The most recent hot NBA trade rumor came courtesy of Marc Stein on Thursday, as the ESPN scribe dropped the bomb that the Chicago Bulls and Toronto Raptors had had "exploratory" talks regarding a potential swap of Carlos Boozer and Andrea Bargnani.
The Raptors have been shopping the underwhelming Bargnani for a while, but K.C. Johnson of the Chicago Tribune reported that it was the Bulls who initiated the talks. Johnson said that while the discussions are currently not active because Toronto is hesitant to take on Boozer's remaining salary, they could be reopened and may possibly expand to include Nate Robinson and John Lucas III.
Looking at this potential trade on the surface, it would seem like a pretty bad one for the Bulls. While Boozer has certainly not lived up to his bloated contract in Chicago, he has had some moments of brilliance this season. He's still one of the NBA's better rebounders and could be a solid pick-and-roll partner for Derrick Rose who will return from an ACL injury in the very near future. The Bulls have generally been better with Taj Gibson on the court over the past few years, but Boozer does have some value to the team.
Meanwhile, Bargnani has been mostly a disaster the last couple of seasons, which is why the Raptors are shopping him so hard. He still does have some scoring ability, but is injury-prone, can't rebound and his defense is arguably more non-existent than Boozer's. While the Bulls could use some three-point shooting, it's not like Bargnani has actually shot the ball well from distance in recent years.
Not only does the Boozer-Bargnani swap appear to make the Bulls worse, but the Robinson-Lucas one clearly does. Lucas did do some nice things in Chicago last season, but Robinson has been an even bigger spark off the bench this year. Robinson leads the Bulls in bench scoring at nearly 12 points per game and has recently filled in very admirably for the oft-injured Kirk Hinrich.
So why would the Bulls make this trade?
Well, considering it's the Bulls we're talking about, it of course has to do with the finances. Bulls owner Jerry Reinsdorf has never paid the luxury tax, and although the team is currently set to do so this year, this move would get them under it once again. The Bulls are currently just under $74 million in payroll, so the $5 million difference between Boozer's contract ($15 million) and Bargnani's ($10 million) would help them dodge the tax.
The problem here is that while the Bulls would avoid the luxury tax this season, they would then likely be stuck with Bargnani through 2014-15. He's slated to earn $10.75 million next year and then has an $11.5 million ETO for 2014-15. Unless he has some sort of huge resurgence, there's little chance of him opting out of that contract. And because you can't amnesty a traded contract, that option is out the window.
The relevance of this is that the Bulls have seemingly targeted the summer of 2014 as a chance to have some cap space to make a splash in free agency. That offseason, Luol Deng's contract comes off the books and, if Boozer were to still be around, the popular notion was that he would get the amnesty ax. While amnesty certainly looks like the logical play for the Bulls in terms of getting rid of Boozer, you have to consider the fact that Reinsdorf probably does not want to pay the big man to go away AND then pay another high-priced free agent to come in. Boozer's contract would not count against the team payroll if here were amnestied, but it would still count against the bottom line.
In the words of Boozer himself, "That's all that matters, yo."