Weak Eastern Conference Could Push Bulls to Trade Injured Williams: Analyst

Patrick Williams, Bulls

Getty Patrick Williams, Bulls

The Chicago Bulls are off to an impressive 14-8 start to the NBA season, tied for second in the Eastern Conference and putting to rest many of the doubts about the construction of their roster, especially with wings DeMar DeRozan and Zach LaVine playing like All-Stars in the early going.

But still, there does seem to be a missing element with this team. Power forward Patrick Williams dislocated his wrist and will miss the remainder of his sophomore season, leaving Chicago without the sturdy defensive presence and impressive upside that Williams would have brought.

With all things considered, the Bulls might not be able to resist passing on an opportunity to play for the NBA Finals here in the short term. Milwaukee has played better lately, but is not invincible, and the prohibitive favorite in the East, the Nets, have not looked dominant, either.

On a recent podcast, analyst Bill Simmons saw this season as an opportunity for the Bulls to take a win-now approach—including dealing away Williams, the 20-year-old forward the team picked fourth in 2020.

“If I’m Chicago and I’m looking at it,” Simmons said, “I’m like, ‘All right, Milwaukee, they’re not playing well yet, we know they’re going to be there. Brooklyn, kind of a mess compared to people thinking they’re a juggernaut heading into the season. I’m not really afraid of anybody else.’

“I do wonder, do they put Patrick Williams on the table because he’s out for the year? Are they one piece away from actually competing to make the Finals?”

Bulls’ Weaknesses Have Shown Lately

It is an interesting proposition from the Bulls’ side. The East could be winnable and the Bulls might find themselves one piece short when the playoffs come around next spring. The team has done well to cover the gap left by Williams by playing guard Alex Caruso in the starting five, but that experiment has been losing steam lately.

The Bulls have lost three of their last five games, including a blowout against Indiana, a disappointing loss in Houston, the league’s worst team, and a home loss against the shorthanded Heat. They’re lacking both size and depth, and a deal based around Williams, with a rebuilding team looking to shed veterans, could make sense for the Bulls.

The Rockets, for example, have been open to trading away Christian Wood, who has been linked to the Bulls in the past. He would be a win-now piece next to center Nikola Vucevic. A trade with Oklahoma City for a package built around Darius Bazley and, perhaps, backup center Derrick Favors might benefit the Bulls now, too.

Still, Williams has tremendous upside and the Bulls are, naturally, unwilling to put him into trades. For now, at least. If the team continues to improve but shows a need a power forward, and if the rest of the East still shows vulnerability, perhaps the front office would change its mind.

Matchups Could Hurt Bulls in Postseason

There is little doubt that size is in short supply (ahem) in Chicago. Simmons’ guest for the pod, former Mavs official and well-known gambler Haralabos Voulgaris, talked about what the team might need and how things might go awry for Chicago.

“They definitely need a big,” Voulgaris said. “I know Vucevic is their guy but the NBA is a matchup league and so, what would they do if they played the 76ers in a playoff series aside from getting smoked? They’d have no chance vs. a healthy Embiid, no chance defending—there’s two things, it’s the big and also the rim protection that is not necessarily always there. They probably need another big.

“Vucevic has always been thought of as a poor defender, but he’s actually a decent scheme defender. He is in the right spot more often than not. He rebounds the ball particularly well. But they probably need one other person.”

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