The Chicago Bulls could be in need of a new starting center and their timing might be just right to land one for now and the foreseeable future.
“Deandre Ayton and the [Phoenix] Suns are no longer a good fit,” wrote Greg Swartz of Bleacher Report on June 19 in an article identifying the ‘best’ landing spots for potential trade candidates around the league. “Teams like the Dallas Mavericks and Portland Trail Blazers could use an upgrade at center. Add the Chicago Bulls to this list if Nikola Vučević leaves in free agency.”
Vucevic is expected to return next season with the two sides negotiating terms on a new deal.
Vucevic has said the Bulls will have priority in contract negotiations but has also said that he would explore his options as an unrestricted free agent.
Ayton offers a more-than-intriguing potential option if the negotiations stall.
He averaged 18.0 points, 10.0 rebounds, and 1.7 assists this past season and has averaged a double-double every year he’s been in the NBA. When he’s locked in, Ayton can look like one of the best young players in the league but his focus and effort have been issues in Phoenix.
Deandre Ayton’s Reputation Precedes Him
The No. 1 overall pick in the 2018 NBA Draft, Ayton was selected ahead of Mavericks star Luka Docic and Blazers’ youngster Anfernee Simons but could soon be partnered with the former or traded for the latter. That is unless the Bulls decide to change directions amid an opportunity that might not have been available before Phoenix landed Beal.
Ayton and former Suns head coach Monty Williams did not see eye-to-eye.
“Monty didn’t want him,” reported Arizona Sports 97.8 FM’s John Gambadoro on the ‘HoopsHype Podcast’ on June 19. “He wanted them to trade him to Indiana for Myles Turner. He didn’t like coaching Ayton.”
Like Williams, Bulls head coach Billy Donovan is known to be a “player’s coach”. Also like Williams, however, Donovan’s rotations have been the subject of some scrutiny. And, while Ayton would be the most talented big the Bulls have had in quite some time, his inconsistent effort might not sit well with Donovan.
Donovan benched LaVine from a game against the Orlando Magic in November and stood by his decision even amid some public disagreement from the Bulls’ franchise cornerstone.
Billy Donovan Holds Stars Accountable
“I’m one of the best players on the court regardless of who’s playing,” LaVine said after the game, via Darnell Mayberry of The Athletic. “I think that I should be on the court in crunch time, and that’s just the mentality I have.”
The two sides appeared to have patched things up shortly thereafter, and certainly by season’s end amid LaVine and the Bulls’ respective late-season surges.
But the situation could have devolved quickly just as Ayton’s seemingly has.
It’s fair to wonder if investing in a player who has already shown a tendency to check out of possessions mentally is worth bringing into a situation where more will be expected of him and the scrutiny will be much more intense. Knowing how Vucevic fits in alongside LaVine and DeMar DeRozan – even if it has been less than stellar – likely goes far with this front office.