Friday, July 6, 2007

Bulls Sign Nocioni, What's Next?

The Chicago Bulls announced today that the have resigned Argentinian forward Andres Nocioni to a 5-year deal worth a reported $38 million, with a team option for a 6th year. Nocioni was a restricted free agent, meaning that the Bulls would have had the opportunity to match any offere from another team. The only one with reported interest was Memphis, whose offer was not significantly higher than Chicago's.

With Nocioni now signed to a long term deal, is this a signal that the Bulls are now shopping Luol Deng? Deng has been rumored to be a key piece in the Kevin Garnett sweepstakes, with the Bulls being a frontrunner for the former MVP's services. With extensions expected to be offered Deng and Ben Gordon, who are both heading into the last year of their rookie deals, the Bulls are suddenly looking at a crowded financial situation, given Nocioni's new contract. Starting PG Kirk Hinrich will be paid 11 million for the first season of his own 5-year contract.

The Bulls, who are still looking for offensive firepower, particularly low post scoring, have stayed committed to their young talents just as GM John Paxson said they would. The team, however, is still a player away from being a sure bet in the weak Eastern Conference, after falling to Detroit in 6 in the 2nd round. The team has been rumored to be actively shopping backup PG Chris Duhon, who is slated to make nearly $4 million the next year in the last year of his deal.

While Paxson can count on continued improvement, at least from Deng and Gordon, this latest move is disturbing, given that it would take Nocioni's approval on any sign and trade. His contract, while not over-indulgent, while nontheless be hard to move, unless the Bulls offer young pieces like Tyrus Thomas or Joakim Noah to go with him.

With Nocioni in the fold, now, this does seem like Paxson could be on the verge of making a deal for Garnett or Kobe Bryant, with Deng being the centerpiece. The Bulls simply cannot afford to pay two small forwards upwards of $16 million combined, which is what they are looking at if they want to keep Luol. If this is their plan, they are on the road to becoming the Pistons, a very good team whose starters' high salaries make for a thin bench and playoff meltdowns.

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