If LeBron James doesn’t finish his career with the Los Angeles Lakers, there’s an excellent chance he’d end his Hall of Fame career with the Chicago Bulls, according to one ranking of James’ most likely landing spots.
The Athletic’s David Aldridge, while acknowledging that it’s “far more likely than not that James finishes his career in Los Angeles alongside” Anthony Davis, gave the Bulls the second-best “possibility” score, behind the Atlanta Hawks.
“There would be 29 potential destinations. But that number, obviously, isn’t real under closer scrutiny,” Aldridge wrote in a January 16 story that eliminates 23 of the remaining teams and narrows down the number of realistic destinations to six teams. “The Bulls’ retool around DeMar DeRozan and Zach LaVine has hit a bumpy patch, but the front office has shown an ability to recalibrate on the fly.”
To bring James to Chicago, according to Aldridge, the Bulls would trade away Alex Caruso, DeMar DeRozan and Patrick Williams. Even with the NBA’s trade deadline approaching, any deal would have to wait to the offseason because of the two-year extension signed in August 2022. League rules prohibit James from being dealt until February 14, five days after the trade deadline.
In addition to the three Bulls that Aldridge noted, “there’s not a safe player on the roster” if the Bulls’ situation (they are 20-24 and in 10th place in the Eastern Conference standings) doesn’t improve in the season’s second half, wrote Joe Cowley of the Chicago Sun-Times on January 18, on the eve of the team’s trip to Paris to play the Detroit Pistons.
What the Chicago Bulls Would Give Up for LeBron James
“DeRozan is still a viable, productive co-star, if not a leading man,” Aldridge wrote, citing his sustained performance at 33 years old. “DeRozan and [Anthony] Davis could create all kinds of pick-and-roll mayhem for opponents, getting the Lakers’ opponents into the free-throw penalty early and often.”
DeRozan, a five-time All-Star and three-time All-NBA selection, is averaging 26.1 points per game on 56.9% true shooting this season. Though his points are down from last season, that efficiency is the second-best of his career. He has one more year on his three-year, $81.9 million deal signed when he got traded to the Bulls last summer.
Aldridge noted that DeRozan, from the L.A. suburb of Compton, wanted to join the Lakers in 2021.
“One guesses L.A. would also love to reacquire Alex Caruso,” Aldridge wrote. “He would slide right into the starting point guard spot next to DeRozan in a remade Lakers backcourt.”
Caruso, 28, currently leads the Bulls in net efficiency differential, per Cleaning The Glass.
He is in the second year of a four-year pact that will pay him roughly $37 million over its term with the final year (2024) only partially guaranteed. That combined with what he brings on the floor has led NBC Sports Chicago Bulls insider K.C. Johnson to call Caruso the Bulls’ third most valuable trade asset, behind only DeRozan and LaVine. The former 2020 championship Laker is averaging 9.7 points, 5.7 rebounds, 4.7 assists and 2.7 steals in three games since being reinserted into the starting lineup. He is shooting over 39% from beyond the arc this season in a bounce-back campaign after shooting just 33.3% last year.
“Patrick Williams has yet to live up to being the fourth pick of the 2020 draft,” Aldridge wrote, “but he’s still a bouncy forward who could help L.A. out on the glass and on defense.”
Williams has vacillated between exuding confidence and accepting mediocrity. He foretold superstardom in his future just two games before being benched and calling the move “expected” amid his uneven play. But the 6-foot-7 Williams is averaging a career-best 10 points per game on 57.6% true shooting. And, over the last month, has averaged 12.6 points on 61.3% true shooting.
An ‘Ornery’ Long Shot
“James, LaVine, and a re-signed Nikola Vučević could be quite ornery in the half-court,” Aldridge wrote. “If Lonzo Ball ever did get healthy enough to join them, there could be all kinds of fun in the Windy City on cold winter nights, with James and Ball taking turns throwing oops to LaVine.”
Ball’s lengthy absence is arguably why this is even a conversation. The Bulls were a different, more consistent team with him in the lineup.
But his return date is unknown and grows more unlikely for 2023 by the day.
Aldridge’s point of both Ball and James’ playmaking complementing LaVine’s game is a valid one amid LaVine’s lingering frustrations. It might not come in the form of a long-shot trade such as the one Aldridge proposed, but the Bulls do have to decide on DeRozan — and the team’s current core – at some point.