It’s looking less and less likely that the Chicago Bulls playoff push will yield a postseason berth, leading many to question what they can do this offseason to ensure the opposite outcome in 2021-2022.
Any answer regarding the team’s offseason plans revolves entirely around one 23-year old point guard, and upcoming restricted free agent.
Chicago has been tied to Lonzo Ball in trade rumors for the last year, with their efforts to land him at the trade deadline coming up short. There’s little question as to if the Bulls will make another run this offseason, but plenty of speculation as to if they can actually pull it off.
Ball is averaging 14.5 points, 5.7 assists, 4.2 rebounds, and 1.4 steals this season.
The latest Bulls news straight to your inbox! Join the Heavy on Bulls newsletter here!
Will New Orleans Part with Ball?
When the New Orleans Pelicans didn’t pull the trigger on any trade involving the point guard, speculation mounted as to if their plan was to keep him all along. It seems unlikely, given his upcoming free agency status.
Ball will no doubt receive offer sheets from a number of teams, including but not limited to: the Chicago Bulls, New York Knicks, and the LA Clippers.
New Orleans retains the right to match any offer sheet he signs, but can also opt not to, should the price tag be outside their comfort zone.
As an anonymous NBA executive mentioned to ESPN’s Brian Windhorst and Andrew Lopez, the Pelicans are not a team people expect to pay the luxury tax.
Even with just $91-million on their books for next season, they’ve got multiple contract and extension decisions awaiting them in the not-so-distant future.
That starts with Josh Hart, a versatile all-effort sixth man, who’s also entering restricted free agency. It’s unlikely New Orleans would go into the luxury tax to keep both restricted free agent guards, not with Eric Bledsoe’s $18-million salary still on the books.
That same executive went as far as to imply that without a Bledsoe-trade, the Pelicans will be forced to choose between Hart and Ball:
Unless they can trade Bledsoe, they will be hard-pressed to re-sign both Lonzo and Hart. They don’t pay the [luxury] tax.
Lopez and Windhorst noted in the report that New Orleans’ attempts to trade Bledsoe gained little traction ahead of the deadline. The 31-year old veteran has disappointed this season, averaging just 11.8 points and 3.8 assists per game.
It’s worth noting however, that the Pelicans have a hoard of future draft picks, both first and second rounders. If they were determined to move Bledsoe, they’ve got the capital/incentive for a team to take on his future salary in a trade.
Whether they’re motivated to pay someone to take on Eric Bledsoe, so that they can then pay Lonzo Ball a lucrative deal, remains to be seen.
Updated Bulls Playoff Odds
Walking into Friday night’s matchup with the Memphis Grizzlies, the Chicago Bulls are 22-32, and 3-8 since the trade deadline.
That’s good for the Eastern Conference’s 10th-seed, with a number of teams (Toronto, Washington) hot on their heels for the final play-in spot.
Likely taking the Zach LaVine news into account, Five Thirty Eight has the Bulls’ playoff chances at a six percent likelihood. Only the Wizards have worse odds among teams with a greater than one percent shot.
And Tankathon.com has Chicago’s remaining schedule as the eighth-toughest in the entire NBA.
The odds are against the Chicago Bulls, now without their top player for an extended time, and riding a four-game losing streak.
18 games to go.