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NBA Free Agent Diary: Don’t Look Now, But The Bulls Are Making Some Smart Signings

Keep track of the chaotic NBA offseason with our Free Agency Diary.


The month of July has been interesting in recent years for the Chicago Bulls, and often not in a good way.

Last year, they agreed to a two-year, $40 million contract1 with Jabari Parker, though he didn’t fit well within their roster and he appeared to have few, if any suitors, at that price so late in the summer. (The marriage fizzled quickly, and they dealt him at the trade deadline.) Two years prior, some fans were elated and others were confused when the Bulls closed deals with Rajon Rondo and Chicago native Dwyane Wade, even though signing the former All-Stars ran totally counter to the youth-movement plan the front office had just talked up. (That season had a number of highs and odd lows, eventually resulting in both players — and franchise star Jimmy Butler — leaving the team the following year.)

But for all the well-deserved criticism the Bulls have gotten the past few years, so far the team has made a handful of smart, under-the-radar signings that figure to enhance their talented youngsters.

The three NBA vets they’ve added to the roster through free agency — Thaddeus Young from the Pacers, Tomas Satoransky from the Wizards and Luke Kornet from the Knicks — are all perceived as pretty clear bargains, according to FiveThirtyEight’s CARMELO model, which lays out estimates of what a player should earn in future years based on advanced statistics and aging projections.

We mentioned earlier in the week that the 31-year-old Young, a versatile lefty forward who should immediately help Chicago’s lackluster defense, is projected to produce $5 million more in value than his contract is worth. And the other two newcomers figure to generate an even better return than Young will.

Satoransky filled the team’s obvious need for a starting-caliber point guard, and despite his impressive ability both to finish at the rim and to knock down shots from outside,2 he doesn’t hoard the ball. His incredibly low usage rate of 14 percent is a plus for Chicago, since Zach LaVine and Lauri Markkanen — 24 and 22 years old, respectively — need to keep growing as scorers and playmakers. Satoransky agreed to a deal of three years for $30 million, and our projection model has him generating almost $52 million worth of production over that span.

Kornet should see far less playing time than Satoransky and Young, but he stands a good chance of being productive in his minutes as a backup center. If the Bulls are seeking to pivot into more of a 3-point shooting team (they ranked just 28th in 3-point attempt rate last season) the 7-foot-1 Texas native will help them do that. He launched almost nine threes per 36 minutes last year, the NBA’s second-highest rate among 7-footers who played at least 500 minutes, while hitting 36 percent of them.

Chicago learned the hard way just how productive Kornet can be — the best games of his career came against the Bulls last year. While the exact numbers on Kornet’s two-year deal haven’t been reported yet,3 Chicago figures to get fantastic value here on this contract, too. Our model projects him to give the Bulls about $23 million worth of production over the next two seasons.

The team’s decision to re-sign guard Ryan Arcidiacono looks smart, too. The sure-handed backup, who owned one of the NBA’s healthiest assist-to-turnover ratios last season, was a bright spot as fellow point guard Kris Dunn struggled with health and inconsistency. Arcidiacono is slated to make $9 million over the next three seasons in this new deal. FiveThirtyEight’s CARMELO projections have him being worth closer to $31 million over that span.

Interestingly enough, Chicago’s flurry of value signings comes as ex-Bulls forward Bobby Portis4 joins the Knicks on a two-year, $31 million deal that, according to our site’s model, rates as one of the biggest free-agent overpays of the summer. (The projections really hate Portis’s defense.)

This isn’t to suggest that the Bulls are on track to make a total turnaround this season. The team’s draft pick, Coby White out of North Carolina, may turn out to be good. But in many analysts’ minds — and in our draft projections — there was a pretty clear line of demarcation in talent that came just before Chicago’s pick. And while the organizational turbulence subsided after the odd first week of coach Jim Boylen’s tenure in December, it wasn’t clear why the front office was so quick to hand him the permanent job when it wouldn’t have hurt to consider other candidates for the gig.

Still, for all the gripes fans may have about John Paxson and Gar Forman, this week’s free-agent signings shouldn’t be among them. These new Bulls aren’t stars, and they likely won’t ever be. But Chicago deserves credit for not only signing solid players but also getting them on cost-effective contracts.

Footnotes

  1. Albeit one with a team option in the second season.

  2. He shot almost 44 percent from 3-point range when left wide-open last season.

  3. The Bulls may still be deciding whether to fit him into their cap space as opposed to spending part of their room exception on him.

  4. The team had tried to sign Portis to an extension ahead of last season

Chris Herring is a senior sportswriter for FiveThirtyEight.

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