The Chicago Bulls finished with an overall record of 40-42 last season, falling in the play-in tournament to the Miami Heat, but few expect the team to make any major moves this offseason.
After Chicago’s season ended, executive vice president of basketball operations Arturas Karnisovas made it sound as though no major shakeups were coming.
“That’s been thrown around all season: ‘Blow up, rebuild.’ It’s not on our minds,” Karnisovas said in April, via K.C. Johnson of NBC Sports. “[We’re focusing] on winning and trying to build a sustainable program here. How we can help this group and how we can improve from this year. That’s what our offseason goal is going to look like. We’re going to consider everything and how we can compete with the top teams.”
One analyst thinks sending forward DeMar DeRozan to the New York Knicks in exchange for RJ Barrett and Isaiah Hartenstein would be a way for the Bulls to free up some much-needed salary cap space while adding enough talent to compete now, which is the team’s stated goal.
Barrett & Hartenstein for DeRozan Would Help Both Teams, Analyst Says
In his May 18 column, Bleacher Report’s Zach Buckley laid out why he thinks Chicago might want to try to ship DeRozan to New York.
“If Chicago can’t contend right now, it needs to ask some uncomfortable questions about how it will ever reach that level,” Buckley wrote. “A deal like this would buy the Bulls some breathing room without completely abandoning the idea of competing sooner than later. Swapping out DeMar DeRozan for RJ Barrett would make Chicago younger and more defensively resistant on the wings. While DeRozan is the better scorer and creator now, things could shift Barrett’s direction sooner than later.”
Buckley also thinks this deal would be quite attractive to the Knicks.
“The Knicks might see their playoff exit as a reason to add offensive firepower,” he suggested. “DeRozan is the player right now whom they hope Barrett will one day become. Do this deal, and New York would have one of the league’s top scoring trios with DeRozan, Jalen Brunson and Julius Randle.”
Chicago Would Get Significantly Younger in This Deal
Hartenstein, who just turned 25 in early May, is a solid backup center who won’t score many points (he averaged 5.0 points in 19.8 minutes this past season) but he’ll clean up the glass nicely (he hauled in 6.5 boards a game last year). If the Bulls do decide to re-sign free agent center Nikola Vucevic, Hartenstein would be nice depth behind him.
Adding a player like Barrett is arguably the most intriguing aspect of this deal. The third overall pick for the Knicks out of Duke in 2019, Barrett turns 23 in June and has shown solid growth over his four years in the league.
A bit of a hybrid player, Barrett has played shooting guard and small forward. In 73 games last season, Barrett scored 19.6 points a game while also hauling in 5.0 boards and handing out 2.8 assists. He shot 43.4% from the field last year, which is solid.
By comparison, DeRozan, who turns 34 this summer, put up a statline of 24.5 points, 4.6 rebounds and 5.1 assists, shooting just over 50% from the field. DeRozan is due $28.6 million next season, after which he becomes an unrestricted free agent.
Barrett is entering the first year of a four-year, $107 million extension and is due $23.8 million in 2023-24, with his salary going up by $2 million per year each year after that. One NBA executive told Heavy Sports’ NBA insider Sean Deveney that Barrett “has not found a good fit” with the Knicks, and the team is unsure what to do with him.
If he’s available and New York would take DeRozan, this might be a rare trade proposal that could help the Bulls both now and in the future. It’s all conjecture, but adding Barrett is an intriguing idea Karnisovas may want to consider.