Free agency 2024: Patrick Williams for $90M? Bulls get restricted free agency right, but it does come at a cost

CHICAGO, ILLINOIS - JANUARY 12:  Patrick Williams #44 of the Chicago Bulls controls the ball against the Golden State Warriors on January 12, 2024 at United Center in Chicago, Illinois.   NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and or using this photograph, User is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement.  (Photo by Jamie Sabau/Getty Images)

The Chicago Bulls have reportedly come to terms with restricted free agent forward Patrick Williams on a five-year contract worth $90 million, with the final year being a player option.

This is a quality piece of business for the Bulls, who are locking up a 22-year-old two-way wing, who can play both forward spots, provide quality defense and is sporting a career efficiency of 41% from downtown.

Williams hasn't grown much as an all-around player since getting drafted fourth overall in 2020, to the point where you could almost pencil him in for about 10 points and four rebounds before the beginning of each season.

While those numbers are indeed underwhelming, Williams is a legitimate 3-and-D piece for the Bulls, and because the going rate for such an archetype in today's league has grown astronomically, signing him to $18 million per year is noteworthy.

The Bulls, generally speaking, have not exactly had a lot going right for them of late. They were heavily criticized for the Alex Caruso trade, getting just Josh Giddey in return, with no draft compensation, from a team that literally will run out of roster spots before it can make all those draft selections.

After re-signing Zach LaVine to a five-year contract worth $215 million in 2022, both sides seemingly wanted to pivot away from each other just a year later, with the Bulls finding no takers in the meantime, unless they're willing to relinquish additional assets to get off the deal.

(And let's not even begin to get into the Nikola Vučević trade, which saw the Bulls give up Wendell Carter Jr. and ultimately two lottery selections for a center who turned back into a pumpkin almost as soon as he landed at O'Hare.)

But the one thing this Bulls front office does seem to be capable of is getting tremendous value on their restricted free agents.

Last summer, the organization re-signed both Coby White and Ayo Dosunmu to deals that are already significantly below market value. White signed a three-year deal worth $36 million, and Dosunmu signed for $21 million over three seasons.

With Williams now locked into a deal of $18 million per year, with a salary cap that's expected to go up by 10% annually starting from 2025, the Bulls will have three deals on their books that all will carry a cap percentage of under 14%.

That's worth remembering for next summer when Giddey will be a restricted free agent. Unless he breaks out in an All-Star manner, odds are good Chicago will work its devil magic and get him back on a deal that has the larger NBA community spitting out its coffee and doing a double-take.

Of course, there will still be challenges ahead, as this new CBA doesn't allow anyone to have nice things.

Teams are limited in what they can offer veterans in extension money. They can offer 140% of a player's salary in the final year of their contract, or they can offer 140% of the league's average salary, whichever is highest.

Unfortunately for the Bulls, White has already played his way out of each scenario and will unquestionably enter unrestricted free agency in 2026, when he can sign elsewhere and leave the Bulls with nothing to show for seven years of development.

Dosunmu is not far behind himself. He, too, can become an unrestricted free agent in 2026, and if he makes just one more mini leap as he did this past season, he will also be able to command more than whatever extension the Bulls can offer.

Even Williams, who can become a free agent in 2028 if he opts out of his final season, will be difficult to extend by then given the cap increases that'll take place over that period.

However, in the case of Williams, that simply has to be a problem for another day if you're the Bulls. You just secured a 6-foot-8, 230-pound combo forward who can hit the 3-ball at a high rate and defend some of the best wings in the NBA.

For once, there's cause for celebration in Chicago.