If only one lesson can be gleaned from the latest rendition of NBA free agency, it's that Daryl Morey will not rest until he drives every last party with a vested interest in the NBA crazy. The Houston Rockets' general manager has dominated the offseason news cycle ever since LeBron James hoisted the Larry O'Brien trophy. He has stockpiled middling draft picks, tried to forge his way into the Dwight Howard sweepstakes and most notably signed restricted free agents Jeremy Lin and Omer Asik to back-loaded deals that will pay each player the equivalent of a maximum contract in the final season of the agreement. The Rockets' chances still look relatively miserable next season, but you can't fault the GM for a lack of creativity. The end game for Houston remains unclear, but one thing is for certain: in the year when "trolling" became a thing, Daryl Morey is doing it better than anyone else. His phasers are permanently stuck to YOLO, and he won't stop until we're all sedated by poison pills.
Morey is technically playing within the boundaries, though not by best practices. To secure the services of Lin, he broke an unspoken rule by changing an informal offer sheet to the one-time Knicks fire-starter during the free agent moratorium period. It worked: New York officially announced it wasn't willing to deal with the hefty luxury tax bill that retaining Lin would have secured, so the 23-year old phenom is off to Houston.
Knicks fans are devastated, and owner James Dolan is getting run through the mud. Over the last decade or so, Knicks basketball has been characterized a fundamental misunderstanding of player value, though it appears this is the one time when caution was not warranted. The Knicks have recently paid the likes of Maurice Taylor, Shannon Anderson, Eddy Curry and Cuttino Mobley more than $8 million per season, but with more punitive luxury tax penalties set to come into play after 2012-2013, they decided they couldn't pony up a similar amount of cash for Lin. They are being ripped from every corner of the press. Knicks basketball has been a vast dystopia for nearly 30 years at this point, but the deflection of Lin at least feels as heavy as the rest of their basketball atrocities combined. The people are not happy.
Now it's the Bulls' turn to decide whether to eat Morey's poison pill, with the offer sheet to Asik likely going official on Friday. Chicago will have three days to make its decision. Make no mistake: this is a nightmare for the Bulls, and whatever they decide to do will be wrong. Chicago is in a no-win situation, and they'll be under same scrutiny as the Knicks from the moment they make a decision, regardless of what it is.
The Bulls have maintained re-signing Asik was their top priority all along, though there's little doubt Morey's offer sheet threw them for a loop. They've reacted to the agreement in just about the most peculiar way possible: by seemingly ignoring it. Chicago has said from the moment the offer sheet was signed that they want to see the deal in their hands before they make a decision. While that's all well and good, the free agent market has been thinned immeasurably as the Bulls sit on their hands. Virtually every decent player is off the board. If Chicago decides to pass on Asik, they'll be ripped for taking so long to make up their mind. They could have been offering the likes of O.J. Mayo or Courtney Lee the full midlevel exception instead of giving Kirk Hinrich the less lucrative tax payer exception. If the Bulls match, they'll be blasted for paying a backup center who can't catch and has no endurance $15 million in 2014-2015, right around the time they could be ready for another title run.
It's a terrible dilemma for the Bulls, one even the most voracious armchair general managers do not envy. A wide variety of Internet polls show Chicago fans overwhelmingly do not want the Bulls to match, but the team's hushed inactivity over the last two weeks hints it might happen. The Bulls -- an ever-strong cash cow of the highest order -- don't even know the right way to be cheap. These are sad times we live in.
Those confused by the Bulls' decidedly underwhelming offseason simply haven't been paying attention to the organization's business practices since Michael Jordan retired after his sixth championship. Don't be fooled by claims of "flexibility": the Bulls are about the bottom line and nothing more. The dissolution of the "Bench Mob" is perhaps the greatest example yet.
The Bulls held very reasonable one-year team options on three key performers over the last two years. Guard C.J. Watson had a $3.2 million option, wings Kyle Korver and Ronnie Brewer were set to make around $5 million. With Derrick Rose gone for most of next season and starting small forward Luol Deng likely out until January thanks to wrist surgery, the Bulls' decision to value money over wins is even more inexcusable. The Bulls weren't creating "flexibility" by passing on a trio of one-year contracts. They were saving luxury tax dollars. For a team that earns far more in operating revenue than every NBA team this side of the Knicks, it's a flat-out embarrassment.
The Bulls have pissed on their fans this offseason, and next year might be unwatchable because of it. Of course, Tom Thibodeau could probably coach Jabari Parker's Simeon High School team to a top-five finish in the Eastern Conference, so even if Chicago wanted to tank, it probably couldn't. The only thing left is a decision on Asik, one that every Bulls fan is dreading. For a team that won more regular season games than any other over the last two years, this swift descent into money-saving mode has been a case study on how owner Jerry Reinsdorf values his basketball team. It isn't pretty.