After determining Nikola Vucevic’s potential future with the Chicago Bulls, next on the list of important dominos is Coby White.
Unlike Vucevic, White had a down year across the statistical boards, but career-lows of 9.7 points, 2.9 rebounds and 2.8 assists per game don’t tell the full story. White averaged career highs on two-pointers (54 percent), True Shooting percentage (57.2 percent) and Effective Field Goal Percentage (55.1 percent), while keeping his three-point and free throw percentages above his career averages. White took steps forward as a decision maker and defender, evidenced by his career-highs in steal percentage and defensive box plus-minus.
For all the improvements that he made, the discourse about White becoming the starting point guard might be a stretch. Why take him out of a role that finally got the most of his abilities just to put him into a role in which he has already struggled?
“I think I’m just a guard. I can play on the ball. I can play off the ball. I can do a lot of different things and I take pride in being versatile in that aspect,” White said at his exit interview. “I don’t really look at myself as a traditional point guard. I don’t try to be that.”
By his own admission, White does not profile as a traditional point guard, and that is exactly why he found success this season. Instead of focusing on organizing the floor, setting up the offense and creating looks for everyone else, he instead, he got to play off his own shot, whether that meant scoring for himself or taking advantage of the attention he drew as a scorer to make the right read.
The Bulls must continue to put him in the best position to succeed — that means paying him to grow into a high-level third guard, rather than a lower-level starting point guard.
With that in mind, here is the market for similar third guard types around the rest of the league. It’s not all apples-to-apples. Some are more pure point guards and some are pure shooters. The age range is quite large. But relatively speaking, the average market is $11 million annually.
The Bulls will likely play White’s restricted free agency the way they did Lauri Markkanen’s. That means letting other teams set his market value and matching an offer that is fair or negotiating a sign-and-trade for an over-eager team seeking his services.
Using Stephen Noh’s simple salary projection model, which factors projected games played, minutes per game and EPM, while adjusting for salary cap inflation, White’s projected annual value is $14.7 million. That puts him on the high end of players in his archetypal range, and on the very high end of where the Bulls should feel comfortable re-signing him. Maybe they can get something done more cheaply if they skip the restricted free agency song and dance — it only takes one asshole to balloon his value to the point where they would have to let him go.
Their project market value and what the Bulls should pay for Vucevic and White aren’t the same, but using these high end projections of $18.2 million annually for Vucevic and $14.7 million for White, the Bulls would still have work to do.
Assuming they retain Ayo Dosunmu ($2.9 million based on Noh’s tool), and that Andre Drummond and Derrick Jones Jr. opt into their contracts, the Bulls would be left roughly $7.7 million below the luxury tax line with only 11-of-15 (excluding two two-way players) roster spots filled.
This hypothetical scenario does not account for Patrick Beverley’s free agency, the catalyst for the 14-9 finish to the season that management proudly touted during the end of the season press conference.
Though I’m on the record as pro-teardown, the most likely scenario is a re-run. If they’re headed that direction, they need to do everything they can to find help on the margins. That’s why Vucevic and White’s free agencies are so important.
The lower the number they can retain Vucevic and White, the more of the mid-level (estimated $11.37 million) or bi-annual exception (estimated $5.85 million) they can use.
That likely won’t be enough to solve all the Bulls problems, but they need all the help they can get.