After a dismal start to their season, one filled with conflicts and controversy, the Chicago Bulls have found their footing. From an 11-18 start, the Bulls find themselves at 19-21 and firmly in playoff contention.
Their schedule going forward does them a lot of favors as well – the Bulls have one of the easiest schedules the rest of the way. So, with LaVine supposedly back to 100% and the team back in sync, could the Chicago Bulls continue to climb the standings by the All-Star break?
So far all indications are that the Bulls appear on their way to doing just that, which begs the question: How will the Bulls’ performance in January impact their plans at the trade deadline?
If the Chicago Bulls continue to win, AKME may continue to preach continuity at the trade deadline.
The interesting thing about the Chicago Bulls is that if they win, AKME could convince themselves that they are last year’s Boston Celtics who also turned it around at about this point last season and made the finals. As a result, the Bulls’ management could just choose to let this season ride out and deal with the fallout at the end.
However, what complicates the continuity plan is their upcoming free agency decisions. Currently, Nikola Vucevic is slated to be a UFA, Coby White an RFA, Ayo Dosunmu an RFA, and Derrick Jones Jr and Andre Drummond with Player Options.
Even if most think that the Bulls were fleeced in the Nikola Vucevic trade, it doesn’t deny the fact that he’s been a pretty productive player for the Bulls. This season he’s averaged 17 points and 10 rebounds with 38% shooting from 3 and 85% shooting from the stripe.
Even though he’s not an “All-Star”, he has had an All-Star impact on the Bulls as his versatility all over the floor has given the Bulls a safety blanket to work through when either (or sometimes both) of their star wings can’t seem to get it going.
At 32 years old, the prospect of a max contract extension is surely off the table, but that doesn’t mean he won’t demand a lucrative deal. In my opinion, Nikola Vucevic projects to finish out his career in an Al Horford/Jonas Valanciunas type of role. A high basketball IQ big man with the ability to hit open jumpers, rebound, and play unselfish.
Horford is on an expensive contract (~27M AAV) – one that has not aged well but is likely what Vucevic will look to receive this offseason. However, the Bulls probably value him closer to what Valanciunas makes (~15M). If there is mutual interest in an extension between Vucevic and the Bulls, a compromise of around 18-20M AAV over 5 years is what AKME may need to fork over.
Then there’s Coby White and Ayo Dosunmu who both need contract extensions and could sign offer sheets with other teams for the Bulls to match. With both guards only 22 years old and showing improvement each year, they could be more valuable on the FA market than anticipated thereby adding yet another wrinkle to the Bulls’ continuity plans.
Lastly, the Chicago Bulls have to consider a potential DeMar DeRozan extension. A Nikola Vucevic extension is very telling in this case because it makes almost no sense for them to extend one of them without extending the other.
If the Bulls intend to let both leave, then they should start dealing now. Otherwise, extending both seems imminent, and DeMar’s All-NBA appearance more than puts him in range for a max extension, if not supermax.
All in all, for what many like to call a dumpster fire of a situation, the Chicago Bulls have a number of talented assets worthy of contract extensions. For AKME to continue along the continuity path they’ve been preaching, the checkbooks will have to open this summer and with ownership unwilling to go into the luxury tax, difficult decisions will have to be made.
This is what makes this upcoming trade deadline so intriguing. The Bulls seemed to have turned the corner, yet also have to make huge financial commitments this summer to keep this team together. There’s still a pressing need for 3-point shooting, but more importantly, the Bulls need cash flexibility.
This brings me to the final conclusion:
The Chicago Bulls could consider a Lonzo Ball trade at the deadline.
For all the things the Bulls have said about continuity, they have a 20 million dollar contract on the books that has played the least minutes of anyone of this core group. It’s been unclear for a while how he’s progressing, if at all, off of a second surgery and if the Bulls stay competitive with him on the sideline, it may cause issues in the locker room by simply slotting him back into his old role.
Ayo Dosunmu, Coby White, Goran Dragic, and Alex Caruso have done a more than respectable job holding down the point guard rotation and combined make barely 2 million more than Lonzo has this season.
After all, regardless of Lonzo’s elite 3 point shooting, the best ability is availability, and thus far the Lonzo contract has provided the prospect of three-point shooting more than actual three-point shooting itself.
Lonzo Ball, as he’s only 25, is still an incredibly valuable player himself. One, that if he were healthy, would be untouchable in a trade given his size, defensive acumen, passing, and shooting ability. However, if the Bulls are serious about embracing continuity, then moving one of their most expensive pieces who has contributed least to the Bulls’ continuity has to be on the table.
In fact, to properly embrace continuity while also making sure they don’t hit the luxury tax, moving Lonzo Ball almost feels like a necessity as unfortunate as it sounds for someone who had such a promising start to his Bulls career.