It’s the question everyone has been asking about the Chicago Bulls since their season ended in the play-in tournament on April 14: Will they or won’t they keep the Big 3 together?
The Big 3, of course, are shooting guard Zach LaVine, center Nikola Vucevic and forward DeMar DeRozan, Chicago’s trio of top scorers. Last season, the 28-year-old LaVine averaged 24.8 points, 4.5 rebounds and 4.2 assists a game (stats via Basketball Reference). He was the team’s top scorer just ahead of DeRozan, who finished with 24.5 points a game while leading the team in assists (5.1).
Vucevic, the only of the three to be a free agent this summer, averaged a double-double, leading the team in rebounds (11.0 per game), also scoring 17.6 points per contest. Bulls’ current executive vice president of basketball operations, Arturas Karnisovas, has stated publicly on more than one occasion that the team will not make any drastic moves, also noting he’d like to keep Vooch around.
Still, what’s said in public is very different than what’s said in private. Bulls insider K.C. Johnson of NBC Sports was asked in his May 25 column how likely he thought it was Chicago could break up the Big 3, and he shared some interesting info about the way LaVine’s future is viewed by some NBA execs.
Johnson: LaVine Has ‘Grown Tired’ of Trade Rumors
Johnson stressed the likelihood Karnisovas will keep the group together, but he also revealed that multiple rival executives aren’t sold on LaVine’s future in the Windy City.
“There remains the very real chance the Bulls re-sign Vucevic, hold onto Zach LaVine and DeMar DeRozan and try to upgrade the margins to give this group another shot. Remember: That, for now, is management’s public stance,” Johnson wrote.
Trade rumors have surrounded LaVine for months, with the Dallas Mavericks and New York Knicks among the teams said to have interest. Johnson noted that all the trade talk has taken a toll on LaVine in particular.
“Several rival executives who NBC Sports Chicago talked to at the combine are skeptical about the long-term marriage between Zach LaVine and the Bulls,” Johnson wrote, adding: “LaVine, who has been loyal to the Bulls, has grown tired of consistently landing in trade rumors, although talk of the New York Knicks’ interest at the trade deadline was overstated.”
LaVine has completed just one year of the five-year, $215 max extension he signed in 2022, and he carries cap hits of over $40 million over the next four seasons, so if there are any teams interested in adding him via trade, they had better be willing to pay up.
DeRozan May Be Most Likely Trade Candidate for Bulls
Regardless of all the speculation, LaVine is likely going to stay put, at least this season. Still, Johnson doesn’t think we should dismiss rumblings of a possible breakup between LaVine and the Bulls.
“LaVine also represents the Bulls’ most dynamic scorer in terms of his ability to heat up either beyond the arc or attacking the rim,” Johnson noted. “Again, the Bulls publicly have backed LaVine at every opportunity so believe that for now over rival executives’ speculation. But that speculation is prevalent enough to acknowledge.”
The Bulls don’t have a big man to fill Vooch’s shoes, so re-signing him for a few more years seems like a given. DeRozan, who turns 34 this summer, is the most likely trade candidate. He’s set to make $28 million next season and he’s still playing below his age. The Bulls might be able to find a taker or two for his services.
The likeliest scenario of all, though, is Chicago running it back with the same group again despite a 40-42 finish last year.