There are, as things stand in the NBA, two players who are dominating all trade conversation: James Harden of the Sixers and Damian Lillard of the Blazers. That’s with good reason, of course. Lillard has had a very public breakup with Portland, on that has turned sour because of Lillard’s insistence on being traded to Miami and nowhere else. Harden’s breakup has been sharper and more personal—he flat-out called Sixers general manager and former friend Daryl Morey a “liar” for going back on an alleged promise to re-up Harden’s contract.
But a lesser name to watch is lingering on the sidelines: Bulls star DeMar DeRozan. Heck, it’s possible that DeRozan could wind up being a factor, directly or tangentially, in what happens with Harden or Lillard’s situation.
DeRozan is in the final year of his contract with the Bulls, and though he is 34 years old, he is still at the top of his game, with averages of 24.5 points, 4.6 rebounds and 5.1 assists last season. He has a contract number–$28.6 million for next season—that is hefty, but to impossible to trade.
Chicago could talk extension with DeRozan, and if DeRozan were to accept a sizable pay cut (as Nikola Vucevic eventually did), the Bulls could re-sign him. But if DeRozan wants a raise, it behooves Chicago to move DeRozan while it’s still possible.
“They’re not shopping him now, and they’d be open to an extension, if it makes sense,” one league executive told Heavy Sports. “But if we get to Vegas (the NBA’s in-season tournament in Las Vegas in early December) and they’re still around .500, and DeMar wants $30 or $35 million, that’s when they’re going to start having (trade) conversations.”
Could DeRozan Resolve Harden Dispute?
DeRozan could be the piece that allows the Sixers to save face in the James Harden saga. The Bulls do not necessarily have interest in Harden, but DeRozan would at least be a star-caliber guy who could be sent to Philadelphia, a tough-minded veteran who might fit well between Tyrese Maxey and Joel Embiid. His age would be a hindrance, but DeRozan can still play.
The Bulls could take a chance and keep Harden for a year, giving the team the chance to be competitive while waiting to see whether Lonzo Ball comes back. Or, Chicago could move Harden on as part of a three-team trade to the Clippers and get back useful role players in return.
“The Bulls are pretty wary of making too many big changes right now, that’s how they’ve been since they first brought this group together with all the moves they made two years ago,” the executive said. “But DeRozan might not be OK with going back in salary. He might be looking to get to a contender. He wants to be in L.A., where he’s from, where he went to college (at USC), but he wants to win mostly, that’s what you hear about him.”
Heat Could ‘Look for More’ Beyond Lillard
And there’s one more prospective DeRozan nugget: “The Heat, too. Even if they get Lillard, they’re gonna be looking for more. They want to keep as much of their asset base together to make a run at another guy after Dame.”
Hard to say if the Heat, already strapped for young players and usable assets, could wrangle both Lillard and DeRozan in the trade market. But Miami is expected, at least, to try. And why not? As trade assets, both the Blazers and Bulls would be selling relatively low on their stars, and Miami is prepared to play hardball—and already has, really—on which young assets they send out.
If the Blazers finally accept something like three first-rounders, Tyler Herro (with Duncan Robinson and perhaps another player) and Nikola Jovic for Lillard, the Heat could still send out Jaime Jaquez, Kyle Lowry and a draft pick for DeRozan. It’s not a lot to give up for DeRozan, but then, he is on an expiring contract and could be a short-term rental.
“it’ll be interesting with DeRozan,” the executive said. “The Bulls have been conservative lately but that’s got to change. They can’t keep running the same group out there over and over.”