Winning solves everything. Of course, the Chicago Bulls (10-14) will have to do more than just win a game over the flailing Washington Wizards to quell all of the questions still surrounding this team, including: Is Zach LaVine a future trade candidate?
“The Knicks will be watching Chicago,” asserted ESPN’s Adrian Wojnarowski on December 7, confirming New York’s previously reported interest in the Bulls guard. “Is Zach LaVine a player who before the trade deadline possibly could become available? He certainly isn’t now.”
Wojnarowski’s report mostly aligns with Fox Sports’ Ric Bucher’s read on the situation.
“The Knicks’ problem is not a dearth of assets — they have four first-round picks (three protected) in the upcoming draft and veteran point guard Derrick Rose, whose role has been severely reduced with the acquisition of Jalen Brunson, to dangle — but a lack of star-level inventory on the market to pursue,” he wrote in his “Front Office Confidential” column on December 2.
Included in that “star-level inventory” would be DeMar DeRozan and LaVine, whom the Bulls, according to league sources, had made off-limits in trade talks, Bucher wrote. Wojnarowski’s report made no mention of DeRozan as being a future candidate.
That would leave Bulls center Nikola Vucevic, who is in the final year of his contract as the most-likely trade candidate, according to K.C. Johnson of NBC Sports Chicago.
“As for Vučević, he’s an extremely skilled player and I think actually underrated in terms of how much he sacrifices on this team. But he’s more of a complementary star than a lead star,” Johnson wrote in his “Bulls Mailbag” column published December 7.
Knicks Eyeing LaVine
Chicago’s 115-112 win over the Wizards on December 7 was a strong starting point as the team’s beleaguered big three of DeRozan, LaVine and Vucevic attempt to turn around the season. They are currently 10-14 and in 12th place in the Eastern Conference, one-half game out of a spot in the play-in tournament.
Two of the three – DeRozan and Vucevic – are now posting positive net ratings on the season, per Cleaning The Glass. LaVine figures to be on his way to joining them if his recent trend holds over a very winnable stretch of games. Their upcoming schedule features two games against the Knicks, as well as games against the Minnesota Timberwolves, Atlanta Hawks and Dallas Mavericks.
LaVine has been scoring just fine all season, albeit below his All-Star capability, as he returned from an offseason curbed by knee surgery. Over his last four outings, however, LaVine is averaging 27 points on 60.5% true shooting.
Much of that is courtesy of a 41-point explosion in the Bulls’ 110-101 loss to the Sacramento Kings. But LaVine is also knocking down 44% of his looks from beyond the arc over the last three games — no small development for a player who shot 38.9% last season or a team that ranks in the middle of the pack in terms of 3-point efficiency but is dead last in attempts.
Perhaps most encouraging, LaVine’s defensive rating over the last three games is 103, a mark he met or beat in two of the three contests. He had two such outings in 21 previous tries before this stretch.
Waiting for Awhile
LaVine signed a five-year, $215 million max deal this past summer, making him the face of the franchise. It would presumably take a major slide and likely LaVine demanding out for the 27-year-old two-time All-Star’s availability to change by the deadline.
DeRozan still has another season left on his contract after this 2022-23, giving a team that would acquire him some team control.