I think it’s safe to say we saw this one coming.
Clippers center Isaiah Hartenstein always felt like a potential target for a Bulls team craving more positional size, and he became more obtainable on Monday night.
As the Houston Rockets finally reached a buyout with five-time All-Star John Wall, the Clippers quickly emerged as the team more likely to sign Wall to a fresh deal in free agency. With that extra roster spot and non-tax-payer MLE expected to land in Wall’s pocket, this immediately shrunk the Clippers’ chance of retaining the big man.
Now, Bleacher Report’s Jake Fischer has officially name-dropped the Bulls as a team who could be interested in the potential backup:
With John Wall likely heading to the Clippers at the taxpayer mid-level, that could leave Isaiah Hartenstein with more lucrative offers, like the non-taxpayer mid-level from Chicago. The Bulls have been linked to various rim-protecting centers, but Chicago is expected to preserve room and not offer the full $10.1 million.
Why would the Bulls be interested in Hartenstein? Well, other than his massive seven-foot-frame, Hartenstein is fresh off a career year where he averaged 8.3 points, 4.9 rebounds, 2.2 assists, and 1.1 blocks per game for a better-than-expected Clippers team.
Hartenstein proved to be one of the better backup options in the league thanks to his versatility and stout presence at the rim. He tied for the team lead in blocks with starting center Ivica Zubac, and he also flashed some impressive offensive rebounding skills with an OREB% that ranked in the NBA’s 89th percentile, per Dunks & Threes.
While Hartenstein may not be the floor-spacer this front office has been drawn to in the past, he does finish efficiently around the rim and projects to be a serviceable roll man for Zach LaVine and DeMar DeRozan. The good news is he’s also just 24 years old, which means we have a real reason to believe last season could be a sign of even better days to come.
The big question is exactly how much Hartenstein will demand in the open market. My best guess is he still comes in below the non-tax-payer MLE … but how far below? Can the Bulls risk giving him the strong majority of it with plenty of other holes to fill on the roster?
If one thing is for sure, I’ll have my eye on the words Fischer chose to use when describing the Bulls’ potential pursuit. The Bleacher Report insider wrote, “Chicago is expected to preserve room and not offer the full $10.1 million.”
On one hand, I read this to mean that Arturas Karnisovas is hoping to spread the money between a couple of offseason acquisitions. On the other hand, it’s hard not to wonder if he means the Bulls are trying to “preserve room” simply to stay under the luxury tax.
Remember: The Bulls have entered the luxury tax only one time in franchise history, so there are real concerns about whether or not the Resindrofs are prepared to do it again this summer to dramatically improve the roster. I’ll keep my fingers crossed.
More conversation on potential free agent centers for the Bulls below: