A narrow 117-115 victory did little to calm the waters around the Chicago Bulls, especially when that win came over the team with the second-worst record in the NBA in the Detroit Pistons. Still sitting outside the Play-In Tournament at 11th in the Eastern Conference, perhaps they should have their sights set more on the future.
Conversely, the fifth-seeded New York Knicks, one of their most-hated historical rivals, is trending up.
“The Knicks are having an awesome season, but they still might be one star short of contending,” argues Bleacher Report’s Zach Buckley. “DeMar DeRozan is having an awesome season of his own, but he doesn’t have nearly enough help to contend.
“Maybe there’s a match to be made between them. “
- Alex Caruso
- DeMar DeRozan
“New York has seen Julius Randle return to an All-Star level and Jalen Brunson ascend right alongside him,” explains Buckley. “The Knicks surely hoped RJ Barrett would follow suit and help form basketball’s latest big three, but the fourth-year swingman has plateaued and maybe New York no longer feels it can wait on his development.”
Barrett, the third-overall pick in 2019, has seen his stats take a step back with the arrival and, as Buckley cites, the ascension of Brunson. But, with drops of 0.5 points, 0.7 rebounds, and 0.2 assists he’s done well, all things considered.
He’s shooting a worse clip from three-point range but his overall efficiency is up.
Barrett is in the final year of his rookie contract and is set to earn $107 million over the next four years. While the Bulls missed any chance of getting him at the “bargain” price of $10 million this season, next year’s roughly $23 million price is as low as it will get for the foreseeable future and his next deal could be even higher.
Like Barrett, Toppin is also on the wrong side of the efficiency differential spectrum, checking in with the fifth-worst mark on the team – fourth now that Cam Reddish is in Portland. He’s also had his role reduced, much as Barrett has, albeit to a much harsher degree. – Barrett’s usage rate fell by 1.6% while Toppin’s dropped by 2.2%. The eighth-overall pick in 2020, Toppin will be rookie extension eligible this offseason but the Bulls would effectively have two more seasons of control.
He has one more year on his rookie deal with restricted free agency the ensuing summer.
Isaiah Hartenstein cashed in on a career year with the Los Angeles to the tune of $16 million over two seasons. This year has not gone to plan with a new role for the multi-faceted big man who is averaging just 5.1 points and 6.6 rebounds.
The 7-footer averaged 8.3 points, 4.9 boards, 2.4 assists, and 1.1 blocks for L.A. in 2022.
How Bulls DeMar DeRozan Could Fit Into Knicks’ Plans
“DeRozan is sort of the actualized version of what the ‘Bockers hope Barrett might one day become (minus the defense),” Buckley suggests. “Right now, the Knicks look like a pain in the neck for their first-round opponent. However, if they added DeRozan…and pesky combo guard Alex Caruso, who might quickly become Tom Thibodeau‘s favorite player, they’d be no worse than shadow contenders for the championships.”
Chicago set a very high price on Caruso at the trade deadline but the Knicks were one of the teams being linked to the feisty defender.
The remaining two years and $19.3 million ($12.4 million guaranteed) add to his appeal.
While no real talk about moving DeRozan came to light – to the contrary, there have been reports they could look to give him another contract – Buckley points out that DeRozan was interested in joining the Knicks before joining the Bulls from the San Antonio Spurs.
“According to a source familiar with the situation…the Knicks were informed DeRozan would have strong interest in coming to New York if they put together the parameters of a deal,” reported Marc Berman of the New York Post in February of 2022. “But the Knicks did not, and the Bulls nabbed DeRozan on a three-year, $82 million package. The source said if the Knicks had matched Chicago’s offer, DeRozan would’ve chosen the Big Apple.”
It has been known that the Bulls offered the most money for DeRozan but his interest in the Knicks has not been widely reported.
As his effectiveness has waned compared to last season, the Bulls might want to switch gears.
Insider: Bulls Had Talks With Knicks
DeRozan is 32 years old while LaVine does not turn 28 years old until mid-March.
Aside from the higher financial commitment – LaVine signed a five-year, $215 million max contract this past offseason – the age gap makes it more prudent to at least explore moving DeRozan before LaVine both of whom have taken issue with parts of the other’s game at times.