Bulls’ Turmoil Has Teams Eyeing Trades for All-Star, Key Role Player

Zach LaVine, Nikola Vucevic and DeMar DeRozan of the Bulls

Getty Zach LaVine, Nikola Vucevic and DeMar DeRozan of the Bulls

At 12-18, with point guard Lonzo Ball still out and not looking ready to return any time soon, the Bulls have been among the most disappointing teams in the NBA this season. That’s a far cry from last year’s version of the team, which withstood an early spate of injuries and stood 20-10 through 30 games.

The poor record has been amplified by the struggles of the team’s three main star players—center Nikola Vucevic and wings Zach LaVine and DeMar DeRozan. According to a report from The Athletic, LaVine and DeRozan have had trouble synching up on the floor this season after DeRozan’s star turn last year. Vucevic, meanwhile, has been good offensively through 30 games but has been a frequent target defensively, and is a net negative when he is on the court.

What will the Bulls do about all this? Well, not much, most likely. But front offices around the league are ready to pounce should the Lakers put any of their pieces up for trade bidding.

Front-office honchos Arturas Karnisovas and Mark Eversley have been ducking the public eye this season (as they did last season) by avoiding interviews with local media, but they’ve been very cautious about watching the team’s bottom line—that is, the luxury tax—and any major changes to the roster can be expected to be put off until the end of this season.

That could include a trade involving LaVine, who signed a five-year, $215 million deal with Chicago this summer. LaVine has not requested a trade out of Chicago yet, but there has been groundwork laid for one, with some executives around the league drawing parallels between the unrest LaVine has been showing with the Bulls and the unrest shown by Anthony Davis before he elbowed his way out of New Orleans in 2019. Both LaVine and Davis are represented by Klutch Sports, the agency with strong ties to LeBron James.

“A full rebuild kind of thing, that is not going to happen this year, but they could get started on it,” an Eastern Conference executive told Heavy Sports. “They’re not going to trade away Zach LaVine during the season. They will have an easier time with moving on from DeMar DeRozan if that is where they go but even that, it is something they would wait until the summer to do, rather than try to pull off a move at the deadline.

“LaVine wants to go to the Lakers, that has been pretty clear for a while now. The agents (from Klutch Sports) want him to be in Los Angeles, he is a UCLA guy and they did some rattling about his contract last offseason, to kind of lay the groundwork if things blew up. Which they seem to be doing.”

Does LaVine Want to Be a Laker?

Getting LaVine to the Lakers, a team with sparse young assets and two future first-round draft picks (in 2027 and 2029) that they’ve been reluctant to trade, will be difficult. A deal sending Davis to Chicago for LaVine has some merit to it, but the goal for Klutch and the Lakers is to get LaVine together with Davis and James, not in exchange for Davis or James.

“The problem on LaVine is from the Lakers’ side, there is nothing they could trade to Chicago short of Anthony Davis,” the executive said. “Now, that is a possibility—Davis is a Chicago guy and if he were going to leave the Lakers, the Bulls would be one of the few places he’d be OK with. The Bulls and the Lakers would be swapping stars with injury problems, essentially. LaVine (who is 27) is younger than Davis, so that is an advantage but at full health, Davis (29) is a much, much better player.”

Contending Teams Monitoring Bulls’ Alex Caruso

But if you’re a Bulls fan hoping the team does something, anything, to get back to relevance quickly, there is hope that a move will be made. NBA sources tell Heavy Sports that multiple teams are prepared to make offers for guard Alex Caruso should the Bulls make the decision to gauge the market on him.

“The guy to watch is (Alex) Caruso,” one Eastern Conference GM told Heavy Sports. “They have had talks about Coby White but he is going into free agency, and if you trade for him, you’ve got to pay him. No one is ready to take that leap with him. But Caruso has a contract that teams like (two years, $19 million after this season) and he is a good piece on a winning team. If we get into mid-January and they have not turned it around, look for a team that sees itself as a contender to make a run for him because he is really only an asset playing a role on a good team.

“If they can get some draft capital back for Caruso, and maybe a player, that would suit them. Teams like Phoenix or Miami, both would be in a position to make a trade like that. Even the Warriors, they could send out a young guy, a guy like (James) Wiseman to get into win-now mode. Philadelphia, same thing, they could offer some of their young guys—Matisse Thybulle, Shake (Milton) and add another guy to make the salaries work. The Lakers certainly would like to have him back if they had the young guys to do it.

“If things don’t improve, Caruso is the guy most will be looking at in the short term. He has good trade value and would get something like 15 interested teams if he were up to be dealt.”

Part of the issue for the Bulls is that there were opportunities to upgrade the roster this summer, but Chicago passed. The team did make a push, which ultimately failed, for forward Danilo Gallinari. But that failed and the Bulls just wound up grabbing a pair of veterans. In doing so, they have kept themselves $1.7 million below the luxury tax threshold, and have shown no willingness to go over.

“There is a lot of frustration from the veterans on that team that they did not do anything this summer besides (Andre) Drummond and (Goran) Dragic. Look, they sat on a full bi-annual (exception, worth $4.1 million) and most of their midlevel ($7.3 million) and they took a beat-up team from last year and just ran it back. Because they did not want to go into the tax.

“In that locker room, they’re thinking, ‘Why did we sit on all that money?’ They could have gone for a big guy. They’re wondering about Patrick Williams, too, a good young player but not a guy who is helping them win now. They would not move him for (Rudy) Gobert, not for anyone. And he is giving you nine points and four rebounds, so … the bloom is off the rose there for them.”

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