The odds remain strong that the Chicago Bulls won’t trade top scorer Zach LaVine, largely because executive vice president of basketball operations Arturas Karnisovas and company seem intent on making very few changes this offseason.
The Bulls re-signed starting center Nikola Vucevich and guard Coby White to three-year deals and brought in free agents Jevon Carter and Torrey Craig, but unless they trade away at least some of their top talent, they won’t be able to afford much. They only have $6 million left of their non-taxpayer mid-level exception and a $4 million bi-annual exception (numbers via Spotrac) and those cannot both be used on the same player.
But if Chicago traded away LaVine, who is its highest-paid player? That would free up $40 million in cap space this year alone and give the team far more options. In his July 5 column, Bleacher Report’s Greg Swartz put together a trade he believes would work for both Chicago and the Philadelphia 76ers that would involve swapping LaVine for superstar point guard James Harden.
Insider Recently Linked Bulls to Harden
Jake Fischer of Yahoo! Sports wrote on June 30 that the Bulls were a “trade partner to keep in mind” where Harden is concerned, noting LaVine or veteran DeMar DeRozan could be potentially included in a deal for Harden, who wants out.
While The Athletic reported that Harden wants to play for the L.A. Clippers, that’s not a done deal by any means and some analysts, including Swartz, think a Harden-LaVine swap is possible — although they’re not the only two players involved in his trade proposal.
- Chicago Bulls Receive: PG James Harden, PF P.J. Tucker
- Philadelphia 76ers Receive: SG Zach LaVine, F Patrick Williams
“A swap of Harden and LaVine (as well as Tucker and Williams) works for a number of reasons,” Swartz wrote. “For the 76ers, a starting five of Tyrese Maxey, LaVine, Williams, Tobias Harris and Joel Embiid packs a ton of offensive punch, with a bench of De’Anthony Melton, Patrick Beverley, Furkan Korkmaz, Danuel House Jr. and restricted free agent Paul Reed providing some defense to mix in.”
How Would This Trade Benefit the Bulls?
Giving up the 28-year old LaVine and the 21-year old Williams in exchange for Harden, who turns 34 in August, and Tucker, who turned 38 in May, certainly wouldn’t help the Bulls in the long term.
Harden led the NBA in assists last season, also averaging 21 points, and he’d be an unquestionable upgrade at point for the Bulls, but giving up Williams in the deal would hurt Chicago more than help. The young forward has shown a good deal of potential in the last two seasons, and the Bulls may want to see if he develops further.
Swartz, though, thinks the Bulls could contend with the likes of Harden. “For the Bulls, this is a chance to be competitive in 2023-24 while also clearing future salary-cap space for a potential rebuild,” he wrote. “Harden is still one of the best playmakers in the NBA, breathing life into a Bulls offense that ranked just 24th overall with Lonzo Ball missing the season with a knee injury. With Ball once again projected to be out for 2023-24, Harden takes over as the team’s starting point guard,”
Swartz did make a good point about the Bulls being able to start over and rebuild after next season if Harden doesn’t pan out. “This trade removes LaVine’s remaining four-year, $178 million contract from Chicago’s books,” Swartz noted. “Harden and DeRozan will both become free agents next summer, opening up $64.2 million worth of cap space for the Bulls in 2024.”
A 14-time All-Star, Harden still has plenty left in the tank, but he’s nowhere near the player he was when he won league MVP in 2018. If the Bulls do end up trading LaVine, they would likely want some younger talent and additional draft picks in exchange.