BELT-TIGHT­EN­ING TIME

NBA BRAC­ING FOR BUD­GET PAIN, FROM COACHES’ SALARIES TO A SLASHED SALARY CAP

Chicago Sun-Times - - BULLS BEAT - BY JOE COW­LEY jcow­ley@sun­times.com @JCow­leyHoops

The days of some­one such as Fred Hoiberg strolling into an NBA fa­cil­ity as a first-time head coach with five years on his con­tract and $25 mil­lion guar­an­teed in his bank ac­count are likely over.

Ac­cord­ing to sev­eral NBA ex­ec­u­tives, the league is about to feel a his­toric eco­nomic crunch if the Or­lando bub­ble holds and this sea­son is able to wrap up, and it will start with the salaries of first-time NBA coaches.

One ex­ec­u­tive told the Chicago Sun-Times he ex­pects yearly salaries to be cut in half for new head coaches, no matter how good their ré­sumés look.

So while five-year, $25 mil­lion deals were the norm four or five years ago, ex­pect deals more in the three-year, $7.5 mil­lion range go­ing for­ward.

Which teams could ben­e­fit most from this? The Bulls might be at the top of the list.

With the re­main­der of Hoiberg’s off­set salary com­ing off the books when the sea­son ends, the Bulls still will have Jim Boylen’s salary to pay out the next two sea­sons, as­sum­ing Boylen is fired. Boylen is one of the low­est-paid coaches in the NBA at about $1.6 mil­lion per year, which means mov­ing on from him and adding $2.5 mil­lion for the next head coach would cost the Bulls just more than $4 mil­lion each of the next two sea­sons.

To put that in per­spec­tive, the Spurs are pay­ing Gregg Popovich $11 mil­lion per sea­son, while Doc Rivers is get­ting $10 mil­lion per year from the Clip­pers.

Bulls chair­man Jerry Reins­dorf al­lowed former gen­eral man­ager Gar For­man to throw a big in­vest­ment Hoiberg’s way, no ques­tions asked. So there’s a prece­dent there for Reins­dorf.

The prob­lem is, these are un­prece­dented times.

Rock­ets gen­eral man­ager Daryl Morey’s con­tro­ver­sial tweet last fall in sup­port of Hong Kong, which cre­ated mas­sive fall­out for the NBA in China, is ex­pected to cost the league $400 mil­lion in rev­enue, com­mis­sioner Adam Sil­ver said. And that was be­fore the coro­n­avirus shut the league down in March.

Even if the NBA gets a fin­ish to the sea­son — and that’s still a big if as the restart moves for­ward in Or­lando — ex­perts are guess­ing that be­tween China and the shut­down, the salary cap could drop by $8 mil­lion per team for the 2020-21 sea­son. In the last 35 years, the NBA has seen the cap drop only twice, and both times were mi­nor dips.

This would be a his­toric cut. The league set the cap at $109.1 mil­lion for this sea­son and orig­i­nally ex­pected it to go up to at least $115 mil­lion next year. In­stead, it could be around $101 mil­lion, with lux­ury-tax ex­cep­tions pos­si­ble as teams scramble to fig­ure out how to ac­count for a $14 mil­lion swing.

The news won’t get any bet­ter next sea­son — es­pe­cially if it has to be played with­out fans in the are­nas. Yes, tele­vi­sion car­ries the day for NBA money, but gate re­ceipts still av­er­age about $2 mil­lion per reg­u­lar-sea­son home game. Do the math over an 82-game sea­son, and it’s pos­si­ble the salary cap could drop below $100 mil­lion as the NBA brings in the highly touted 2021 free-agent class.

How does that hurt the Bulls? Not as much as most of the league. While the Bulls have been a bad prod­uct to watch through most of their re­build, they also have been eco­nom­i­cally flex­i­ble. Their com­mit­ments are $106 mil­lion for next sea­son, but they’ll shed at least $38.2 mil­lion next off­sea­son with Otto Porter Jr., Cris­tiano Fe­li­cio and Luke Kor­net com­ing off the books.

So while there’s go­ing to be a lot of cry­ing broke soon, the Bulls — val­ued at $3.2 bil­lion at the start of this sea­son — should be among those shed­ding the fewest tears. ✶

KAMIL KRZACZYNSK­I/AP

If the Bulls bring in a new first-time head coach, he’s likely to make a lot less than Fred Hoiberg (left) but still more than Jim Boylen.

Gar For­man

Jerry Reins­dorf

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