The Chicago Bulls’ Zach LaVine appears to be one of the toughest players to evaluate in the NBA today. Despite his obvious growth, year over year, and his All-NBA level play through the early portion of this season (26.8 ppg, 5.2 rpg, and 5.4 apg on .497 shooting from the field and .382 accuracy from three-point range), he can’t seem to shake some of the more dismissive labels he’s carried throughout his 6-plus-year career.
As the Bulls’ new front office attempts to shape the roster into a contender, Lavine’s status as a building block or a trade chip has been consistently debated.
One recent set of LaVine-related trade scenarios comes from Brett Siegel of the NBA Analysis Network. With all due respect to Mr. Siegel, if this is the most choice return the Bulls can get for moving LaVine, they would be much better off keeping their best player.
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The first trade has the Bulls working with the San Antonio Spurs. In this speculative deal, Chicago would be getting Patty Mills, Derrick White, and a 2022 first-round pick in exchange for LaVine.
Mills has had a nice career, but he’s 32 years old and on the downside of his NBA journey. White is an athletic, defensive-minded combo guard, but he doesn’t fill any of the Bulls’ current needs. The pick in 2022 doesn’t come off as too exciting considering the Spurs rarely miss the postseason, and with LaVine playing under Gregg Popovich and the Spurs getting an influx of cap room thanks to the expiring deals of DeMar DeRozan and LaMarcus Aldridge, it just feels like that trend would continue through 2021.
The Bulls wouldn’t be getting anything close to fair value for LaVine in this deal.
The second trade is a little better, but still not enough. In this scenario, Chicago would send LaVine to the Dallas Mavericks in exchange for Jalen Brunson, Tim Hardaway Jr., a 2021 second-rounder, and 2022 first-round pick.
The Mavericks’ future is a little shaky considering Kristaps Porzingis is almost never healthy. As good as Luka Doncic is, he definitely needs help. LaVine would provide that in spades for the Mavericks.
However, Hardaway is a downgrade at the 2-guard from LaVine, and Brunson is a nice player, but not the kind of lead guard I’d envision for the Bulls especially if it means parting ways with LaVine. The two draft picks are attractive, but there isn’t enough guaranteed value here to move LaVine.
Lastly, Siegel gives us a Bulls-New York Knicks trade. In this mock deal, the Bulls would send LaVine to the Knicks in exchange for Kevin Knox, Dennis Smith Jr., 2021 first-round pick from the LA Clippers, 2021 second-round pick from the Charlotte Hornets, and a 2021 first-round pick.
Knox has the look of a massive underachiever and my immediate question is where does he play for Chicago with Patrick Williams already seemingly entrenched at small forward? Knox isn’t a power forward, and quite frankly there is nothing about his game that is exciting enough for him to be the main prize in a deal for LaVine. In his third year in the league, Knox is averaging 6.7 points per game while shooting just under 40% from the field in a reserve role for the Knicks.
DSJ has mounds of physical talent, but ever since he was dealt by the Mavericks, we’ve seen less and less of those flashes of scoring brilliance. He’s struggled to stay healthy, and he’s another shoot-first point guard–but a less-productive one than Coby White. DSJ has played in three games this year for the Knicks averaging 3 points per game. As much as White’s play has been maddening at times this year for the Bulls, he’s starting and scoring 15.9 points, 5.1 rebounds, and 5.9 assists per game while trying to gain a grasp of how to play point guard in the NBA.
Why would the Bulls be interested in this deal? they shouldn’t be.
The picks are good, but not great considering the first-rounder from this year comes from the Clippers, which means it’ll be in the low 20s.
None of these trades make the Bulls better today, and there is a major question as to whether it would position them for more success down the road.
The LaVine trade speculation isn’t going anywhere until he is dealt or signed to an extension. We might not see either of those things until the end of the season–if at all.
I’m beginning to find myself more in the keep-LaVine camp. It makes more sense to try to build around him, especially if the trade offers aren’t much better than this list. Mind you, none of these are official.
While LaVine has had some moments this year where you question his ability to be the leader of a championship-caliber team, he has continued to grow from an intangible standpoint, and his talent level is near unmatched on the floor.
There is no such thing as a perfect player, so perhaps it’s time we stop trying to make LaVine into this utopian concept. Unless something mindblowing comes along, Chicago should take advantage of what LaVine does well (which is score like almost no one else in the league, with B-level facilitating, and suddenly solid defensive effort) and find some pieces to put around the 25-year-old to see how far it can take the franchise with a real coach and a seemingly strong front office in place.
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