As has been the case throughout the 2022-23 campaign, it continues to be a one-step-forward, one-step-back existence for the Chicago Bulls. The team’s latest debacle — a 15-point loss to the lottery-chasing Houston Rockets — may have been the best (worst) example of the phenomenon to date.
If anything was going to stamp out the good mojo that had come out of the team’s recent three-game win steak — during which DeMar DeRozan went into full hero mode against the New York Knicks — it was that loss. The fact that it occurred at the United Center and after multiple days off was salt in the wound.
For some, it served as proof that the current iteration of the Bulls isn’t built to win without Lonzo Ball (and may not be built to do so with him, either).
Assuming that’s the reality of the situation, the time is nigh for Arturas Karnisovas, Marc Eversley and the rest of the Bulls brain trust to start offloading some of their high-priced vets. To that end, here’s a hypothetical trade to jumpstart the rebuild with high-level assets and cap space.
Trade Proposal Sends DeMar DeRozan to the LA Lakers
Earlier this month, Bleacher Report’s Eric Pincus reported that the Los Angeles Lakers would be interested in bringing DeRozan and/or two-time NBA All-Star Nikola Vucevic to SoCal in the event that the Bulls made them available. The following trade sends both to the purple and gold crew while netting Chicago a big return for the future:
- Chicago Bulls receive PG Russell Westbrook, C Damian Jones and unprotected first-round picks in 2027 and 2029.
- Los Angeles Lakers receive F DeMar DeRozan and C Nikola Vucevic
For the Lakers, this would be a last-ditch effort to win big with LeBron James and Anthony Davis before one or both of them fly the coop or start to show signs of regression.
And while that’s a wild thing to think about for a team that currently sits in 13th place in the West, LeBron is still LeBron and there isn’t a clear favorite in the conference at the moment. Even now, as a sub-.500 team, the Lake Show is still within four and a half games of the sixth spot.
DeRozan would give the Lakers a legitimate star trio — with at least some tread left on its tires — to compete with the West’s best. Moreover, Vucevic could hold down the pivot while Davis recovers from his latest injury and then play next to him upon his return.
Where the Bulls are concerned, this trade would mean that management is all-in on building for the future.
By jettisoning two of their top three offensive options, the Bulls would give themselves a fighting chance to retain the top-four-protected first-rounder they owe the Orlando Magic via the Vucevic trade. And with LeBron, AD (and DeRozan & Vooch, post-trade) likely having aged out or moved on by the time those Lakers picks are conveyed, Chicago could be looking at a total of three prime picks coming their way.
Westbrook, meanwhile, would allow the Bulls to clear a hefty salary slot for the summer, either by buying him out or allowing him to walk after the season.
Potential Hang-Ups in the Deal
In order to make the money work on the deal, Westbrook is the piece that has to go back to the Windy City. But, according to one team insider, the Bulls aren’t all that interested in Westbrook or the salary relief he would provide. Here’s what Joe Cowley of the Chicago Sun-Times reported on December 9:
While the Lakers might be looking to make a big trade and have their eyes on the Bulls’ roster, the feeling isn’t mutual. According to a source, executive vice president of basketball operations Arturas Karnisovas has no interest in acquiring Russell Westbrook and his expiring contract, even if it means adding draft picks.
There are also questions to be asked on the Lakers’ side of the equation.
First and foremost, shedding high-value assets for quick fixes and old, overpriced veterans is what has gotten the Lakers into the mess they’ve been in for the last few years. They did get a bubble title out of it, so maybe the ends justify the means there, but that doesn’t change the fact that they’re in a bad situation now.
It’s hard to see Rob Pelinka and Co. wanting to prolong the suffering by shedding more picks for oldies with imperfect skill sets.
Secondly, spacing issues have plagued the Lakers since LeBron and AD came to town, and it’s hard to see them improving with the mid-range maestro in DeRozan taking 12 to 15 or more shots a night and the plodding Vucevic — whose three-ball prowess has dipped in recent years — manning the middle.
Still, if these issues could be overcome, we could be looking at a win-win scenario.