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Will Jimmy Butler Abandon the Chicago Bulls?

A pair of reports has Chicago Bulls fans worried that Jimmy Butler will leave the Chicago Bulls for the Los Angeles Lakers in his free agent summer. Are these reports valid or are they something that should cause the Windy City Bovines legitimate concern?

The first report regarding Butler and the Los Angeles Lakers came from Adrian Wojnarowski of Yahoo! Sports, who reported:

As Butler spends time in Los Angeles this summer, a stretch that’s included an overseas “Entourage” promotional jaunt with producer Mark Wahlberg, Butler’s intrigue with signing a potential Los Angeles Lakers offer sheet has increased, league sources told Yahoo Sports.

First, it’s cool that Butler is buds with Marky Mark and is a part of this whole Entourage thing. But the Bulls don’t need to worry about the rest of it because of the next paragraph in Wojnarowski’s piece:

Butler has preliminary plans to pursue meetings with several teams once free agency starts in July, sources said. Several teams pursuing Butler told Yahoo Sports that they’re under the impression a short-term, max money offer sheet is the wisest way to approach Butler this summer.

So, the Lakers are a team he’s interested, and he may  look at some other teams, but it’s all moot because Wojnarowski also reports the Bulls are ready to offer Butler a five-year max contract. Butler plans to turn that down and still shop for reasons I’ll clarify in a moment.

However, right now, it’s worth noting because if they’re willing to pay him the max, they’ll certainly pay him less than that. And, since they have the restricted free agent rights to Butler, they can and will match any contract Butler is offered by anyone else.

That means there is a zero-percent chance that Butler is playing for the Lakers or anyone but the Bulls.

So what about the other side of this report that Butler wants a shorter deal? Why is that, and what can the Bulls do about it? Wojnarowski also stated:

Chicago could be faced with Butler’s agents at Relativity Sports, Happy Walters and Steve McCaskill, loading up a short-term offer sheet that includes a trade kicker and the potential loss of Butler to unrestricted free agency in 2017.

The reason that Butler is gunning for a shorter contract and unrestricted free agency in 2017 has nothing to do with the Bulls. A massive new TV deal is going to make contracts explode next summer. If Butler were to take a five-year max contract now, he would make about $90 million over the length of it.

Per Wojnarowski, that could be a $190 million deal in 2017 if the cap goes as high as it’s expected to. That’s 100 million very good reasons to want the shorter deal. By 2020, when the Bulls’ $90 million deal would expire, Butler would’ve made $108 million in this other deal. So, he stands to make $18 million more by turning down the Bulls’ offer.

Remember, though, the $190 million is contingent on him staying with the Bulls. Even if he played somewhere else for two seasons, he wouldn’t have enough time to earn full Bird rights, only Early Bird rights. That would mean he’d be ineligible for the last year of the deal, which would be roughly $42 million.

And at that time, Butler will be a 32-year-old wing, so it’s not likely that someone is going to offer that much money in free agency. That guaranteed money is a huge difference in the contract. Therefore, the Bulls still have a huge advantage to keep Butler in 2017.

The Bulls could force the issue if they chose to do so, by extending what’s called a “Maximum Qualifying Offer” which is a five-year max contract with no options. Per Mark Deeks, writing for HoopsHype.com:,

In this specific example of Butler and the Bulls, that difference is a highly significant one. By extending a Maximum Qualifying Offer, the Bulls can ensure that Butler, if he still chooses to sign with another team, cannot hit the unrestricted free agent market until the summer of 2018, two years after the salary cap has begun the very huge increase he wants so badly to cash in on. Butler is thinking about his next payday, despite not having received the first one yet, because of the potential rewards it may yield. For the same reason, Chicago will not want him to. Using this clause, they can do something about that.

The Bulls could just put a stop to the whole thing by forcing the issue. Butler could turn it down and sign somewhere less. But the Bulls could just match the offer and Butler would still be in and under contract in 2017. He just wouldn’t be very happy about it.

So it’s in the Bulls’ best interest to “Hall Pass” him. Let him go out this summer and sow his free agent oats.

Regardless of how it all shakes out,—if Butler is really looking at the money—he gets the most as an unrestricted free agent with full Bird rights in 2017. The only way he gets that much is to sign a two-year deal now. It doesn’t really matter who he signs it with because the Bulls will still match it and they’ll still have the upper hand to the tune of over $50 million in 2017.

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