Why the Bulls Should Be Buyers at the NBA Trade Deadline

Zach LaVine and DeMar DeRozan

Getty Zach LaVine and DeMar DeRozan embrace after win over New York on December 2.

Led by team president Arturas Karnisovas and general manager Marc Eversley, the Chicago Bulls made substantial upgrades during free agency, landing both DeMar DeRozan and Lonzo Ball to deals worth north of $80 million, according to Spotrac.

Karnisovas and Eversley then used their non-tax MLE, per Spotrac’s Keith Smith, to sign defensive ace Alex Caruso, turning the Bulls into a feisty Eastern Conference powerhouse.

The 20-10 Bulls have been heavily hit by COVID-19 in recent weeks, which has affected their record. Since December 1st, Coby White, Javonte Green, DeRozan, Matt Thomas, Ball, Alfonzo McKinnie, Zach LaVine, Derrick Jones Jr., Ayo Dosunmu, and Tony Bradley have all entered health and safety protocols.

An Effective Relationship

COVID aside, these Bulls have played a dominating brand of basketball while healthy. Despite being out, DeRozan remains the league’s leading fourth-quarter scorer, per NBA.com, and averages a robust 26.7 points, 5.1 rebounds, and 4.2 assists on the season. The 32-year-old has meshed well with incumbent star LaVine, and the duo is currently combining to average 53 points per game.

“A commitment that we talked about long before we even played on the court was just having each other’s back, being there for one another,” DeRozan said, according to The Athletic, after Chicago’s successful road trip to New York, where they beat both the Knicks and Nets. “That’s all I needed to hear. That’s all he needed to hear from me. As long as we could walk, we’re going to be out there and try to lead this team to be as successful as we can.”

The presence of another ball-handler and shot-creator in DeRozan has given Chicago a similar set-up to what the Phoenix Suns got last season after they traded for Chris Paul in order to pair him with Devin Booker

Booker and LaVine have both been the primary options for their respective teams, having needed reliable creation around them to optimize their abilities. The Suns made the Finals in Paul’s first year with the organization, which Chicago should use as a blueprint for making a similar impact this season.

To help the Bulls turn that from an idea and into a real possibility, they’re going to have to be active on the trade market before the February 10 NBA trade deadline.

Becoming Buyers

The Bulls are overall in a good place to build from. LaVine and DeRozan’s production is well-documented, and Ball has provided tremendous defense all season long while hitting 41.9% of his nightly 7.4 three-point attempts. His raw numbers of 13.2 points and 5.0 assists are a bit modest, but that’s a result of having joined a team with considerable depth and offensive talent at the top.

Caruso is second in the league in steals, per NBA.com, despite not playing more than 28.0 minutes per game, and Green has worked his way from being an afterthought to being one of the most energetic, versatile players on the Bulls. Jones Jr and Dosunmu have also carved out roles for themselves after second-year forward Patrick Williams went down with a wrist injury that could have him miss the rest of the season, according to ESPN.

All-Star center Nikola Vucevic, acquired at the 2021 trade deadline, is averaging a double-double, despite sporting some rough shooting numbers this year.

Finally, the league is wide-open. The Brooklyn Nets are likely to be without Kyrie Irving for major chunks of the year, the Milwaukee Bucks have had key players in and out of the line-up, and COVID is still raging through the league, according to the CBS COVID-19 tracker.

Now might actually be the best time for Chicago to make a run.

That does starts with entertaining the idea of trading the aforementioned Williams. DeRozan is 32 years old, with Vucevic being 31. Even if Williams was healthy, it’s reasonable to question whether a 20-year-old forward could help Chicago move the needle in the postseason.

The Bulls could use help at the power forward position, making players such as Sacramento’s Harrison Barnes, or Detroit’s Jerami Grant, possible candidates.

Grant, it should be noted, tore a ligament in his right thumb according to Shams Charania and James Edwards of The Athletic and is now out indefinitely.

Since Williams went down, the Bulls have started Green (6-foot-4), Caruso (6-foot-5), and Jones Jr (6-foot-5) in his place, all of whom are smaller and not considered great knock-down shooters. The 6-foot-8 Barnes, who is currently sporting a TS% of over 60, is one of the most efficient scorers in the NBA this season and would penalize defenses from behind the three-point line for sending double-teams towards DeRozan, Vucevic, or LaVine.

Barnes needn’t be the only option. Chicago could get creative and check the availability of Orlando’s Terrence Ross, thus moving DeRozan to the four-spot in a more permanent setting. However, in no way should Williams be the outgoing player for Ross due to trade value differences.

Overall, the Bulls should be open to moving Williams, White, and Troy Brown Jr to accelerate their timeline. The trio combines to earn $18,430,321, meaning the Bulls can at most take back $23,047,978 due to them being hard-capped.

Giving up Williams is a tough sell, considering he was the first pick made by the current front office. However, due to his injury, he is offering a big fat zero in the production column, while the Bulls are on the verge of competing. His upside is substantial, but that’s another argument for moving him during a period where his trade value is considerable.

This won’t be an easy decision for the Bulls, but at the very least, going all-in needs to be an internal discussion given where they are as a team.

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