It is rare for one lousy deal to ruin the entire management regime for an NBA team, but there are times when an individual misstep winds up being a microcosm of one era’s ineptitude.
That’s what Cristiano Felicio’s egregious four-year, $32 million deal represents for the Chicago Bulls, and more specifically, the Gar Forman and John Paxson era. Thankfully for Bulls fans, Gar and Pax are no longer in power, and soon, Felicio’s contract will have finally come to an end. It’s been a long four years.
The Athletic’s Darnell Mayberry summed up the feelings of many Bulls fans as he predicted the immediate futures for every player on the current roster.
One of the biggest miscalculations by previous management, Felicio was signed to a four-year, $32 million contract in the summer of 2017. He’s appeared in only 151 of a possible 294 games since, with averages of 4.3 points, 3.8 rebounds, 0.8 assists and 0.1 blocks in 14.4 minutes per game. He’s been used only for emergencies or mop-up minutes. By all accounts, Felicio has been a hard worker and positive, team-first player throughout his tenure. But he’s soaked up precious cap space and a roster spot far too long. The day his contract expires is a day the Bulls have long awaited. It’s finally here.
Having been near Felicio at Bulls games when he was inactive during the 2019-20 season, he seems to be a delightful young man. Unfortunately, the NBA doesn’t offer much slack for nice guys who don’t perform on the floor.
What Went Wrong With Felicio?
The Bulls signed Felicio to his current deal a week before his 25th birthday.
At his peak (which feels funny to say) Felicio averaged 5.6 points and 4.2 rebounds per game during the 2017-18 season.
NBC Sports’ Rob Schaefer offered a blunt, but uncomfortably accurate breakdown of Felicio’s tenure with the Bulls:
Felicio’s worst moments come amid lapses in situational awareness and decision-making. Everyone remembers when, deep into the fourth quarter of a close contest against the Washington Wizards in April 2019, he ran into an ongoing play late and accidentally knocked over Walt Lemon Jr. This season – in the spirit of interchangeability – the Bulls ran some offense through him on handoffs and from the elbows, mostly to unfortunate results. He’s not an adept distributor or pass-catcher, and is wont to clumsy turnovers – from fumbled balls to shuffled sneakers. The above attributes translate to the defensive end, as well. His offensive game hasn’t expanded beyond the restricted area, and even in the paint his touch is suspect. He blocked two shots all year. That aforementioned four-year contract was predicated on potential that never panned out.
When this season is over, Felicio’s deal will go down as arguably the worst in Bulls history.
The Additional Cap Space Will Be Essential This Offseason
With Felicio undoubtedly on the way out, the Bulls must focus on using the upcoming cap space to secure players who will contribute.
Re-signing Daniel Theis should be a priority, and then there’s the need to find a starting point guard. There is a belief the New Orleans Pelicans’ Lonzo Ball is open to coming to Chicago.
“Lonzo enjoys playing for the Pelicans but isn’t a fan of New Orleans. However, he really wants to end up with the Knicks or Bulls. That has been a dream of his. It’s likely he will try to leave this offseason,” per Evan Massey of Hoops Analysis (h/t Hoop Central).
If that’s the case, the Bulls should be scrambling to use every penny of the money they will free up by letting Felicio walk, and some, in an effort to bring Theis back, and to plug the gaping hole at point guard.