At some point, the Chicago Bulls are going to have to face the music. If they are going to hold fast to the idea that this core group is a viable playoff contender, they must also realize how dependent on solid point guard play they are and find a reliable one.
Another loss – this time in overtime to the New York Knicks – was preceded by the gut-check announcement from ESPN’s Adrian Wojnarowski that there are “no guarantees” Lonzo Ball returns this season. He has been sidelined since mid-January with a torn meniscus and subsequent nerve damage related to loose cartilage.
Faced with that reality, and their own deficiencies, perhaps the Bulls could look to take advantage of another downward-trending situation North of the border.
Could they put together a package to pry Fred VanVleet free from the Toronto Raptors?
Bulls Vision Clouded Amid Slide
“What if the Bulls…decide they can’t wait any longer for Lonzo Ball’s knee to recover, then offer Patrick Williams, Coby White, and Derrick Jones Jr. for VanVleet,” ponders Michael Pina of The Ringer. “That’s a fun one to consider if Toronto’s up-and-down play continues and Chicago’s brain breaks.”
- Fred VanVleet
“The Raptors are a weird team in a weird spot,” Pina argues. “They have a league-average offense, a top-10 defense, and very little reason to believe either metric accurately assesses how their 13-15 season has gone.”
Pina follows that entry up by pleading with the Bulls, whom he says are “very bad”, to make a trade as they are 2-5 over their last seven outings with a four-game road trip looming on the horizon.
Toronto is just two wins and one loss ahead of the Bulls for 10th in the Eastern Conference and clinging to the final spot in the Play-In Tournament.
They are just 2-6 over their last eight games while VanVleet’s numbers have dipped.
Why TOR Might Ship VanVleet
VanVleet, who spent two years as teammates with Bulls star DeMar DeRozan is averaging 18 points per game (his fewest in three years) on 52.1% true shooting, the second-worst mark of his career. A one-time All-Star and NBA champion after going undrafted out of Wichita State in 2016, VanVleet is shooting just 37.2% from the floor and has connected on 32.2% of his triples.
VanVleet has the second-worst net rating among the Raptors’ top five leaders in minutes, per Cleaning The Glass, but was third on the team in the same metric last season. And the Raptors are still outscoring opponents (albeit slightly) when he is on the floor.
This has Toronto trying to balance a delicate situation, explains Pina.
“There are multiple timelines here,” writes Pina pointing to the age gap between Toronto’s top stars. “VanVleet can opt out of his contract this summer and Anunoby can do the same the following offseason. The need to make long-term commitments one way or another has boxed Toronto into a tricky corner.”
VanVleet is in the third year of a four-year, $85 million deal and can opt out of the final year – worth nearly $23 million – and become an unrestricted free agent.
The Raptors’ willingness to risk losing him for nothing could be the biggest driving factor here.
Bulls Being Defiant
Jake Fischer of Yahoo! Sports reports that the Bulls have been telling inquiring teams that they believe they can make the postseason with the caveat being when they are healthy. That is a hard goal to achieve sans Ball.
VanVleet may still be a longshot but he could also represent Bulls vice president of basketball operations Arturas Karnisovas’ best opportunity to save face with this group he’s assembled.
And, if and when Ball returns, the Bulls would still boast a formidable backcourt rotation.
Of course, none of this will matter until they come to grips with their current reality, they are often listless on the court without a floor general and theirs is no sure bet to return at any point this season. The paths forward would seem clearly defined, but the Bulls will be in a holding pattern until they pick a new lane.