Bulls Floated as Trade Destination for Former No. 1 Pick

Chicago Bulls

Getty Deandre Ayton #22 of the Phoenix Suns celebrates a basket.

The Chicago Bulls team that takes the floor on opening night against the Miami Heat on October 19 is unlikely to be the one that takes the floor a couple of seasons from now. In addition to some players, perhaps, aging out of their time, others could be moved to upgrade the roster.

Star guard Zach LaVine just inked a five-year, $215 million deal this offseason.

However, DeMar DeRozan has just two years on his contract. More specifically to this discussion, center Nikola Vucevic is heading into the final year of his pact.

Both Vucevic and the Bulls are reported to have interest in hammering out a new contract for the two-time All-Star. But there could be a situation in Phoenix between the Suns and former top pick big man Deandre Ayton that has been brewing all offseason that could pique the Bulls’ interest.

Bulls Could Have Chance to Land DeAndre Ayton

“Just because Ayton is back in Phoenix on a new four-year, $132.9 million deal doesn’t mean his future with the Suns is safe,” argues Bleacher Report’s Greg Swartz. “Phoenix simply matched the offer sheet the Indiana Pacers signed Ayton to, which was the obvious choice at the time.”

It was reported earlier in the summer that the Suns simply did not see Ayton – or any more traditional big man – as worth a max contract. He eventually received an offer sheet from the Indiana Pacers that Phoenix promptly matched.

Ayton’s deal is slated to keep him in the Valley of the Sun through the 2026 season.

But Swartz says, even if interested teams have to be patient for a bit longer if they want to make an overture, the idea is not beyond the realm of possibility.

“If there’s any animosity between the two sides, Ayton is eligible to be traded on January 15th but can veto any trade until July 15th. He also cannot be traded to the Pacers until that time. Teams like the Toronto Raptors, Chicago Bulls, and Charlotte Hornets would all be intriguing fits.”

For what it’s worth, Suns head coach Monty Williams dismissed rumors of a rift between him and Ayton while the organization chose the big man to model their new throwback uniforms.

Deandre Ayton’s Potential Impact on the Bulls

Vucevic has been a lightning rod among Bulls fans. His shaky perimeter shooting and porous defense have many forgetting that he was one of just six players to average at least 17 points and 11 rebounds last season.

The soon-to-be 32-year-old was also incredibly durable for a team that was ravaged by injuries throughout the 2022 campaign finishing third on the team in appearances.

Ayton just turned 24 years old and has had some maturity questions.

But he also fell just shy of becoming the seventh member of the aforementioned exclusive list averaging 17.2 points and 10.2 rebounds. His best season came two years ago in 2020 when he averaged 18.2 points and 11.5 boards.

The 6-foot-11 big man is coming off a down year. But he did average 1.3 blocks over the 2020 and 2021 seasons.

He is nowhere near the shooter that Vucevic is, attempting fewer than one per game.

Ayton still sports a better offensive rating than Vucevic (120 to 109). But the latter surprisingly has the edge in defensive rating. Perhaps Ayton would fare even better if surrounded by the Bulls’ stout defensive guards.

Getting Ayton on Bulls is Tricky

Getting him to Chicago gets complicated in practice. He is slated to earn nearly $31 million this coming season with roughly $2 million increases in each subsequent year making it increasingly difficult for the Bulls to match salaries per NBA rules.

The Bulls only have DeRozan and Vucevic’s contracts to get them close with a singular player which limits their timeline and this even being a viable option.

They could include Lonzo Ball and his $19-plus million in salary. But he is currently injured and his history is such that his value is likely as low as it will be. The Bulls are also taking a “long view” on the injury signaling that they are less motivated to move him despite his health concerns.

They simply don’t have many avenues for landing Ayton as they are also without draft capital.

But the fit is indeed intriguing and would provide fans with a much more optimistic outlook on this team long-term.

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