This season, Kris Dunn became a pick-pocket master, fighting for the league-lead in steals while transforming himself from an afterthought in the Bulls organization to one of the most pivotal role players on the roster. And with this newfound success, Dunn created one of the Bulls biggest questions of the offseason: What do they do with him now?
As you may recall, Dunn will be a restricted free agent at the end of this season, which means if he declines the Bulls qualifying offer (more on that in a second), he’ll be allowed to test the free agent market and potentially leave Chicago. Meanwhile, the Bulls will preserve the right to bring him back by matching the highest offer he receives.
Prior to the hiatus, the probability of Dunn finding an offer elsewhere that exceeded what the Bulls were willing to match felt quite likely. But thanks to a league shutdown (which comes with all sorts of financial uncertainty) and an unexpected increase in his cap number, his future may have changed.
Let’s start with the latter point first, because that’s the big news of the day:
The Qualifying Offer for Kris Dunn is now $7.1M (instead of $4.6M). Dunn was injured in late January and was at risk of falling short of the starter criteria in his contract (avg. of 41 starts over 2 years). The criteria was prorated from 41 to 36.75- Dunn averaged 38 games.
— Bobby Marks (@BobbyMarks42) June 23, 2020
When Dunn suffered a season-ending knee injury on January 31st, it looked as though he’d fall several games short of landing a larger qualifying offer (he needed to average 41 starts over two seasons, but average only 38). However, thanks to a wonky season, that number has been prorated down to 36.75.
Voila. Great news for Dunn … not so much for the Bulls.
Of course, Chicago could always say “no thanks,” and let Dunn walk away, but considering his recent performance and the underwhelming 2020 free-agent class, I have to imagine they’ll extend the qualifying offer. More to the point, while Dunn was likely going to decline a $4.6M QO in hopes of a better deal elsewhere, a $7.1M deal is obviously a different proposition. And that’s not even considering the broader financial environment. Which we’ll get to now.
When the Bulls offer was lower and the free agent market (and broader economy) was more typical, Dunn probably felt secure in testing the free agent waters for more money. But if we were skeptical about whether teams would spend money on a defensive specialist before, we’re VERY skeptical of it now. Put simply, I believe that almost every team in every sport is about to engage in a massive spending contraction here in the short-term. That’s just the reality – and the severity – of what just happened to our world.
So would I be surprised if a contender swooped in to flaunt long term security on what would be a “bargain” deal for them? No. That could happen. But do I think Dunn might prefer the security of a newly improved (by $2.5M) qualifying offer for the 2020-2021 season, during which he can reaffirm his defensive prowess, improve his offensive numbers, and re-enter the market at a more stable, secure time? Uh. Yeah.
The salary cap will still feel the effects of this pandemic beyond this offseason, but the 2021 free agency is still going to be a deal-fest. Many teams, including the Bulls, are in line to have a greater ability to spend, and Dunn may want to dress up and join that party.
Not to mention, with new leadership at the top and (probably) a new coach courtside, Dunn may come into his own next season – the Bulls may not have known what he could do going into this year, but now they know how best to use him.
Perhaps that leads to the best-case scenario for both sides.
Michael Cerami contributed to this post.