While the Chicago Bulls are trying to figure out how to finally conquer the East, it doesn’t hurt thinking about the future, and the possibility of Pau Gasol and Joakim Noah leaving after this season.
Noah, making $13.4 million this season, is a free agent at the end of it. Gasol, making $7.44 million this year has a player option for 2016-2017 worth $7.7 million. It won’t be too surprising to see him opting out considering he’s averaging a double double for a second straight season, and overall has been scoring 17.6 points per game since joining the Bulls, although has dropped to 14.4 this season, playing five less minutes per game.
Gasol won’t talk about his future, obviously saying he’s leaving all the options open, but his main focus is the here and now and trying to win with the Bulls. Noah is an interesting situation. He’s at the end of a big contract, but has turned into a bench player. His injuries and offensive decline last season made Fred Hoiberg think about the lineups he wants, and Noah hasn’t had a problem with playing next to Taj Gibson, even if it means being just 21.6 minutes a game on the floor, scoring just 3.4 points a night.
While it might be the best thing for the Bulls (overall slightly better when he’s playing and not too dependent on him and his defense anymore), there’s Noah to think of. In a contract year, turning from a key player in the lineup to a bench player isn’t the best way of getting more money. Maybe Noah isn’t too worried about that, and maybe he’s thinking what everyone is thinking: The salary cap rise will mean more money for him even if he’s not the same player he was two years ago.
Either way, for the Bulls it’s going to be an interesting summer, with two important players possibly hitting free agency and it’s not easy to replace two quality big men just like that in this league, unless the Bulls are planning on going in a completely different direction pretty soon. Don’t be surprised to see Noah on the trading block as we get closer to the deadline. Maybe the Bulls regret not pulling the trigger on the trade sending him to the Blazers for LaMarcus Aldridge just over a year ago.