(MCT) CHICAGO — As free agency began at 11:01 p.m. CDT Sunday, Marco Belinelli was in his native Italy and Nazr Mohammed had finished another week of workouts mostly at the Berto Center.
Though the Bulls would love to bring Belinelli back, the gap between what they are willing to offer and what the shooter is likely to command in the open market could be only slightly smaller than the distance between Chicago and Italy.
It's not so much the money with the Bulls, who will be in luxury tax territory for the second straight season. It's also years. Belinelli, who is expected to draw interest from the Timberwolves among others, almost certainly will get at least a two-year offer.
The Bulls will be looking mostly to revamp their bench again with the one-year deals they favored last season, including the one they used on Belinelli.
That's why Mohammed, who repeatedly stated his desire to return, makes sense. Now that the Bulls used both picks in Thursday's draft on shooters, expect Mohammed to return as their fourth big man.
With Richard Hamilton set to be waived for a $1 million buyout by July 10, the Bulls will have eight players under contract. First-round pick Tony Snell makes nine, and if second-round pick Erik Murphy sticks, that's 10. Because the Bulls are above the luxury tax threshold, they likely will carry only 13 players, a tactic they've used in the past.
That leaves three spots in free agency, all of which could be veteran minimum deals. The Bulls will have the taxpayer exception of slightly more than $3 million available, so they could go a little higher than a minimum salary in the right scenario.
"We had some guys who did a nice job for us and contributed," general manager Gar Forman said of Mohammed, Belinelli and Nate Robinson. "We'll be talking to them and their agents come July 1. Some of it will depend on what the market is. They have to get a feel for that and we have to get a feel for that.
"But we certainly want to bring some of the guys back that we had last year if it's the right fit as far as both sides are concerned."
That's a big if for everybody but Mohammed. Robinson, who is expected to draw interest from the Knicks and several other teams, also has played his way into a multiyear deal.
Look for the Bulls to try to replace Robinson's dynamic scoring off the bench with familiar faces such as John Lucas III or Roger Mason Jr., who could come at the right price.
As for trades, the Bulls' $5 million traded player exception created by dealing Kyle Korver to the Hawks last summer likely will go unused.