With two days remaining before the NBA trade deadline strikes, it appears the most abundant commodity on the market is bad contracts.
The league is full of teams that want to unload expensive deals — many signed during the cap-rising summer of 2016 — to clear future cap space or avoid a luxury-tax bill this year.
Tough sell: NBA littered with bad contracts
Here are some of the contracts NBA teams are trying to unload before Thursday’s trade deadline. Figures reflect total money owed beyond this season:
Player, Team Contract
Nic Batum, Charlotte 3 years, $76.6 million
Chandler Parsons, Memphis 2 years, $49.2 million
Joakim Noah, New York 2 years, $37.8 million
Luol Deng, L.A. Lakers 2 years, $36.8 million
Evan Turner, Portland 2 years, $36.5 million
Ian Mahinmi, Washington 2 years, $31.3 million
Marvin Williams, Charlotte 2 years, $29.1 million
Mason Plumlee, Denver 2 years, $27 million
Solomon Hill, New Orleans 2 years, $26 million
P.J. Tucker, Houston 3 years, $24 million
Dwight Howard, Charlotte 1 year, $23.8 million
Mo Harkless, Portland 2 years, $22.3 million
Meyers Leonard, Portland 2 years, $21.9 million
John Henson, Milwaukee 2 years, $20.3 million
Matthew Dellavedova, Milwaukee 2 years, $19.2 million
J.R. Smith, Cleveland 2 years, $18.6 million
Iman Shumpert, Cleveland 1 year, $11 million
Cleveland is one example. The Cavaliers need help, having gone 6-12 since edging the Bulls on Dec. 21. But the Cavs don’t have much to offer beyond an injured Kevin Love and players on bad contracts. Tristan Thompson is owed $36 million over the next two years. J.R. Smith isn’t fully guaranteed for 2019-20, but still has $18.6 million left on his deal. Iman Shumpert has a player option worth $11 million next year.
The desire to get out of bad contracts could have an impact on the Bulls in a number of ways.
• Keep in mind, it took the team’s leading scorer (Nikola Mirotic) plus absorbing the $14.2 million left on Omer Asik’s deal, for the Bulls to wrangle a midrange first-round pick from New Orleans.
Landing another first-rounder with leftovers on their current roster won’t be easy, especially with Robin Lopez on the books for $14.3 million next season. The market for a center who doesn’t shoot 3-pointers is slim. Milwaukee was looking for inside help and added Tyler Zeller from Brooklyn on Monday. Washington is reportedly shopping Marcin Gortat.
Anything’s possible, but it seems like the Bulls’ best move is to keep Lopez and try again next year when he’s on an expiring deal. Justin Holiday and Jerian Grant likely won’t bring first-rounders in return. The Bulls may try another disappointing prospect swap, like they did with Tony Snell and Doug McDermott.
• The Bulls have scanned the log-jammed payrolls of teams such as Portland and Charlotte, and decided that’s not the path to take. So taking on Asik to get another first-rounder is a move that won’t be repeated often, if at all.
Executive vice president John Paxson has talked often about keeping financial flexibility, so the Bulls don’t appear eager for a big contract and aren’t likely to open the wallet this summer in free-agency.
This policy does have an expiration date, however. Even if the Bulls are successful in building through the draft, at some point they’ll need to add a top-line veteran in a trade or free-agency. When Kris Dunn is up for an extension in 2020, that’s when the Bulls’ payroll will begin to grow. To take a step toward championship contention, the Bulls may need to get a star player before then.
• One strategy the Bulls could employ is to sit back and do some bargain shopping. Not many teams will have cap room this summer — thanks to all those bad contracts — so the Bulls may be able to snap up a useful player or two at a good price. The Bulls won’t be a good fit for the biggest stars of free-agency, but could consider the Clippers’ Avery Bradley, Denver’s Will Barton, or Utah’s Rodney Hood, even if they end up trading them later.
• Hood has been mentioned frequently in rumors. The Salt Lake Tribune suggested the Bulls are one of the teams interested, although it would seem like Oklahoma City needs him after losing Andre Roberson. Maybe the Bulls can find a way to snag an asset off a three-way deal.
Hood, 25, is an interesting player. He’s a 6-8 wing, able to play small forward, he’s averaging 16.8 points this season and shooting close to 40 percent from 3-point range. He could be a good fit for the Bulls as a third wing with Zach LaVine and a rookie they theoretically draft this summer.
The downside is Hood has had injury issues, missing 73 games in his four NBA seasons, and he’ll be a restricted free agent this summer. He might be a good guy to have, but at what price? And what would the Bulls need to give up?
Hood and Holiday are a good comparison. Hood is a better shooter and scorer, while Holiday does better at rebounds, assists and most defensive categories. Holiday is locked in for next season at a reasonable $4.4 million, while Hood’s future salary is unknown. If the Bulls traded for Hood now, they could probably count on that bad free-agent market keeping his price down. But this is still a complicated deal unless Utah would do Hood for Holiday.
On Monday, Hood scored 30 points while hitting 12 of 14 shots from the field in a win over New Orleans. The Jazz has won seven in a row, so maybe Utah will stand pat.
• Some of the trade-deadline questions around the league are whether the Cavs can get any help and will the Clippers further dismantle by moving DeAndre Jordan or Lou Williams? Memphis is auctioning off Tyreke Evans, Boston is reportedly willing to part with Marcus Smart. The Lakers have been trying to move Jordan Clarkson and Julius Randle to clear cap space, but an ESPN report suggested the Lakers may wait for 2019 to try to make a splash in free-agency.
Dunn joins Windy City:
There was a positive development Tuesday in Kris Dunn’s recovery. He practiced with the Windy City Bulls, which means he closer to returning from the concussion suffered on Jan. 17 against Golden State. Lauri Markkanen, who missed three games on family leave, and Cam Payne, on his way back from foot surgery, also practiced with Windy City.