The Chicago Bulls (19-24) are more likely to make a move at the February 9 trade deadline that builds on the current core rather than anything taking away from it, says NBC Sports Chicago Bulls insider K.C. Johnson.
That could prove tricky to accomplish on several levels not the least of which is the Bulls’ well-documented shortage of assets. They owe out two first-round picks thanks to previous dealings and none of their five players under 25 years old on the roster are considered blue-chip prospects.
“It is a tough position they are in because they need to do something,” a rival executive tells Heavy Sports NBA insider Sean Deveney.
However, the executive goes on to paint a peculiar picture if that is indeed the case.
Bulls Have Handcuffed Themselves
“They can’t add salary, they can’t go over the tax,” the exec tells Deveney. “Ownership will not let them do that. That leaves them two choices – play it out with what you have this year or tear it all down completely.”
This is not the first we have heard that the Bulls have at least considered the idea of blowing up this group, recouping some of the assets they gave away, and trying to forge a more organic path. Nor are Bulls fans strangers to the idea that ownership is not keen on paying the luxury tax, especially with such a limited ceiling on this current iteration.
Team president and COO Michael Reinsdorf has said he would pay the luxury tax hit for a championship-contending team.
Of course, it is always going to be difficult for the front office to assemble one if they are told not to add salary. Six of the top 10 teams in the NBA in terms of record also sit in the top 10 in active cap this season.
Each of the top two spenders is a unique case.
The Golden State Warriors are the current six-seed in the West despite struggling amid injuries this season including to Stephen Curry and are coming off of a championship. And the Los Angeles Clippers were assembled to be the next superteam only to have injuries to both Paul George and Kawhi Leonard key their failure to launch instead and sit seventh.
Both teams still hold championship aspirations as do the other two teams – the Los Angeles Lakers (13th) and Phoenix Suns (10th) – despite disappointing records so far.
It is difficult seeing a similar upper limit for this Bulls group. They also spent a lot both in cap space and draft capital to assemble this group with a front office led that was hired to fix the previous regime’s mess.
“If they’re tearing it down three years into putting the team together,” the exec says, “that is not a good look.”
Bulls vice president of basketball operations Arturas Karnisovas and general manager Marc Eversley have come under heavy scrutiny for assembling this roster and then being out of the public eye as it has struggled both on the court and in the locker room this season with reports of in-fighting and a lack of faith in head coach Billy Donovan.
Bulls Holding Out Hope
Despite their current three-game losing streak, and precarious 11th-place standing in the Eastern Conference, the teardown is still a bit away.
“They are not ready to go that route,” said the exec. “They still are sticking to the idea that they’d be OK when Lonzo [Ball] is healthy.”
This is a common notion and got a (ever-so-slight) boost when Ball posted videos of himself dunking among other things to his Instagram ahead of the Bulls’ 124-110 loss to the Oklahoma City Thunder. But even that is tempered by the accompanying footage of him running on the treadmill.
Donovan has said Ball is still not running or cutting at full speed and Ball has said he will not rush back.
“At the same time, now is the time to strike,” the exec says per Deveney. “They can get good pieces for [Zach] LaVine.”
LaVine is said to still be at odds with the organization and Donovan so anything is possible. But it also seems the Bulls are just as likely to stand pat at the deadline and tear it down after the season – if then with Ball still under contract for two more years – than anything else.