The Chicago Bulls’ second attempt at continuity could be in jeopardy.
“Chicago Bulls forward Derrick Jones Jr. is declining his $3.3 million player option for the 2023-24 season and entering unrestricted free agency,” tweeted NBA insider Shams Charania of The Athletic and Stadium on June 21 citing sources with knowledge of the developing situation.
Jones did leave the slightest crack that he could choose not to pick up his options during an interview with NBC Sports Chicago Bulls insider K.C. Johnson from April 18.
“I’m locked in for two years. I didn’t sign for two years for no reason. So I’m here for two years,” Jones told Johnson. “I just gotta sit down with my agent and talk to him, figure things out. But I don’t see why not. I got no other plans, yet.”
Jones, 26, averaged 5.0 points and 2.4 rebounds this past season, his second with the Bulls.
He made a career-high 64 appearances while shooting 33.8% from deep – also a career-high – this past season. But Jones also saw about three fewer minutes per game compared to last season as Bulls head coach Billy Donovan often chose between him and Andre Drummond at center behind starter Nikola Vucevic depending on the matchup.
Drummond has also said that he would be picking up his option – also worth $3-plus million – but nothing has been made official just yet.
Derrick Jones Jr.’s Decision Helps Bulls’ Books
The day also brought with it news that the salary cap and luxury tax threshold for the 2023-24 season would both be higher than previously estimated with bumps of $2 million and $3 million, respectively. Even with that, the Bulls would have had to thread the needle of bringing back all of their key contributors and avoiding the luxury tax.
This does give them a little more wiggle room to work with.
Chicago currently has roughly $118 million in active payroll on the books for next season after Jones’ decision which could allow them to bring back most if not all of their remaining free agents while still ducking the luxury tax.
The one potential downside is Jones’ was one of the few contracts on the Bulls’ payroll that could be included in a trade to close any potential small salary-matching gap.
Chicago’s payroll is top-heavy which is why they have considered drastic measures.
Bulls Gauging Value of DeMar DeRozan and Zach LaVine
While the Bulls have begun contract negotiations with Vucevic, they have been gauging the value of their two other All-Star players in DeMar DeRozan and Zach LaVine whose on-court fit has belied what both insist is a tight friendship off the court. The Bulls previously held trade talks with the Brooklyn Nets and New York Knicks regarding LaVine, 28, at this year’s trade deadline.
Nothing came to fruition but Joe Cowley of the Chicago Sun-Times notes that those talks were more so “tabled” rather than there being a concrete conclusion.
DeRozan, 33, has not been mentioned as much but is heading into the final year of his contract.
Chicago is more committed to LaVine financially, and their valuation of him has reflected that. DeRozan’s value on and off the court could make him more of an asset to the Bulls than in a trade putting the Bulls’ ability to keep both, add what’s needed, and avoid the tax in focus.