Why Bulls shouldn’t mortgage the future for Damian Lillard

Damian Lillard, Chicago Bulls, NBA Trade Rumors (Photo by Rich Schultz/Getty Images)
Damian Lillard, Chicago Bulls, NBA Trade Rumors (Photo by Rich Schultz/Getty Images) /

If the latest on the rumor mill is to be believed, the Chicago Bulls front office will have some tough decisions to make in the near future. Recently, some rumors popped up hinting that Chicago had a vested interest in trading for NBA superstar Damian Lillard. At first, it looks like low-hanging fruit, ripe for the picking. But I firmly believe the Bulls should come to their better senses and not fall for a potential trap here with Lillard.

Lillard just turned 33 this summer. And for a guard, that’s quite a lot. He probably might have a good one or two years, but after that, who knows? His current contract will expire at the end of the 2026-27 season when the team will owe him $63.3 million. Should Chicago really be jumping at the chance to pay more than $60 million for a 36-year-old point guard?

Dame is a ball-dominant point guard, who likes to run a lot of pick-and-rolls. Last season he was excellent in this category, running 39.6% of the time and averaging 12.5 points per game out of those plays. Nikola Vucevic could be a good running mate since he can pop or roll to the basket pretty well. That duo could be hard to stop.

But the problem is spacing. Chicago doesn’t have enough shooters, to keep defenses honest, so they might gamble and close the driving lane. That way Dame and Nikola pick-and-roll would have to settle for pick-and-pop. Overall, the fit is not clear. Chicago would have to make more moves, but that’s hard to do when the season starts.

Unlike C.J. McCollum, who was Lillard’s running mate in Portland for years, DeMar DeRozan is not a catch-and-shoot guy. Since he’s getting older, he doesn’t slash as much either. DeMar has essentially turned himself into a modern version of Adrian Dantley, a former NBA star and Hall of Famer who liked to have the ball a lot, was strong good in the mid-range, and could draw fouls. That’s okay, but who will spot up in the corner, when one of them will be dribbling the ball for 10 seconds?

DeRozan’s usage rate was almost 28% last season. It was 31% a year before. How would they share the ball, when both are on the court? If Dame is fine, with standing in the corner, then that’s fine. But he has never had to accept that role before, so I don’t know if he would be willing to do that. It’s a wait-and-see situation on this one.

Chicago would have to run a very strict offense. Almost Jerry Sloan like, the way he ran in Utah back in the day. Every cut should be on purpose, and space is extremely important. There was a lot of stuff happening around the free throw area and the paint. Offensively they probably could figure some stuff out. Maybe play at a higher pace. That would help. Certainly, they would rank higher than 24th in points per game and in offensive rating. Where problems will occur, is on the other side of the ball.

Adding Damian Lillard to the Bulls via trade would be a costly decision that isn’t as seamless as it may seem.

Defensively, Dame would bring quite some issues. He’s never been a good defender. DeMar DeRozan is not a stopper either. Nikola Vucevic is not good at switching, or stepping out. Basically, he’s best at flat defense, but then you open up a whole world for opposing guards.

You would have three guys to attack and against better teams, it’s a killer. You won’t have guys to stop penetration and you won’t have guys to protect the paint or switch. Basically, the best option is to play 3-2 zone or 1-3-1 with Nikola on the wing. Maybe playing Patrick Williams at center with Dosunmu and Caruso could be an option, but can you keep Vucevic on the bench for longer stretches?

The defensive end raises a lot of questions and it would be a real challenge trying to answer them. The projected starting lineup would probably be Lillard, Caruso, DeRozan, Williams, and Vucevic. Three out of the five, are below-average defensive players. Maybe, DeRozan is close to average. The Bulls would suffer a lot on defense. Could they simply outscore their opponents? That’s a risky gamble to bet on.

But they lack shooting. Who’s gonna spot up, when Dame or DeMar would have the ball? Only Coby White was a reliable and volume shooter last season. Other than that, you can help from Dosunmu or Williams, so opposing defenses would shrink the court.

Lillard is an excellent player, but his fit on the Bulls raises a lot of questions. I mean, we don’t know who would be in that trade. I guess, it could be Zach LaVine, Coby White, and a few draft picks. Are the Bulls willing to jeopardize their future for this superstar return?

This trade potentially could take them to the second round of the playoffs. At best. They wouldn’t be better than Milwaukee, Boston, Philly or Miami. Maybe they could beat one of those teams. You would have a 33 and 34-year-old duo as your leading stars. For the next couple of seasons, it could be fine, but what’s after that?

The worst thing, that the Bulls front office can do, is to put themselves into the same situation, as the Nets were back in 2013. Brooklyn traded away their future by acquiring aging and expensive veterans Kevin Garnett and Paul Pierce by giving away all of their future picks. We saw how that experiment ended.

I think the Bulls should go the other way. Trade Zach LaVine, DeMar DeRozan, and Nikola Vucevic in hopes of stashing some quality picks and landing promising young talent. Try to develop Patrick Williams and Coby White. That way, maybe Chicago could finally reach that next level organically in the future, rather than rushing the process with a poorly thought-out trade now.

The bottom line here is that Dame would make the Bulls better and more fun to watch in the short term. But just how much better? Is a possible second-round appearance worth giving away your future assets? That’s the question, that the front office should have to answer before making any decision regarding this possible trade.

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