The NBA has several deadlines. We just passed the 15 Dec. trade eligibility deadline which happened to crossover with the CBA opt-out decision day deadline, there’s also the trade deadline, the signing deadline, and so on. The Chicago Bulls, alongside several other teams, are right up against an invisible deadline, a hidden fork in the road, will they push more chips in and try and make a run these playoffs or will they sell everything and join the tanking race?
The worst teams in the league are starting to separate themselves in the quest for
the number one overall pick. With the flattened lottery odds, the teams with the four worst records will have an equal shot at getting the number one overall pick but the big tankers are making sure they’re near the bottom of the league.
For the teams in the middle, not good enough to qualify for the Play-In Tournament, but not bad enough to have a bottom-four record, they’re facing a deadline of their own – blow it up and tank or fully commit to the playoffs. This decision is even harder for the Chicago Bulls because their first-round pick is owed to the Orlando Magic if it falls outside the top four following the Nikola Vucevic trade.
Additionally, the Bulls don’t have a bad roster, they comfortably made the playoffs last season, and to truly bottom out, they’d have to move most or all of Zach LaVine, DeMar DeRozan, and Vucevic.
Rival teams are currently “watching the Chicago situation very closely” according to Eric Pincus of Bleacher Report. The Lakers are also currently interested in DeMar and Vooch, but given their ages and contract situation, LaVine may be the piece to net the greatest return. ESPN’s Adrian Wojnarowski reported that LaVine is currently not on the market but the CAA rumor mill will start to heat up as the former Leon Rose client continues to lose games.
Despite these rumblings, the Bulls’ front office keeps maintaining that their goal is to compete, not to bottom out. Executive vice president of basketball operations, Arturas Karnisovas, has no interest in a potential deal that would net the Bulls Russell Westbrook and two future Lakers first-round picks per Joe Cowley, Chicago Sun-Times. He adds that Lonzo Ball doesn’t appear close to returning to the court… great.
If the Chicago Bulls are going to blow it up, they need to decide as soon as possible
Luckily for the Chicago Bulls, they can be the first mid-table team to make a move. Do they want to blow it up and risk getting a top-four pick in the 2023 Draft, or do they want to try and jump forward off the treadmill of mediocrity? If Chicago wants to tank, they’d have to find a home for three of their best players. If the Westbrook-and-picks deal doesn’t entice them, best of luck trying to trade two stars on the wrong side of 30.
On top of that, the Bulls’ position would be clear: get as bad as possible as fast as possible. This would put them in a negotiating position of weakness since every game the stars play is more likely to end in a win, slightly increasing their chances of losing their own pick. The teams they’re negotiating with would know that the longer it drags out, the more desperate they would be to get a deal done.
What if Karnisovas can only move two of the three stars, is that team bad enough to bottom out? Vucevic carried the Magic to the eighth seed for several years, DeRozan is an All-NBA talent, and LaVine is one of the best scoring guards in the world when healthy.
I think it makes more sense for the Bulls to go in the other direction.
Chicago has already dug themselves a hole, throwing a protected 2025 first-round pick in the sign-and-trade for DeRozan, giving up two picks and Wendell Carter Jr. for Vucevic. Why not keep digging?
The Bulls could trade some of their underperforming role players and what picks they can move for more established commodities on the trade market like Jae Crowder, Myles Turner, John Collins, Eric Gordon, Saddiq Bey, Bojan Bogdanovic, and more.
Most of the players available to the Bulls wouldn’t move the needle in a major way, but what if it’s enough to juice the roster, plug up a hole, and help push them over the top?
The enigma that we know as Patrick Williams is still an enticing prospect given his physical attributes. He’d be worth something in a possible deal, would the Indiana Pacers consider a Turner for Vucevic package if they received Williams?
Alex Caruso has been struggling to put the ball in the basket this season but would the Phoenix Suns look at him as a free reclamation project in a Crowder deal? Billy Donovan wouldn’t have to guess who the best power forward role player on this team is anymore, it’d be Jae.
Every team needs long wings who can shoot, since the Detroit Pistons are willing to trade Bey for the “right price” per James Edwards III, The Athletic, could the Bulls bolster their wing depth with him? While on the Pistons, is there a deal that nets Bogdanovic? The Croatian wing is having the best season of his career at age 33 and has managed to score efficiently for the lowly Pistons, what would he look like next to real stars in Chicago?
The Bulls are currently 12th in the league in 3-point percentage but 30th in attempts and 27th in total makes. Bojan will definitely help in that department and a lineup with the three stars plus Bogdanovic would be a nightmare for defenses (and on defense too but don’t worry about that for now).
Some of these trades don’t pop off the page but without any premium trade assets like other contending teams, the Chicago Bulls are relegated to making smaller moves around the edges to sure up the roster. Right now, the Bulls are treading water, trying to stay relevant and win while their stars are all in their primes. If Chicago commits more assets to this core and gets back into a playoff position, they’ll be breathing for a little bit longer.
If they double down and miss, they’ll be dead in the water and we might see another regime change in the Windy City.