Bulls Buyout Signing Comes With Costly Implications: Report

Tristan Thompson

Getty Tristan Thompson reacts during the fourth quarter against the Portland Trail Blazers on October 20.

By signing 2016 NBA champion and veteran big man Tristan Thompson, the Chicago Bulls have confirmed they’re all in on a playoff run, if not also a title chase, this season.

Shams Charania of The Athletic was first with reports of the 30-year old’s intent to sign with the Bulls after reaching a buyout agreement with the Pacers late last week:

Tristan Thompson is averaging 6.3 points and 5.3 rebounds over 34 appearances this season with the Sacramento Kings and most recently the Indiana Pacers.

Thompson’s Bulls Contract

As insider Eric Pincus reported in the aftermath, this addition comes at an above-average price for Chicago:

The bi-annual exception, or BAE, is able to be used by teams who are operating over the cap, oftentimes contenders.

But, as the name suggests, it can only be used once every two years.

With the Thompson signing, the Bulls will now be ineligible to use it in the upcoming offseason, following their inaugural year behind the DeMar DeRozan, Lonzo Ball, Nikola Vucevic, and Zach LaVine core.

It’s a hefty gamble on Chicago’s part given that context, but with how well their season’s going, can you blame them?

Furthermore, it’s likely that the $1-million payday (as Pincus reports) is what it took to beat out Eastern Conference rivals for Tristan Thompson’s services.

The 11-year veteran is an NBA champion, with 83 postseason appearances on his resume. Expect that the Chicago Bulls sold him on their vision of winning another, and a significant role as their backup big.

Because despite Nikola Vucevic’s return to form, there remain some questions about the viability of their frontcourt.

Frontcourt Defense in Chicago

Most numbers support that the biggest hole in this Chicago Bulls defense (excluding the absences of their backcourt tandem Alex Caruso and Lonzo Ball) lies in the frontcourt under the basket.

On the season, opponents are scoring 49.2 points in the paint nightly, which ranks 24th out of the NBA’s 30 teams.

That number climbs to 56.4 (!!!) points per game if you reduce the sample size to 10 games prior to the All-Star break.

And per Cleaning the Glass, with starting center Nikola Vucevic on the floor, opponents are scoring 112 points per 100 possessions, which ranks in the 44th percentile–not good.

But at the same time, starting center Nikola Vucevic’s 107 Defensive Rating this season is the best on the team.

Perhaps the answer lies somewhere in the middle, where Vucevic isn’t playing, and rim protection is left up to the likes of Tony Bradley, or the recently waived Alfonzo McKinnie.

Cleaning the Glass says that the Bulls are a better defensive team with their backup bigs, holding opponents to 108.7 points per 100 possession with Bradley on the floor in 947 possessions this season.

A lot of this will stem from Vucevic’s constant presence along the three-point line, leaving windows within the post without defenders taller than 6-6 or heavier than 225 pounds, like DeMar DeRozan.

Regardless, as the Chicago Bulls weigh their path through the Eastern Conference playoff bracket, it’s clear that they can’t have enough size when facing off against MVP candidates Giannis Antetokounmpo and Joel Embiid.

Tristan Thompson (6-9, 254 pounds) certainly fits that description.

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