With roughly $74 million on the books for the 2012-13 NBA season, the Chicago Bulls have the eighth-highest payroll in the association during the current campaign. That money isn't only used to pay players, though—it can be argued that each dollar is helping to buy a win.
The Los Angeles Lakers have the most expensive roster for 2012-13, spending just over $100 million—well into the luxury tax—on Kobe Bryant, Dwight Howard, Pau Gasol, Steve Nash and the rest of the players who put on purple-and-gold jerseys.
So, let's use the most exorbitant expenditures as a baseline for evaluating the Bulls' expectations.
As of Saturday, Nov. 17, the Lakers were sitting at 4-5, just under .500, making the early results of their first season in the Dwight era rather underwhelming. However, Mike D'Antoni is gearing up for a season with the team, and Steve Nash is still recovering from his leg injury.
Expecting the Lakers to finish the year with a losing record is nonsensical, especially if you're allowing a nine-game sample size to completely change your opinion. That said, the lofty hopes of a 60-win season might have already slipped away, barring an unforeseen sudden turnaround.
I'm going to project the Lakers as finishing the season with a 55-27 record now, meaning that they'll go a stellar 51-22 from this point forward.
In that case, using a simple proportional calculation, the Bulls should be expected to win 41 games and finish the season with a perfectly even 41-41 record. After all, they're paying 74 percent of the money the Lakers are, so they should get 74 percent of the wins. Right?
Well, that's not really how the NBA works.
If you want to make a monetary calculation, it's fine to do so, but only if you're using it as a baseline. You also have to analyze whether players are overpaid or underpaid. Take the Orlando Magic, for example.
Rob Hennigan's team, believe it or not, has the third-largest salary in the league. That's because they're paying Hedo Turkoglu, Jameer Nelson and the recently amnestied Gilbert Arenas a combined $41 million.
Their enormous expenditures aren't exactly an accurate reflection of the squad they put out on the hard court.
As a whole, the Lakers are spending too much money on their players as well, though not nearly to the same extent. They don't have an Arenas.
While no players stand out as extraordinarily undervalued, five players are making more money than they would in a meritocracy. Of course, this is a luxury that a moneymaking machine like the Lakers can afford.
Take Kobe Bryant, for example. Making $27,849,000 during the 2012-13 season, he's being paid over $6 million more than any other player in the NBA.
The Black Mamba is undoubtedly one of the top players in the league—and he's drastically underpaid when you consider the money he makes for the L.A.-based franchise—but he's earning around $10 million too much from a purely basketball standpoint.
Pau Gasol, Metta World Peace, Steve Blake and Chris Duhon are the four other overpaid players, combining to earn roughly $11.5 million too much. Add back in No. 24, and the Lakers are overpaying by approximately $21.5 million, which means that they have $79.5 million of basketball talent helping earn those estimated 55 wins.
So, how about the Bulls?
The situation is complicated by the extended absence of Derrick Rose, whose return date from his ACL injury is still undetermined.
For the sake of the argument, let's assume that the former MVP sees the court for the first time on Feb. 17, an assumption for which I have absolutely zero factual basis. My reasoning is solely derived from the timing, as it's the first home game for the Bulls after the All-Star break and matches up Chicago with the Miami Heat.
That would give Rose 28 games during the regular season, which is 34 percent of the full schedule. So, he should be paid 34 percent of his salary as well for these calculations, which makes him "overpaid" by right around $11 million.
Carlos Boozer (overpaid) and Taj Gibson (underpaid) just about cancel each other out, and Joakim Noah, Kirk Hinrich and Nate Robinson combine to be underpaid by around $4 million. Therefore, a more accurate salary assessment for the Bulls would peg them at approximately $67 million.
If $79.5 million can buy the Lakers 55 wins, $67 million should give Tom Thibodeau's squad 46 victories and a 46-36 regular-season record.
A winning percentage of 0.56 would have put the Bulls into the playoffs during each of the last five seasons. Working forward chronologically from the 2007-08 campaign, they'd have owned the No. 4, No. 5, No. 7, No. 5 and No. 7 seeds.
With the Bulls taking advantage of pushovers early in 2012-13 and falling to the playoff contenders to the tune of a 5-4 record, that's a spot that Bulls fans probably wouldn't mind finding themselves in at the end of the season.
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