For the past few weeks, we have been told not to expect much from the Chicago Bulls before or at the trade deadline on February 9. Their underlying message was that they wanted to give this group more time to come together.
With less than a week to go, that underlying message remains the same but their anticipated activity level has changed with some additional clarity to boot.
“From everything I’m told about the Bulls, their full intention and full goal right now is to keep trying to win,” NBA insider Shams Charania of The Athletic told ‘Waddle & Silvy’ on ESPN 1000 in Chicago. “They’re trying to be a team that is going to compete and contend for the playoffs…and not toil in the lottery.”
The prominent insider did not stop there.
Bulls Eyeing ‘Guard’ Help
Charania goes on to say that the Bulls are very much aware of the risks were they to try to tank given their draft obligations, specifically to the Orlando Magic, but also the San Antonio Spurs for Nikola Vucevic and DeMar DeRozan, respectively. They do still have a first-round pick coming from the Portland Trail Blazers.
But that pick is lottery protected while the Blazers are just outside of the Play-In Tournament field meaning it would not convey this year.
That does not mean the Bulls are not trying, though.
“I’ve heard they’d be more active in other ways. They’re trying to go get guard help in the trade market. They’re trying to figure is Lonzo Ball going to be able to play at any point the rest of the year. I think they’re still holding out a little bit of hope. But, listen, I think the signs aren’t that good. We hear what Billy Donovan says publicly. But they’re holding out on that hope but they have been active on the marketplace trying to get a guard and see can they get some help to this group.”
Ball has been sidelined since last January, first with a torn meniscus, then with knee pain that lingers even after a surgery that he initially believed resolved the issue.
He has made significant progress since his downtrodden press conference at the end of last season. But even that progress has been marred by signs that the veritable lynchpin to the Bulls’ operation on the court is far from out of the woods.
Charania’s specificity could be a sign the Bulls have accepted Ball’s indefinite timeline could continue for even longer than whatever they were most recently estimating.
It also speaks volumes about their current plethora of backcourt options.
Bulls Could Be Telling on Themselves
“When [Ball] was on the floor last year, it took away from DeMar DeRozan and Zach LaVine having the ball in their hands,” Charania said. “They’re great players with the ball in their hands. But they’re probably a little bit more effective, and the game comes a little bit easier for them when they have a guard like Lonzo Ball able to pitch the ball out to them.”
The Bulls boasted a plus-5.7 net efficiency differential with the trio of Ball, DeRozan, and LaVine on the floor together last season, per Cleaning The Glass. That number was minus-2.2 for LaVine and DeRozan without Ball.
This year, their net differential is plus-0.7 so there has been a level of improvement.
“If you can decrease the amount of time that they’re spending on the ball, it’s beneficial,” said Charania. “Unfortunately, they’ve spent a lot of time this year on the ball but it clearly has created some friction.”
Dosunmu has had the expected ups and downs of a second-year player while Caruso and Dragic bring plenty to the table but both have already missed time this season with injuries despite the Bulls being deliberate with their minutes. The Bulls’ search for guards could certainly be to address that and the friction between DeRozan and LaVine rather than replace Ball.