Bulls Big Man Planned to Join Luka Doncic, Mavericks in Free Agency

Chicago Bulls

Getty Luka Doncic #77 of the Dallas Mavericks.

The Chicago Bulls came close to losing one of their key free agents this offseason.

Andre Drummond defied expectations Thursday and exercised his $3.4 million player option to stay with Chicago,” wrote Marc Stein of The Stein Line on June 30. “The problem for Drummond: His projected preferred landing spot in Dallas does not currently have an opening at center.”

This comes just one day after Stein reported that Drummond was expected to go back on his word and opt out of the final year of his two-year, $6.5 million contract to join the Dallas Mavericks.

“Multiple rival teams have told me this week that they expect Dallas to come to terms early in free agency with former All-Star center Andre Drummond,” Stein wrote on June 29. “Provided Drummond, as expected, declines his $3.36 million player option.”

Drummond, 29, would have slotted in somewhere alongside one-time Bulls trade target Richaun Holmes and rookie Dereck Lively II.

Holmes, 29, has far less starting experience and Lively is a rookie.

Stein would later add the caveat that Dallas’ interest in Drummond “would be dependent” on a trade that has yet to take place.

Drummond would have been going back on his comments made not long ago about returning to Chicago next season which would mean accepting his player option and finishing out his contract with the Bulls. But Drummond left himself just enough wiggle room in those remarks that this would not have been a major surprise.

“As of now, that’s what my plan is – unless something comes up,” Drummond said on the ‘Paper Route’ podcast on June 6. “But I think, where I’m at now today and how I feel, I really love being in Chicago.”

“If Dallas ends up trading Holmes elsewhere in July…that might have opened up a slot for Drummond,” Stein continued in his latest report. “But…the former Pistons All-Star wasn’t going to walk away from his guaranteed money in Chicago and proceed to free agency without assurances that there would be a job waiting in North Texas.”

Drummond averaged 6.0 points and 6.6 rebounds in the fewest minutes of his career in ‘22-’23 and still planned to return. But, if he was indeed expected to opt-out, then something must have changed and it could be that the Bulls agreed with starting center Nikola Vucevic on a new three-year, $60 million contract.

Drummond was always expected to return as Vucevic’s backup but, perhaps, the possibility the latter could leave as an unrestricted free agent made staying seem more appealing.

With both returning, it’s one less thing the Bulls have to worry about this offseason.

Bulls Could Poach Mavericks’ Free Agent

In the initial report, Stein noted that big man Christian Wood is “out of Dallas’ plans” which could present the Bulls with an opportunity. Wood, 27, averaged 16.6 points and 7.3 rebounds and shot 37.5% from beyond the arc this past season.

He also dished out 1.8 assists and block 1.1 shots per game, highlighting his niche two-way potential.

While he is far from a good defender, his ability to protect the rim as a help defender could do wonders for Vucevic down low given the Bulls’ ability to disrupt things at the point of attack with 2023 All-Defense First Teamer Alex Caruso and Ayo Dosunmu in the backcourt and Patrick Williams on the wing.

It could be a rare occurrence to have all three on the floor alongside Vucevic and Wood at the same time, especially with head coach Billy Donovan’s proclivity for smaller, guard-heavy lineups.

Coming off a three-year, $41 million contract, he could be just within the Bulls’ price range.

But there will be competition with Yahoo Sports NBA insider Jake Fischer reporting the Miami Heat have an interest in Wood.

It could come down to the chance at winning (and locale) since the Bulls have the ability to offer the full non-taxpayer mid-level exception ($12.4 million) while Miami will only have the $5 million taxpayer mid-level exception at their disposal. The only question then would be whether or not the Bulls would use the full MLE on Wood and go into the tax to start the season.

Derrick Jones Jr. Did It First

Drummond’s decision might be a bit surprising but it would not even be the first time it will have happened to the Bulls this offseason. Forward Derrick Jones Jr. also claimed he was planning on picking up his $3.3 million player option for next season.

He reversed course just three days later, helping force the Bulls’ hand on draft night.

Even if neither Drummond nor Jones seemed essential to the Bulls’ operation last season, their potential departures of both would have created new roster voids that must be addressed.

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