The Chicago Bulls, yes the Chicago Bulls, have won seven straight games. Thanks to a Brooklyn Nets loss, and an absolute stunner from DeMar DeRozan (on the second straight night), the Bulls have sole possession of the number one seed in the eastern conference.
With this momentum and their place in the standing, logically we all see a championship window opening for the Chicago Bulls. After all, DeMar DeRozan is looking like a 32 year old wing firmly trenched in the prime of his career – not a 32 year old wing about to fall off a cliff as some (shoutout Tim Bontemps) asserted this past summer.
Unfortunately for the Bulls, there is one fatal flaw: their rebounding and interior defense. Just yesterday, albeit off a back-to-back, the Bulls gave up 72 points in the paint and it’s clear that outside Vucevic, there isn’t anyone else that can consistently crash the glass. I think this is partly due to Patrick Williams’ unfortunate injury, but nonetheless, the Bulls need another body who can spell for Vucevic and compliment him on the floor.
This is especially true considering the frontcourts the Bulls will have to go through once they make the playoffs. It’s clear to anyone that watches the NBA, that the four best teams in the east are Brooklyn, Chicago, Miami, and Milwaukee. However, the latter two, have big men that can not only do what Vucevic does, but are also more athletic than he is – making it an unfavorable matchup should the Bulls see either team in the postseason.
Take for example Vucevic’s stat lines against Philly and Miami this year:
- Philadelphia (11/3): 4 points, 10 rebounds
- Philadelphia (11/9): 11 points, 11 rebounds
- Miami (11/27): 7 points, 13 rebounds
- Miami (12/11): 10 points, 8 rebounds
I say none of this to slander Nikola Vucevic – he’s been absolutely phenomenal as of late and I think part of the reason for his performance in those games can be attributed to the overall slump he was experiencing and still adjusting to a new role. I wouldn’t anticipate this to happen again if he matched up with Embiid or Adebayo. However, there’s still a reason to be concerned if we see these matchups again come postseason.
The Chicago Bulls need to give Nikola Vucevic some help in the frontcourt to truly compete this postseason.
Without any interior help, these athletic big men are able to handle Vucevic defensively and rattle him, and then tire him out on offense. As a result, Vucevic is essentially being thrown to the wolves in my estimation because as good as the defense has played, a) there’s only so much help that can be given once Embiid, Adebayo, or another big has the ball in the paint and b) there’s no one off the bench that can even give Vooch a breather.
This makes a trade seem like a no-brainer. There’s one clear weakness on the team and the Bulls have the assets to go out and make a trade. However, I don’t think it’s as simple as that. If there’s one thing that the COVID protocols and other injuries have given us a chance to see: it’s the encouraging development from Coby White and Ayo Dosunmu. Coby especially, is equally responsible for these last two wins, as DeMar DeRozan and Zach LaVine – and has shown effort on the defensive end of the floor that we’ve been dying to see for three years.
Should the Bulls trade either of them in a package for Jerami Grant? At first glance, the answer is obviously yes. However, consider this: Jerami Grant left the Nuggets because he wanted to be more featured – so will he happily reprise the same role he had in Denver, except in Chicago?
Additionally, according to Spotrac, if the Bulls hand LaVine a max extension next summer, their estimated remaining cap space is just shy of 18 million dollars. Jerami Grant is currently making just north of 20 million and will be a free agent at the end of this season. Is trading Coby or Ayo (and picks!) a price the Bulls should pay for a half-season rental that may not definitively get them past Brooklyn or Milwaukee?
Now here’s a potential trade that could be justified – even if it’s more expensive: Domantas Sabonis. Sabonis is only in the second year of a 4 year/74 million dollar contract extension he signed going into the 2020-21 season (Spotrac). With cap hits of 18.5 million next year and 19.4 million the year after, the Bulls could actually afford him with LaVine on a max contract.
If the Bulls are going to trade for someone else, I’d prefer it to be someone like Sabonis over someone like Grant even if it requires more trade capital. Sabonis has made two straight all-star games and is only 25. He’s 6’11 and would solve the Bulls’ current, biggest issue. Again though, the question is: at what cost?
Young all-stars on cheap contracts likely come with hefty price tags. The Bulls would be saying goodbye to both first-round picks they have in the 2022 draft, either Coby White or Ayo Dosunmu and likely Patrick Williams.
I’m not saying that that’s necessarily a bad deal, if Sabonis ends up continuing to develop the Bulls could be set up for 10 years of contender status. However, sacrificing a young core is always risky because you run the risk of seeing the players you drafted blossom somewhere else – which can sting if the person you traded them all for doesn’t fit in your scheme or even within the locker room.
The reason the Bulls can even entertain these trade talks is because they have young players on their team that can potentially grow into meaningful contributors on contending teams. The question for management is whether they wanna trade four quarters for a dollar today or see if their four quarters will turn into something more.
The Chicago Bulls will have decisions to make at the trade deadline, and frankly, I see the case for either route: patience with the current roster or aggressive to win now. All things considered though, let’s celebrate that the Bulls are back, that the team has promising potential, and most of all, in the words of Zach LaVine, Thank God we have DeMar DeRozan.