At first glance, the Chicago Bulls waiving Erik Murphy yesterday made no sense.
Murphy, like all players after Jan. 10, has a fully guaranteed salary. The Bulls can’t simply choose to remove his contract from their team salary.
And with just 13 players under contract, Chicago didn’t need to clear room to sign a replacement – or even two replacements. The roster spots were open.
So why waive the little-used Murphy? Was he destructive to team chemistry? Did he want a head start on landing another job in a lesser league?
Maybe there was a different reason. Adrian Wojnarowski of Yahoo Sports:
Will be surprising if rookie Erik Murphy, waived by the Chicago Bulls today, goes unclaimed. Around the league, there's interest in him.—
Adrian Wojnarowski (@WojYahooNBA) April 04, 2014
By my calculations, using data from ShamSports.com, the Bulls are $387,299 below the luxury-tax threshold.
If another team claims Murphy off waivers, Chicago would be $877,479 below the tax threshold – a significant difference.
Joakim Noah and Taj Gibson both have incentives classified as unlikely to be achieved, meaning the bonuses, if they’re earned, would cut into the Bulls’ room below the tax line.
Joakim Noah would get $500,000 for making the All-NBA first team. Taj Gibson would get $250,000 for making the All-Defensive second team or $500,000 for making the All-Defensive first team.
So, I’d think, when possible, the Bulls will leave room to handle the bonuses without paying the tax.
If nobody claims Murphy, the Bulls are right where they started. They could sign two players for the rest of the season and still have room to absorb Gibson’s $250,000 bonus and not pay the tax. (Not signing anyone wouldn’t give Chicago room to absorb either $500,000 bonus.)
If someone claims Murphy, the Bulls could sign minimum-salary players for up to 24 days of service and still have a $750,000 buffer under the tax line. Chicago could sign one player today for the rest of the season and then another player Sunday for the season. Or Chicago could sign three players any time after Wednesday for the rest of the season. Or Chicago could dole out those 24 days in any combinations. The Bulls would have more options and more leeway to handle Noah and/or Gibson getting bonuses.
And whom might the Bulls target in free agency?
Aggrey Sam of CSN Chicago:
A familiar face, veteran swingman Ronnie Brewer, worked out Thursday at the Berto Center, according to a league source, and could be signed by the Bulls in the near future.
K.C. Johnson of the Chicago Tribune:
The Bulls have held discussions about re-signing veterans Mike James and Ronnie Brewer, sources said.
Brewer played for the Bulls in 2010-11 and 2011-12. Since, the the 29-year-old wing has bounced between the Knicks, Thunder and Rockets.
James began the season with the Bulls, was waived and then returned on a 10-day contract.
These are both players Chicago familiar with and presumably like.
More importantly for the Bulls is another team liking Murphy and taking him off their hands.
Murphy, a 6-foot-10 stretch four from Florida, was the No. 49 pick in last year’s draft. He didn’t play much in Chicago, but as Wojnarowski says, there could be a few teams who like him.
Though Murphy isn’t eligible for the playoffs, a claiming team would get dibs on him for next season. His 2014-15 salary is partially guaranteed – becoming $100,000 guaranteed Aug. 2 and $200,000 guaranteed Nov. 2 – so it would be easy to waive him during the offseason if his new team ultimately decides to free cap room this summer.
Murphy would be a low-risk addition for a number of teams, and if any of them take that chance, it would be a high-reward play for the Bulls.