The Chicago Bulls dug themselves a big hole early in the season, falling to a season-low seven games behind .500 with an 11-18 record on December 19th after giving up 150 points to the Minnesota Timberwolves. Their 8-5 stretch since then has been fine, but it’s hardly a season-saving effort.
The big-picture problem for this team is that their formula of tough shot-making and perimeter gambles defensively make the Bulls an extremely high-variance team. That allows them to play spoiler to some of the best teams in the East, but it also makes them prone to some stinkers against worse teams.
When Chicago beats the Milwaukee Bucks or the Boston Celtics it’s easy to see why the front office wants to keep this group together, but even a best-case scenario for the rest of the season has the Bulls losing in the First Round of the NBA Playoffs. This is not a team that can compete for a championship, not as currently constructed.
The Chicago Bulls can’t compete for a title with this team.
The Bulls may decide they are fine with that, want to chase wins as best they can and punt on the title chase for a time. That’s not an indefensible position. If the Bulls want to bring another title to Chicago, however, they are going to have to break up this current group and try to get a true star to build around.
The problem the Bulls face in “tearing it down” is that they owe their first-round pick to the Orlando Magic from the Nikola Vucevic trade, protected 1-4. If the Bulls trade their stars, aim for the bottom and yet end up with the fifth pick, it will be another bad look for a franchise peddling in them over the past few seasons.
An NBA team can’t make decisions based on potential embarrassment, however, and they could easily give up a single-digit pick in the lottery even while trying to win; they are just a game out of 12th in the Eastern Conference while trying to win.
If the Bulls are going to trade their stars and tank for the rest of the season, they need to make that decision now. Not at the Trade Deadline in a month but right now, because they scrounge together too many wins to make it into the bottom tiers and give themselves a chance at keeping that top-4 protected pick.
If there is a team willing to provide value for Nikola Vucevic they should trade him right away, and then find the best package for DeMar DeRozan and trade him too. Zach LaVine is a more difficult decision as he is younger and more tied to this franchise, but it’s unlikely he wants to stick around for a rebuild.
The Bulls probably won’t move all of them in one big trade, but it’s very possible they go all-in and trade all three to fully embrace a rebuild. Their NFL counterparts may have some tips on how to go about it.
The Bulls need young talent and a chance at building a young core with upside, and they haven’t been willing to wait patiently for that in the past. Will this time be different? Probably not, but if they are going to do it, they need to do it now. Waiting will only make it harder.