The game of chicken has begun.
With NBA free agency starting at midnight on Tuesday, the Bulls and guard Jimmy Butler continued firing passive-aggressive negotiating shots at one another.
Butler and his camp have had no problem leaking their desire to sign as short-term a deal as possible for the restricted free agent, with the hopes of hitting free agency as quickly as possible and taking advantage of the escalated salaries that are expected after the 2016 season.
The Bulls extended a qualifying offer and a maximum qualifying offer, which means he was offered the maximum five-year, $90 million offer, as well as the one-year qualifying offer of $4.5 million, according to a source.
Butler can take the five-year offer, can take a three-year offer with a player option for the fourth, or simply again gamble on himself with the one-year deal. But either way, because the Bulls offered both options, under the collective bargaining agreement, other teams looking to try and sign Butler must do so for a minimum of three years.
And even if they do try and grab Butler, the Bulls have stated that they would match any offer sent in the direction of the NBA’s Most Improved Player. Not that offers won’t come in, as the Los Angeles Lakers, Boston Celtics and Dallas Mavericks headlined a long list of interested parties in the two-way All-Star guard.
Butler has been very silent about contract talk, as well as his immediate future, but did at least tip his hand with one teammate.
According to veteran Mike Dunleavy, the two have had several conversations concerning next season, and Butler has made it clear to Dunleavy that he wanted to stay a Bull.
“I really think that Jimmy will be back,’’ Dunleavy said. “I’m really optimistic that he and I will both be back. I’ve talked to him a little over the course of this summer. Obviously, nothing is set in stone and he’s got to go through the process, but I would be surprised if Jimmy’s in another uniform next year besides the Bulls.’’
Dunleavy also indicated that he would be equally surprised if he was elsewhere, even with reports that LeBron James would like Dunleavy’s services in Cleveland.
If the Bulls are able to pull off 1a and 1b on their wish list in Butler and Dunleavy, respectively, for the second time in the last three years, they would also tip their toe in the luxury tax pool, still looking to add a veteran guard in the mix.
Then again, the organization feels that there is still an open window on a championship run, but one that is closing fast.
Joakim Noah is a free agent after this season, while Pau Gasol, Derrick Rose and Taj Gibson can all be free agents after the next season.
As far as veteran guards on the wish list, a source said the Bulls are very interested in Rodney Stuckey and Jeremy Lin because of their ability to play either guard spot, as well as the likes Gary Neal because of his outside shooting.
Fred Hoiberg’s up-tempo offense puts a premium on outside shooting, especially on the weak-side of the floor, so all three of those guards could flourish off the bench.
Veteran point guard J.J. Barea is also a possibility because of his ability to manage a team and push the tempo.