bobby Portis would be restricted free agents. The Bulls would have a better outlook after Year 2 of the rebuild on who to keep and who to let go by then, and then make a run at some big fish. Maybe Klay Thompson can be had with Golden State tied up with their other stars. Who knows? But this off-season, Boogie-to-the-Bulls is just a pipe dream.