Wild Trade Proposal Would Land Bulls DeAndre Ayton

Getty Deandre Ayton

If the Chicago Bulls don’t have make it out of the first round of the playoffs, or perhaps are completely overmatched in a second-round series, there could be changes to their starting lineup ahead of the 2022-23 season.

The main guy likely to be replaced would be center Nikola Vucevic. While he has been an excellent rebounder and solid scoring option for a season and a half, there are concerns about his fit as a defender on a team with Zach LaVine and DeMar DeRozan logging heavy minutes.

Neither LaVine nor DeRozan are winning All-Defensive team honors any time soon. Because of their offensive gifts, it’s something the Bulls will have to live with, but the argument could be made Chicago could benefit from having a more athletic rim protector there to erase some of the defensive mistakes on the perimeter.

Recently, NBC Sports’ K.C. Johnson answered a mailbag question that focused on the futures of Vucevic and DeRozan as Bulls. Johnson didn’t see a situation where a trade of DeRozan or Vucevic would be described as likely, but he did drop some names that might potentially entice the Bulls into considering moving their big man.

“Vučević has a declining and expiring deal,” Johnson pointed out. “But he also was specifically targeted by this management team at last season’s trade deadline and his trade price wasn’t cheap. Like DeRozan, he’d likely only be dealt if it’s for some All-Star caliber player who either suddenly becomes disgruntled or whose team suddenly decides to shake things up.”

The player the Bulls might be interested doesn’t have to be Vucevic’s equal as an offensive player. The key impact would be on the defensive end.

“I’m talking names like Anthony Davis if the Lakers decide to make drastic changes following a wildly disappointing season or Rudy Gobert if Utah flames out in the postseason again or DeAndre Ayton is his restricted free agency becomes messy,” Johnson mentioned. “To be clear, all of these are extreme longshot scenarios. I expect both DeRozan and Vučević to return.”

DeRozan’s return seems automatic, but there are some reasons to believe Vucevic could be the odd man out. Davis’ contract is about as hefty as his line of stints on the injury list. Gobert is an all-time great defender, but his contract is downright frightening with the Utah Jazz big man scheduled to make $38 million next season and his salary escalating for the rest of its term.

The Suns’ Ayton is an interesting and inviting case for the Bulls. He’s younger, a little less expensive long-term and perhaps being devalued by the Phoenix Suns who still haven’t signed him to a long-term deal.

That concept gave birth to the following admittedly bold, but potentially helpful and realistic sign-and-trade concept.

The Trade

  • Bulls Get: DeAndre Ayton, Dario Saric, Chandler Hutchinson (who would be waived) and a 2023 second-round pick
  • Suns Get: Nikola Vucevic, Coby White and Troy Brown Jr.

Here are the details, per Fanspo’s NBA TRADE MACHINE.

Why the Bulls Would Dump Nikola Vucevic and Coby White

As good as Vucevic has been as a rebounder and scorer this season (11.2 rpg and 18.1 ppg) his three-point shooting has dipped from 40% last season to just under 32% this year. Compound the lack of stretch in the stretch-big concept with his slow feet on defense, and the Bulls have a productive big man who doesn’t fit as well with the team they have currently constructed.

Remember, as was pointed out by Brian Geltzeiler of Hoops Critic when he appeared as a guest on 670 The Score’s Bernstein and Rahimi, the Bulls signed Vucevic before they traded for DeRozan.

“The guy that I think they need to turn the page on is Nikola Vucevic,” Geltzeiler said. “I think he’s probably performed a little less than what they thought they were going to get out of him. They traded for Vucevic before they ever brought DeRozan in, and I think that’s very important to note here. Because that spot, with DeRozan and LaVine on the floor, needs to be a defensive-oriented five, a guy that’s going to block and change shots. Vucevic is a very good rebounder. He’s a good offensive player–I don’t know if he’s a great offensive player–he’s a siv defensively. He doesn’t protect the rim well. You need a legit rim protector, a guy that patrols the paint to be able to make up for some of the mistakes of your perimeter guys.”

Swapping Vucevic out for a less-talented offensive player who can make an impact on defense would make sense.

As for White, you have to love his effort, heart and willingness to be coached. White never seems to make an error because of a lack of effort. That said, we know he’s not a traditional point guard, and as a two-guard, he’s better suited as a spot-up three-point shooter (37% lifetime three-point shooter and 41% on catch-and-shoot) who offers the occasional drive.

The ascension of rookie point guard Ayo Dosunmu has made White expendable. While White is loved on his team, letting go of him, who like Vucevic has just one year remaining on his deal after this season, is a subtraction Chicago can absorb without taking a step back.

Why the Suns Might Dump DeAndre Ayton

Back in October, Ayton wanted the Suns to sign him to a five-year, $172 million deal, but according to ESPN’s Adrian Wojnarowski, who referenced a source, the Suns don’t believe Ayton should be paid the same as other eligible players in his class, such as Luka Doncic and Trae Young.

According to The Athletic’s Sam Amick, Ayton and the Suns didn’t have “real negotiations” on a secondary deal. If the Bulls are willing to pony up and pay more than the Suns were willing to invest, they could create the feeling of appreciation Ayton apparently didn’t feel from the team he helped reach the NBA Finals last season, and has helped push to the league’s best record again this year.

It’s decision time for the Suns and Ayton and the Bulls might be aggressive in pursuing him if they consider him a good fit.

What Ayton and Saric Would Bring to the Bulls

Ayton is averaging 17.2 points, 10.1 rebounds and just 0.7 blocks per game this season. While he isn’t necessarily an elite rim protector, his athleticism makes him far less of a mark for opposing teams against the pick-and-roll.

That’s a key element for the Bulls who are seeing teams run that look against them the fourth most in the NBA.

Dario Saric is the other key component to this proposed trade. He tore his ACL in July and has missed the entire season with the injury. When healthy, Saric is a big and versatile power forward who is also heading into the final year of his contract. When healthy, Saric is a solid three-point shooter and underrated passer from the power forward position.

He’d give the Bulls solid depth at a position where they are sorely lacking.

What Vucevic and White Would Offer the Suns

If you put Vucevic on a team with an elite point guard like Chris Paul, and on a team that moves the ball as effectively as the Suns, you might see him have the best season of his career.

Vucevic hasn’t had the privilege of playing with a master of the pick-and-roll game like Paul, and it could do wonders for him. Also, the fact that Vucevic would only be on the books for one more year could make for an inviting experiment for a Suns team that is cautious of committing too much money over the long-term.

White’s three-point shooting and floor-spreading ability could also be used at a high level in Phoenix. As Devin Booker’s backup, White might compete for time with Landry Shamet, but the former would seemingly have the edge from an offensive standpoint.

Also, White sees Paul as a mentor dating back to his high school hoops days, and linking him with the future Hall-of-Famer could also augment the results of the deal for the Suns.

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