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Monday, July 4

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Bulls Thu Jul 02 2015

Bulls Offseason Checklist Nearly Complete

BullsPhewww that was a scary couple of hours. Once the clock struck midnight and the calendar rolled over to July, Chicago Bulls fans waited with bated breath as the NBA free agency period started. The Bulls are usually an aggressive team during the offseason when they have cap space available, but this year they passed over the new options and concentrated on locking up their core and keeping the guys they know.

Jimmy Butler (restricted) and Mike Dunleavy were both free agents coming into the summer and the Bulls made it their number one priority to retain them. The team didn't have to sweat too much as they both verbally agreed to new contracts yesterday, the first day of the free agent negotiation period.

Dunleavy was the first player to agree to a deal, which is valued to be about $14.1 million over three years, with the first two being fully guaranteed. With Derrick Rose, Joakim Noah and Taj Gibson nursing injuries the past, the 34-year-old veteran really stepped up his game. Dunleavy started 63 games, averaged 9.4 points per game and shot .435 from the field. Stats are great and all, but Dunleavy's intangibles are not to be counted out, as he was a leader on the court and was down to scrap with anyone who got in the way. His enthusiasm for his new deal and returning to the club was palpable.

"I'm thrilled to be back. I think it's a really fair deal," he told the Tribune. "I'm looking forward to playing for (new coach Fred Hoiberg) and love our team. I have a great feeling about this group and that's a big reason why I'm back."

Bringing Dunleavy back to the fold was a great move by the Bulls. He finally seemed to gel with the team last year, his scoring and shooting improved as the year went on and having a veteran presence on the court will create a smooth transition for coach Fred Hoiberg. Many critics didn't believe Dunleavy was a lock to come back this year, but the haters we're proven wrong.

Dunleavy's situation was a pretty open and shut case, but the Jimmy Butler signing was a bit more complicated. In only his fourth season, Butler averaged 20 points, 5.8 boards and 38.7 minutes per game. The 25-year-old became a superstar over the course of a season and may have pushed Rose out as the heir apparent in Chicago. Butler's contract drama started in October 2014 when the team put a four-year, $44 million extension on the table. That's a lot of money for anyone, let alone a guy who was looked at as a defense-only player.

Butler passed on that deal, and gambled on himself instead. Throughout the season, the team and Butler made it clear that they wanted to be in business with each other. But as Butler's star rose, fans were starting to get apprehensive. Other teams were starting to notice the phenom's performance and an epic playoff performance only added to his legend.

Teams began to take interest in Butler, even the Los Angeles Lakers. Butler noticed the attention on him and was considering taking his talents to another team. What made Butler's predicament more interesting was what the NBA was going through.

In October 2014, the NBA struck a massive nine-year TV deal with ABC, ESPN and Turner Sports worth $24 billion -- yes billion with a B -- TV deal. Under that deal, which goes into effect during the 2016-2017 season, the two groups will pay the NBA on average almost $2.7 billion per year for exclusive television rights. To put that into perspective, the league was previously only getting about $930 million. That is a huge jump and sent ripple effects throughout the league. The salary cap would increase each year, which means teams could spend more and players would be getting fatter paychecks.

The NHL and NFL each have salary caps, but what the NBA has on their hands is just mind-boggling. The cap is projected to be $67.1 million for the 2015-2016 season and could possibly hit $100 million in the next few years. Teams are now planning their franchises out for the next few years, looking at the new crop of talent who will hit free agency in the future. This new situation also gives smaller market teams a chance to play with the high rollers and enhance their teams by writing bigger checks. But knowing how the NBA has been for the past few years, the Eastern Conference will probably still stink.

This relates to the Butler situation because he could have raked in the big bucks when this new deal would be put in place. By turning down the $44 million offer in 2014, he decided to hedge his bets and see if teams would be willing to give him a huge payday.

By waiting out the season, Butler could have signed a max deal at the end of the 2014-2015 season or go with a one-year deal and then test free agency the following year when the new TV deal goes through. Butler wasn't the only player with green in his eyes and it's hard to fault him for considering going with the short deal. He absolutely destroyed over the past season and if he kept up that same performance during the 2015-2016, he would have been the top free agent in that class.

Thankfully for Chicago and every resident's growing ulcer, Butler decided to stay in the Windy City, verbally agreeing to a five-year, $95 million contract that includes a player option after four seasons. He decided to roll the dice on his chances back in 2014 and his tenacity paid off. Despite rumblings that Butler and Rose are fighting for control of the Bulls' alpha dog status, there should be nothing to worry about. Check for Butler to continue putting up 20 points a game and decompress after a game with some T-Swift.

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