Don’t look now, but the Chicago Bulls have reeled off back-to-back impressive wins. First, over the Boston Celtics at home and then on the road against the Milwaukee Bucks making them a surprising 3-1 against the top two teams in the Eastern Conference this season.
That positive change from last season belies the fact they would be the 11-seed and out of the postseason if it began today.
Facing that reality, there is still plenty of thought being given to ways the Bulls can pivot.
One way that was popular over the summer but had died down was trading away two-time All-Star Zach LaVine. LaVine – who flirted with the idea of leaving in free agency but ultimately returned to the Bulls without taking any visits – is back in the trade microscope with his team off to a slow start.
“LaVine,” began Bryan Toporek on the November 20 episode of ‘The NBA Podcast’, “I would not sell unless I’m getting at least three picks back, at least one premium prospect back. But, I mean, there are teams out there that can offer that type of package still.”
LaVine is averaging 20.6 points, 4.1 assists, and 4.1 rebounds while shooting 41% from the floor, 36.5% from downtown, and 82.1% at the charity stripe. The floor and thee-point efficiency are both second worsts of his career, respectively, as he returns from offseason surgery.
Toporek’s co-host, Morten Jensen, broke in to offer up the 10-7 Sacramento Kings.
- Zach LaVine
“If Keegan Murray is right out there, and you still have draft picks,” responded Jensen, “because the Kings are still always very optimistic they’re going to make the playoffs and they never do…If they are going all in on the playoffs experience and they want a star, would they be open to moving off Murray and Davion Mitchell?”
Breaking Down the Deal
There is a lot to unpack there beginning with Murray, the fourth-overall pick in this past NBA Draft. He was somewhat of a surprise pick going ahead of guard Jaden Ivey who went a pick later to the Detroit Pistons, though Sacramento telegraphed the move.
Murray is averaging 10.9 points on 53.3% true shooting with 3.5 rebounds, and 1.1 assists.
He shot well from deep in summer league and the preseason but is hitting just 32.9% of his threes so far this season.
Mitchell is the wildcard and would certainly impact the draft compensation going back to the Bulls. Like Murray, he is a former first-round pick taken ninth overall in 2021 and was impressive as a rookie.
He has taken a step back across the board as his jumpshot has not caught up to his defense.
Despite the drop in playing time, the 6-foot-2 guard is averaging a similar number of turnovers — perhaps hinting at why his playing time has dipped this season — but has remained impactful.
Barnes (13.2/5.7/2.0) and Holmes (4.1/2.7) have both been mentioned in connection to the Bulls in separate deals in the past. This would be a different scale, though, with both admittedly serving as salary-matching fodder in this particular deal.
LaVine signed an offer sheet with the Kings in 2018 as an unrestricted free agent.
That experience – after which he admitted to thinking he was going to Sacramento – set the stage for the uncertainty this past summer.
Bulls Not Bowing Out
LaVine finished the Bulls’ 116-106 win over the Bucks with 18 points on 35% shooting going 3-of-11 from downtown. He added five assists and five boards but, after the ordeal of his benching, went a frigid 1-for-8 with two points in the fourth quarter.
Perhaps for this reason, but certainly for others, Toporek doesn’t believe that LaVine is the type of player the Kings would go all-in for.
They did surprise many by going trading for Domantas Sabonis last season.
But the Bulls’ back-to-back wins follow suit with the report from NBC Sports Chicago’s Bulls insider, K.C. Johnson, that confidence remains high in the locker room. And the Bulls are not only surviving but getting wins over teams like the Bucks in spite of LaVine’s struggles. Their suddenly conservative front office will undoubtedly give their $215 face of the franchise time.