Close only counts in horseshoes and hand grenades.
That phrase, made famous by Frank Robinson in a 1973 interview for Time Magazine on free agency in baseball, also aptly describes the Chicago Bulls, who were unable to make anything happen by the February 9 trade deadline despite being linked to plenty of names as the day wore on. They were linked to Cam Reddish, but the New York Knicks traded him to the Portland Trail Blazers, and to Matisse Thybulle, who went to Portland from the Philadelphia 76ers.
“We were pretty active at the trade deadline, it just didn’t seem there were deals to make to improve this group,” said Bulls executive vice president of basketball operations Arturas Karnisovas in his first official press conference since September 26, the team’s media day. “And, at the end of the day, we decided to go with this group for the next 28 games.”
The Bulls — one of two teams not to make a trade since the end of January — are still being linked to point guards John Wall and Russell Westbrook of the Houston Rockets and Utah Jazz, respectively, should either secure a buyout.
But, per Shams Charania of The Athletic, that was not the only reason the Bulls didn’t pick a direction, even if it meant becoming sellers.
Karnisovas essentially confirmed that they view the East as open, with Kevin Durant (Phoenix Suns) and Kyrie Irving (Dallas Mavericks) now traded from the fifth-seeded Brooklyn Nets in a pair of blockbusters 48 hours apart.
“I think, if we would have pulled it out the [104-89 loss to the Memphis Grizzlies on February 7], we would have been in the eight-spot. So there is still wiggle room, there is some parity in the East. I think the trade deadline kind of shifted some quality more towards West. … There’s a chance to compete in the Eastern Conference and there’s a lot of teams that are good. But they are just clutched all together, so I think there’s a chance there the next 28 games.”
The Nets beat the Bulls 116-105 hours after the deadline passed without their newest additions, Mikal Bridges and Cam Johnson, or breakout big man Nic Claxton.
“What’s the saying when you get married?” asked DeMar DeRozan rhetorically, per Julia Poe of the Chicago Tribune. “Through sickness and health, you stick through it. That’s how I look at it when I’m with a group of guys. Through sickness and health, till death do us part.”
DeRozan finished the night with 14 points on 5-for-13 shooting, adding 6 assists.
He and teammate Zach LaVine (38 points, 16-for-25 FG) have clashed stylistically on the floor without Lonzo Ball. Unfortunately for them and the Bulls, Ball was described as “nowhere near playing” by head coach Billy Donovan as recently as January 28. Karnisovas said the next official update on Ball would come after the All-Star break.
Chicago is four games out of the sixth seed and just one half-game out of 11th, to Karnisovas’ point about the East being jumbled. It also should be noted that Donovan received a multi-year contract extension before the season possibly signaling the organization’s attachment to Karnisovas amid such mediocre results.
Chicago Bulls’ Best Options
The Bulls are a team to keep an eye on with the buyout market heating up between now and March 1, according to The Athletic’s Darnell Mayberry. Among the potential cut candidates, Wall and Westbrook could both address the current lack of a playmaker.
But they were also both traded from teams chasing titles and looking for upgrades. How much can they possibly elevate a flawed Bulls squad?
NBC Sports’ K.C. Johnson noted Karnisovas’ emphasis on trying to be active and said that could hint at looming activity this coming offseason. Whether it begins on April 9 upon completion of their final regular season game — a showdown with the Detroit Pistons — or sometime thereafter will determine just how much activity and which way they decide to go.
“This trade deadline showed us that we have a lot of good players and we’ve got a lot of value around the league,” Karnisovas said.