Chicago native Jabari Parker's 2-year, $40M deal with Bulls makes sense for both sides

Jul 14, 2018 | by K.C. Johnson, Chicago Tribune

Jabari Parker wants to play for the Bulls.

Let’s start there with Saturday’s news that the Chicago native and former Simeon star signed a free-agent contract with his hometown team, which sources said is for two years and $40 million with a team option for the second season.

Sure, questions exist about how effectively the 6-foot-8, 250-pound Parker can play small forward after two torn left ACLs in his first four seasons, all with the Bucks. Granted, too, Parker’s arrival puts even more pressure on coach Fred Hoiberg and his staff to keep multiple scoring options — some of them of the ball-stopping tendency — happy with an offense predicated on ball movement.

But the only way for the Bulls’ rebuild to move from promising young core to championship contention is to keep the momentum going, to build a buzz similar to the 76ers’ upward trajectory after exiting the painful years of “The Process.”

In this sense, the Bulls attracting a free agent — albeit one who had two significant knee injuries — is important. The short-term risk also is consistent with what management has said about being in the talent-and-asset-accumulation mode of the rebuild and comes on the heels of retaining Zach LaVine after matching his four-year, $78 million offer sheet from the Kings.

It’s only money, and the Reinsdorfs have plenty of it.

The Bulls aren’t in position to judge fit, merely to acquire talent — and with Parker, particularly talent on, essentially, a one-year, prove-it deal that still gives the Bulls options in 2019 free agency.

This isn’t to say Parker, 23, is Joel Embiid or Ben Simmons. He showed signs of his dynamic offensive versatility while averaging 12.3 points and 5.5 rebounds in 25 games as a rookie before suffering his first knee injury Dec. 15, 2014, in Phoenix. He returned to play 76 games the next season and was averaging 20.1 points on 49 percent shooting in a breakout third season when he endured his second torn left ACL on Feb. 8, 2017, in a home game against the Heat.

It is to say, when healthy, the No. 2 pick in the 2014 draft is an accomplished and versatile scorer who has averaged 15.3 points on 49 percent shooting, including 35.2 percent from 3-point range, and fills a position of need. Parker’s addition also makes the Bulls two deep at every position.

Prepare for a starting lineup of Kris Dunn, LaVine, Parker, Lauri Markkanen and Robin Lopez or Wendell Carter Jr. If it’s the latter, that lineup has an average age of 22 on opening night.

Look for a second unit of Cameron Payne, Denzel Valentine, Chandler Hutchison, Bobby Portis and Lopez or Carter.

Realize Justin Holiday likely will serve a veteran mentor and injury-insurance role, with his expiring salary possibly shopped at some point, and David Nwaba likely will be changing addresses. With 13 guaranteed deals after the Bulls waived Paul Zipser and Juylan Stone on Saturday, perhaps a minimum-salary player still is to be signed. The Bulls also have the $4.4 million room midlevel-cap exception available.

But the Bulls are basically done for this offseason, choosing Parker’s tantalizing offensive potential on a short-term risk over the long-term commitment it would’ve taken to land restricted free agent Rodney Hood.

“Jabari is a 23-year-old player who is a natural fit with our young core and is a proven scorer at the NBA level,” general manager Gar Forman said in a statement. “We look forward to welcoming him back to his hometown.”

It might not work. Parker has played more effectively at power forward and showed defensive issues regardless of his position. Like LaVine, he also hasn’t graded highly with advanced metrics.

But the essentially one-year deal ties exactly into what executive vice president John Paxson said at his season-ending news conference after the Bulls finished 27-55 and missed the playoffs for the second time in Hoiberg’s three seasons.

“We’re set up with our youth, and we’re going to add more youth to it,” Paxson said in April. “Philly is the model for what they did for all those years, and now look at them. They’ve got some high draft picks, they hit on a few of them and now they’re in a position.

“The other thing we’ve tried to do is manage the cap appropriately so that we have opportunities to spend when the time is right. That will be dictated by circumstances. When we went on the path that we did last summer, we’re not just going to go out and try and sign some older players that fill a need. We have to remain patient and disciplined.

“If Zach, Kris and Lauri all improve significantly over this next year, Bobby and Denzel, who found his niche a little this year, continue growing as players, Cam Payne gives us something and we add pieces to it, we’re going to be a better basketball team. And we’re going to be young, we’re going to be athletic, we’re going to be more skilled. It’s going to be a team that I think can play at a high level.”

Since pushing the button on a full rebuild with the Jimmy Butler deal last June, the Bulls have added LaVine, Dunn, Markkanen, Carter, Hutchison and now Parker. All are 24 or younger.

With the team option on Parker, the Bulls get a season to see if he can stay healthy and produce. If not, the Bulls can decline the option and have about $35 million of salary-cap space next offseason. If he does, there’s optimism from both sides to negotiate a long-term deal.

This speaks as much to the gesture the Bucks offered in rescinding their $4.3 million qualifying offer to Parker after Friday night’s deadline as it does to the Bulls’ strong relationship with Parker’s agent, Mark Bartelstein. The Chicago-based CEO of Priority Sports & Entertainment also represents Portis and Hutchison.

Bartelstein worked with the Bucks to rescind their qualifying offer to make Parker an unrestricted free agent because they had no plans to match the Bulls’ offer sheet had Parker been a restricted free agent. An offer sheet can feature non-guaranteed money in the second year but can’t contain a team option, which is beneficial to both Parker and the Bulls.

It allows for a long-term extension if Parker plays well as opposed to the Bulls choosing to waive or keep him at the negotiated number for the second season of a two-year deal.

“Jabari and I express our sincere gratitude to (general manager) Jon Horst and Bucks owners Marc Lasry, Wes Edens and Jamie Dinan for working side by side with us throughout the free-agency period,” Bartelstein said in a statement released by the Bucks, who thanked Parker for his play and community service. “From the moment the Bucks drafted Jabari with the No. 2 pick in the 2014 draft, they have gone out of their way to treat Jabari as a member of the Bucks family. And this is another perfect example of doing exactly that, and we’re very appreciative.”

Parker also spoke in the statement released by the Bucks.

“I am extremely grateful to the Bucks and the incredible fans of Milwaukee for showing me so much love and encouragement,” Parker said. “Specifically, I’d like to thank Jon, Marc, Wes and Jamie for giving me my start in the NBA and supporting me throughout my career.

“Thank you to my teammates for being like brothers to me. Also, the medical and performance staff led by Troy Flanagan and Suki Hobson deserve my unending thanks for their dedication in helping me get stronger and healthier every day.”

Parker won four consecutive state championships at Simeon, becoming the first player in Illinois’ decorated high school history to win two Mr. Basketball awards. He earned McDonald’s All-American status and numerous national player of the year awards in high school and continued his success at Duke, earning consensus first-team All-American status in his lone season before declaring for the NBA draft.

Off the court, Parker has earned a reputation as a socially aware player adept at community service. With his father, former NBA player Sonny, as his role model, he has done extensive community service work in both Milwaukee and Chicago and penned a memorable essay for The Players’ Tribune in August 2016 addressing the latter’s issues with gun violence.

Some of those close to him have said Parker has aimed to improve every situation he has entered.

Nobody thinks the Bulls are winning a title anytime soon. But the franchise believes Saturday’s news adds momentum toward that goal.

kcjohnson@chicagotribune.com

Twitter @kcjhoop

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