D.J. Augustin is a piece the Bulls must retain this summer. Chicago needs a quality backup to their franchise player.
Through his first three seasons, star point guard Derrick Rose missed a total of six regular season games, won the league’s Most Valuable Player Award and appeared to be on his way to becoming one of the dominant players of his era. For the Bulls to prioritize a backup point guard then would have been the equivalent of the Baltimore Orioles drafting shortstops out of concern that Cal Ripken was too brittle.
However, by this season’s end, Rose, felled by injuries, will have played in just 49 of the Bulls’ 230 regular season games over his last three seasons.
We are not casting doubt on Rose’s ability to return to full strength next season. But now more than at any point during Rose’s six-year career, the Bulls need the continuity of a viable backup point guard. The good news is that he is on their roster. The eight overall selection of the 2008 draft from Texas, Augustin joined the Bulls on December 13, 2013 after being jettisoned by the Toronto Raptors after a forgettable ten-game stint. He had spent four seasons with the Charlotte Bobcats, who drafted him, and played last season with the Indiana Pacers.
When he joined the Bulls, the team was languishing with an 8-12 record. While his debut coincided with the return of shooting guard Jimmy Butler from injury, Augustin’s positive impact cannot be overstated: the Bulls are 13-8 in the 21 games he has played. He is shooting 43.3% from the field as a Bull, and his 41.7% rate from three-point range would rank in the top ten in the league if he qualified. As a Bull, he is averaging 6.1 assists per game, and his Bulls’ 2.9 assist/turnover ratio would rank thirteenth. He is also averaging 1.2 steals and shooting a Mark-Price like 92.6% from the free-throw line. Hidden beneath his 13.o per-game scoring average are a number of clutch baskets.
Since Rose suffered a torn ACL to his left knee in the opening round of the 2012 playoffs, the Bulls have prioritized adding depth to the point guard position. That summer, they signed Kirk Hinrich and drafted Marquis Teague with the objective of both backing up Rose when he returned, Hinrich short term and Teague long term, and both playing in the same backcourt with Rose to reduce his ball handling responsibilities. Hinrich, 33 and a free agent at season’s end, has missed 28 games and counting the last two seasons and is shooting a career low from the field and three-point range. Teague was dealt to the Brooklyn Nets last week after a frustrating Bulls tenure.
Whether it was financially viable last season to retain fan favorite point guard Nate Robinson is debatable. The Bulls already had Rose, Hinrich and Teague under contract, and the team was over the salary cap and facing stiff luxury tax penalties (which they have subsequently escaped by trading Luol Deng). Instead of creating excessive duplication at the point guard position, they chose to use their tax-payer’s cap exception on small forward Mike Dunleavy and to allow Robinson to leave for a more lucrative contract.
This offseason will be different, as the Bulls cannot let Augustin slip from their grasp. The Teague trade will save the Bulls approximately $600,000 on next year’s salary cap. As we discussed last week, if they apply the amnesty provision to forward Carlos Boozer, the Bulls payroll will be roughly $47.5 entering this summer. The salary cap for next season is expected to be $62.1 million. Deducted from the Bulls’ $14.6 million of cap space would be any bonus money they would pay toward European sensation Nikola Mirotic’s buyout and the first year salaries of any of their draft picks (barring trades the Bulls could have anywhere from one to three first round selections).
Thus, the Bulls should have $8-12 million of cap space to offer Augustin a two- or three-year deal North of $2 million annually.
Why would Augustin re-sign with the Bulls to be Rose’s backup (assuming the Bulls divide their cap space among several players and not a single superstar)? Coming off three injury-marred seasons, Rose is likely to see his minutes restricted next season, allowing Augustin to gain consistent playing time as his backup. Further, if the plan was to play Rose off the ball more after his first knee injury in 2012, that plan will likely be prioritized even more resolutely following his second season-ending knee injury, this one to his right meniscus. Thus, Augustin would almost certainly garner additional minutes playing beside Rose in the same backcourt.
There are two market forces that will likely make Augustin more amenable to re-signing with the Bulls. Our study of NBA rosters and player contracts indicates that there is not a single NBA team that does not have a point guard, and in most cases two, signed through next season or beyond. We are including Steve Nash with the Los Angeles Lakers and Victor Oladipo, whom the Magic have been trying to convert to a point guard after he played off the ball in college, with Orlando. Barring trades, it does not appear there will be any starting point guard jobs available to Augustin in the free agent market.
Moreover, there are a slew of point guards, like Augustin, who can become unrestricted free agents this summer, including Rodney Stuckey, Mario Chalmers, Ramon Sessions, Luke Ridnour, Devin Harris and Beno Udrih. Augustin will not be in a position to drive up his asking price among point guards looking for backup duties.
Finally, after an epic flameout with Toronto earlier this season and achieving success in the Bulls’ system, Augustin has every incentive to remain in Chicago and create career stability. Augustin has the potential to not only become the Bulls’ answer as a backup point guard but to become another critical piece to a young veteran core. The Bulls must retain the gritty veteran this offseason.