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One of the biggest decisions facing the Chicago Bulls this coming offseason is what to do with backup center Omer Asik. The Turkish big man is a restricted free agent, and thanks to his ability to rebound and defend the rim, he’s in line for a significant raise. We all know that quality big men come at a premium in the NBA, which helps explain why a limited offensive player like DeAndre Jordan got a four-year, $43 million contract from the Los Angeles Clippers last offseason.
I’m sure there are already several teams eyeing Asik that will be prepared to submit a lucrative offer sheet to the 25-year-old. The Bulls can match any offer sheet using the Early Bird Exception, and somewhat luckily for them, Asik’s status as an “Early Bird” free agent (typically second round picks on two-year rookie deals) limits what other teams can offer, at least in the first two years of the deal. This is due to a rule in the CBA called the “Gilbert Arenas” provision.
The rule is kind of complicated. Basically, the most Asik can be offered in the first year of a new deal is $5.0 million, which is the same as the Non-Taxpayer Mid-Level Exception. The second year of the deal is limited to the standard 4.5 percent raise, which in this case would be $5.225 million. Then it gets tricky. The third and fourth years of the deal are allowed to be much higher, and a team under the cap could offer this type of backloaded deal as long as the average salary throughout the duration of the contract can fit under that team’s cap. So while the Bulls would only be paying around $5 million in the first few years of a deal if they matched, they could possibly be staring at a near double-digit figure in the later years of the deal if some team is willing to shell out that type of cash. And as I mentioned before, some team may be fine with doing just that because of the dearth of real quality bigs in the league.
So what should the Bulls do?
If Asik’s offer is limited to a regular MLE-type deal (four-years, $20ish million), I guess I could stomach the Bulls matching it. The way the Bulls are currently constructed, I’m not crazy about spending this type of money on a backup center that offers very little on the offensive end besides rebounding and setting solid screens, but he changes the game enough defensively that matching this kind of deal may be warranted. Still, if the Bulls re-sign Asik this year and Taj Gibson next offseason, they may be hamstrung in terms of improving the team offensively until both Carlos Boozer is amnestied and Luol Deng’s contract runs out (unless of course, a Deng or Joakim Noah trade is made that brings back an offensive upgrade). But again, even if that kind of deal does not happen, I think I could deal with matching a MLE deal for Asik (and the Bulls likely would do just that).
Now, if Asik is offered a heavily backloaded deal, I really do not think I could justify hanging onto him unless there are definite plans to make a trade down the road. Yes, the Bulls’ cap situation could be cleared up a bit by the time that expensive third year kicks in, but even so, they cannot afford to be paying upwards of $20 million to two defensive specialists at center. The only way this would really work (read: win a title) is if the Bulls landed another bona fide superstar to go along with Derrick Rose. And that might not even be possible even if Deng and Boozer are off the books. So if the Bulls actually want to keep Asik at that high a price, a trade of Noah would pretty much have to happen.
Of course, letting Asik simply walk would be incredibly stupid, because you should not allow an asset like that to get away without getting anything in return. So going the sign-and-trade route would certainly seem like a decent play. The quality of asset the Bulls would get in return would depend on the team that Asik signs an offer sheet with, but if anything, perhaps the Bulls would be able to receive a cheap replacement/expiring deal that would set them up with more flexibility in future offseasons.
When it comes down to it, Omer Asik is a luxury. The Bulls already have a borderline All-Star quality center, so while having Asik around would be great, it’s not a necessity, especially if he comes with a high price tag. I would love to see Asik blossom into an excellent player in a Bulls uniform, but not if it hinders Chicago’s flexibility in putting together a championship caliber roster. If Asik and the Bulls end up parting ways, I’m sure a somewhat suitable (and cheaper) replacement could be found.