Could the Chicago Bulls come away from this offseason with Jalen Brunson the top-ranked free agent point guard in this class? Despite the Bulls remaining confident in their ability to re-sign Zach LaVine, as per NBC Sports Chicago’s K.C. Johnson, rumors of his potential exit persist.
This time, the added fuel has not come from Klutch Sports as some executives felt about previous rumors.
The Athletic’s Darnell Mayberry’s offseason check-in cited LaVine’s slide to a second option being in opposition with how the two-time All-Star views himself. That is in line with LaVar Ball’s comments to David Kaplan. But Javonte Green called reports of friction were just “rumors” in an interview with WARR Media’s Joshua M. Hicks.
Still, as the rumors persist, so do the proposals.
Basketball News’ Evan Sidery wrote about the possibility of LaVine – whom his site has ranked as the top free agent – leaving the Bulls and where he might end up if he does. He lists the Dallas Mavericks and has an interesting way of going about getting a deal done.
Dallas was among the teams that Johnson linked to LaVine at the NBA Draft Combine.
Sidery proposes a three-team, double sign-and-trade. The deal would swap LaVine for Mavs free agent Jalen Brunson and includes the Portland Trail Blazers.
The Bulls receiving Brunson back…would be a huge win, allowing his game to further blossom alongside an elite wing scorer like DeMar DeRozan. Brunson helps keep Chicago afloat in the Eastern Conference, while also presenting an enticing long-term piece to its core.
Brunson is coming off of a breakout season in which he averaged 16.3 points, 4.8 assists, and 3.9 rebounds. His efficiency took a step back this season. But he still shot over 50% from the floor and connected on 37.3% of his triples.
He averaged 21.6 points on 55.3% true shooting in the postseason. However, his numbers waned as Western Conference Finals went on.
LaVine as a Second Option
There are questions about many of the potential destinations LaVine could flee to. Chief among them is his standing in the pecking order. None of the teams he has been linked to that would be in contention would allow for him to be the “top option”.
But is there a middle ground that doesn’t look as it did last season when DeRozan could be seen holding the ball late in the shot clock trying to make something happen?
Perhaps that middle ground is in Dallas with Luka Doncic.
Luka Doncic needs help in Dallas for championships to be a realistic aspiration…going for LaVine compared to a big man like Rudy Gobert is the smarter play…Doncic and LaVine would be a deadly backcourt duo that could go toe-to-toe with any team in a more perimeter-oriented NBA.
The problem is that Doncic has been labeled similar to DeRozan as someone who can pound the air out of the ball. Former NBA star and current ESPN analyst, Vince Carter, explained during the Mavs playoff run how he should trust his teammates more.
LaVine would certainly be worthy of that trust as a gold medalist with Team USA and coming off of a 24-point per game season on 60.5% true shooting despite dealing with various injuries.
He also put up a pair of double-doubles in the first playoff appearance of his career.
A Rare Win-Win-Win?
For the Bulls, this deal nets them a local product – Brunson attended high school in the Chicago suburbs – and addresses a looming potential need.
Mayberry also expressed concern over Lonzo Ball’s knee having yet to respond to treatment, though, Ball’s father has insisted his son would be healthy. Either way, having Brunson would make Ball’s health easier to withstand and manage.
Adding Brunson alongside Ball and Caruso also takes playmaking pressure off Brunson, which allows him to continue mismatch hunting in 1-on-1 situations.
For LaVine, joining a team that finished as the fourth seed is interesting. The Bulls were the top seed in the East before injuries took their toll. Dallas doing what it did despite the lack of a talent like him alongside one of the best players in the NBA could be a tipping point.
But is it enough of an upgrade to forego $50-plus million and what the Bulls were before LaVine suffered his knee injury?
That has been the fundamental question with every rumored destination in this entire process.
Portland’s interest is an interesting aside. They are trying to build around Damian Lillard and Hardaway Jr. would qualify. But, with three years and over $50 million remaining on the 30-year-old’s contract, per Spotrac, the pick is probably more of interest to them.
Tricky Does Not Mean Impossible
The math for getting Hardaway to Portland gets tricky and that is a major hang-up in this proposal. The Orlando Magic and San Antonio Spurs join Portland as potential takers. But that requires their interest in adding such an expensive piece to younger rosters.
Base year compensation for Brunson and LaVine would also complicate things as it would in any sign-and-trade involving the Bulls’ star.
Bleacher Reports Eric Pincus reported Brunson was believed to be seeking a new contract worth $80 million. But Hoops Hype’s Yossi Gozlan says the bidding could get up to $100 million. Would the Bulls be able to stomach spending over $200 million on point guards including last offseasons splurge on Ball and Alex Caruso?
This would indeed be a difficult transaction to pull off.
Any deal can be completed if all parties are motivated enough, though. And, if faced with LaVine wanting to leave, the Bulls would do well to get Brunson as consolation.