Would Chicago Bulls Amnestying Carlos Boozer Be Precursor to Bigger Move?

Grant HughesFeatured Columnist IVMarch 20, 2017

Apr 14, 2014; Chicago, IL, USA; Chicago Bulls forward Carlos Boozer (5) during the first quarter at the United Center. Mandatory Credit: Mike DiNovo-USA TODAY Sports

Amnestying Carlos Boozer might not signal the Chicago Bulls are certain to pull off a massive, league-altering signing, but it sends the message that such a follow-up move is possible.

And as a pure leverage play, that's good enough.

Rumors of a Boozer amnesty have been around, well, for as long as Boozer has been in Chicago. That's a shame, as they've become attached to him in a way that devalues his contributions. No, Boozer isn't the same dominant interior force he was with the Utah Jazz years ago, but he's definitely not somebody you'd pay to go away under normal circumstances.

Defensive limitations aside, he's still a rotation-quality big man who averaged 13.7 points and 8.3 rebounds in just 28 minutes per game this past season.

But Boozer makes lots of cash. He's heading into the final season of a five-year, $75 million contract and will collect $16.8 million in 2014-15. You certainly won't find anyone arguing he's worth that much.

So with the Bulls always angling for big additions, it's Boozer who has become inextricably tied to the amnesty provision.

Apr 9, 2014; Minneapolis, MN, USA;  Chicago Bulls forward Carlos Boozer looks to shoot in the first half against the Minnesota Timberwolves at Target Center.  The Bulls defeated the Wolves 102-87.  Mandatory Credit: Marilyn Indahl-USA TODAY Sports

No shock, then, that the topic has come up as the Bulls do their best to pursue Carmelo Anthony.

Per Joe Cowley of the Chicago Sun-Times:

Officially, the Bulls still have several weeks to decide if they want to invoke the amnesty provision for Carlos Boozer.

But they don’t need it.

A source said Wednesday that Boozer’s departure is a “done deal,” adding that Boozer’s camp already has been informed.

The Bulls met with Anthony on July 1, and they pulled out all the typical stops to impress him.

Clearly, Chicago has more than a passing interest in adding a marquee superstar to a core that, just a couple of years ago, was the East's top seed. So it's only reasonable to wonder how a possible Boozer amnesty might impact the Bulls' chances of snaring Melo.

As an unfortunate (for the Bulls) starting point, merely amnestying Boozer wouldn't create enough wiggle room to sign Anthony outright.

Per ESPN.com's Brian Windhorst:

Currently, if the Bulls were to waive Boozer, they would have about $9.7 million in cap space. If he is used in a sign-and-trade, the Bulls would be able to take back more than $20 million in salary. This is why the Bulls are leaving their options open with the veteran forward, sources said.

Now, we've heard Anthony say he's not concerned with cashing in this summer, as he did to reporters at the 2014 All-Star Game (via Frank Isola of the New York Daily News): "As far as the money, it doesn't really matter to me," Anthony said. "... My concern is to be able to compete on a high level, a championship level, coming in this last stretch of my career."

I think we can all agree that's not a wholly true statement. If it were, Melo would have agreed to sign with the San Antonio Spurs or Miami Heat for the mid-level exception at midnight on July 1. Money matters to him—at least a little bit anyway.

So if the Bulls can't get themselves anywhere close to the $20 million in cap space they'd need to max Melo out—even with a Boozer amnesty—what's the plan here?

Well, the Bulls seem to think their sales pitch (not to mention championship-caliber talent and coaching staff) has Melo interested, which should worry the New York Knicks, who are hoping the allure of more money will keep Anthony in blue and orange.

By floating the possibility of a Boozer amnesty, the Bulls are sending the Knicks a signal: "Hey, we're serious about signing your guy. Why would we be willing to cut loose Boozer for nothing if we weren't?"

Boom. Instant leverage.

Even if the Bulls might not be able to sign Melo outright to a deal he'd accept, the mere possibility of amnestying Boozer should have the Knicks reconsidering the sign-and-trade exchange to which they've been resistant so far. Losing Anthony for nothing seems likelier than it was before.

And the Bulls stand to benefit in a huge way if they can scare the Knicks into re-engaging in sign-and-trade talks, because that's the only way Chicago can pay Anthony the near-max money he wants, as Windhorst explained above.

Dec 11, 2013; New York, NY, USA; Chicago Bulls power forward Taj Gibson (22) defends against New York Knicks small forward Carmelo Anthony (7) in the second half of NBA game at Madison Square Garden. Mandatory Credit: Noah K. Murray-USA TODAY Sports

For the Knicks, maybe getting something in return for their exiting superstar—even if the centerpiece of that "something" is Boozer's expiring contract—is probably more appealing than the alternative. You'd have to assume the Bulls would include picks or a young player on a cheap contract in conjunction with Boozer, which, while not a massive haul, beats getting nothing at all.

No matter how you slice it, the Bulls amnestying Boozer (or at least seriously discussing it) has to point to a bigger move ahead. There's no reason to cut him loose if it doesn't serve a greater purpose because Boozer is still a rotation guy, still has value as an expiring contract and having him on the roster is still better than a void in the big-man rotation.

The Bulls are up to something here—that's for sure.

We'll soon find out if their plans pay off in as grand a fashion as they hope.