As Bulls watch, NBA waits for big decisions from James, Spurs

 
 
Updated 6/29/2018 4:09 PM
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  • Now that LeBron James has declined his option and will become a free agent, the NBA world waits to see whether he'll return to Cleveland or join a new team.

    Now that LeBron James has declined his option and will become a free agent, the NBA world waits to see whether he'll return to Cleveland or join a new team. Associated Press/2018 file

The main storylines when NBA free-agency begins at midnight Saturday are whether LeBron James and Kawhi Leonard can connect, and if the Los Angeles Lakers can create the next superteam.

The Bulls don't figure to be buyers in free-agency and will be on the outside waiting. They have the cap room to facilitate moves for other teams, but will be very picky.

Re-signing their two restricted free agents, Zach LaVine and David Nwaba, will top the Bulls' to-do list. A year ago, the Bulls moved quickly to secure backup center Cristiano Felicio to a four-year deal worth $32 million, a contract that now looks regrettable.

So they'll probably take their time with LaVine and Nwaba, knowing the market will move slowly while everyone waits to see if James will change teams and whether San Antonio will agree to Leonard's trade request.

It's difficult to imagine another team targeting LaVine with a huge offer sheet. The feeling here is a deal in the neighborhood of $20 million per year will get it done. But the Bulls may start lower, since LaVine still has to prove he's a franchise-caliber player.

Nwaba could get some interest, but it's unlikely he would get an offer sheet the Bulls are unwilling to match. He was valuable last season, but is limited by his size (6-foot-4) and inconsistent outside shot.

At the top of the list, no one really expects Kevin Durant to leave Golden State or Chris Paul to leave Houston. So James and Spurs general manager R.C. Buford are the primary decision-makers. Here are some possibilities:

• The Lakers use their collection of young talent -- Brandon Ingram, Lonzo Ball, Kyle Kuzma and Julius Randle (a restricted FA) -- to pry Leonard from San Antonio and then sign James as a free agent.

If Ingram and Ball go to the Spurs, the Lakers would be close to being able to add two high-priced free agents without unloading Luol Deng's unsightly contract (two years, $36 million). In that scenario, the Lakers would need some veteran role players to accept low salaries to fill out the roster.

• Paul George, in theory, would be the third piece to the Lakers' superteam. If that doesn't work out, there has been talk George is comfortable staying in Oklahoma City.

• Philadelphia could get involved, using Markelle Fultz and Dario Saric to lure Leonard. The Sixers are one of the only playoff teams with the cap space to make a run at James. A lineup of James, Leonard, Ben Simmons and Joel Embiid could be impressive. The Sixers may also make a run at George.

• Boston has plenty of pieces to offer in a trade for Leonard, but no cap space. Reeling in both Leonard and James is a long shot. Miami has also been mentioned as a contender, but Miami has some bad contracts, mainly center Hassan Whiteside, which would made a deal difficult.

• NBA observers are assuming James is ready to leave Cleveland, citing the Cavs' declining roster and his relationship with owner Dan Gilbert as reasons. But it's possible he could decide to stay, so his family won't have to move.

The best chance for the Bulls to get involved would probably be if the Lakers get desperate to unload Deng's contract. The Bulls might be interested if they can land one of the Lakers' young players, such as Kuzma. But if the Lakers' primary focus is a Leonard trade, they may not need to clear salary.

Bulls vice president John Paxson said the Bulls could get involved in free-agency if they see good value. Their roster is already full, so it's difficult to imagine a scenario that would interest them, unless they decide to move on from LaVine. Look for the Bulls to save their cap space for 2019.

• Twitter: @McGrawDHBulls

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