Remaining in tune with what we’ve seen from the front office over the last few years, the Chicago Bulls’ offseason plan appears focused on what most normal businesses are homed in on during hiring season: retention. Whether or not you agree with the current course, the Bulls seem fully intent on running this core back for the 2023-24 season.
However, recent events in the trade-demand-o-sphere have opened up a trap door that could salvage — and if you’re the front office, retroactively justify — the last few years of middling Bulls basketball. This offseason alone there have already been three front-page stars requesting trades. Damian Lillard, James Harden, and Bradley Beal have all (with differing levels of audacity) sought to be moved to new teams, with only Beal getting his wish as of today.
Beal serves as a perfect example of where the Bulls could come into play here. Since the Suns are so sumo-wrestler pinned against the cap, they have been forced to sign the likes of Keita Bates-Diop and Yuta Watanabe as significant rotation players. Under the new CBA, two-team trades that mutilate your cap room are going out of style; Harden and Lillard haven’t been moved in part because the teams they want to go to can’t afford them or can’t reasonably trade enough assets to acquire them without roping in a willing third team.
The Chicago Bulls are well-equipped to utilize the trade market to their advantage this season.
Enter stage left: the Chicago Bulls with their surprisingly impressive portfolio of valuable players with (mostly) tradeable contracts that make the trade machine green. All-Defensive guard Alex Caruso makes just under $10 for the next two years. DeMar DeRozan is simultaneously an expiring contract under $30 million and the Bull most likely to affect another team’s playoff chances. Zach LaVine has a hefty bill attached, but when other teams are dealing in superstar contracts, you need a counterweight to balance the scales.
In another big deal this offseason, when Kristaps Porzingis was traded to Boston, the Celtics needed a third team involved to export one of their incumbent contracts. The Grizzlies rose their hands and ended up with Marcus Smart, the 2021-22 Defensive Player of the Year. The Bulls could be the beneficiaries of the next star swap if they can get their hat in the ring if they’re willing to put people on the block in pursuit of a re-tool or rebuild.
Chicago is also well-prepared to be a trade facilitator during the trade deadline next season if they want or need to. After December 15th, all free agent contracts and extensions are eligible to be dealt. While Nikola Vucevic’s deal simply pushed the Bulls further down the River Styx, a $20 million contract can be an excellent salary-matching tool, especially if he maintains his current level of play. The same can be said for Coby White at $11 million if he doesn’t continue his growth from the end of last season, Torrey Craig screams ‘traded for two seconds on January 12th’, and this might be the first time Andre Drummond is a trade asset.
It doesn’t feel like the climactic ending to what was intended to be a more prolonged era of success with the current core, but becoming a waystation for teams making bigger deals has precedent — one the Bulls should build upon.
In 2012, then Orlando Magic center Dwight Howard wanted to go to the Los Angeles Lakers. To facilitate a trade, the Lakers and Magic roped in the Denver Nuggets and Philadelphia 76ers. Years later, we know the Howard, Nash, and Kobe Lakers were a disaster, alleviating Orlando’s pain of losing a franchise star. In the other corners, Denver landed Andre Iguodala for a year while Philadelphia got Andrew Bynum after he got into bowling. All told, Orlando essentially got Aaron Afflalo, Al Harrington, picks, and second-round castoffs from other teams. They lost their franchise leader in scoring, and for what?
Turns out, their franchise’s second all-time leading scorer, a 21-year-old Montenegrin center coming off a rough rookie season: Nikola Vucevic. This is one of those times it’s probably better if history repeats itself.