The Chicago Bulls likely trade of Zach LaVine does not make a full-scale rebuild imminent

(Photo by Jamie Sabau/Getty Images)
(Photo by Jamie Sabau/Getty Images) /

Three years removed from the franchise-altering trade for Nikola Vucevic, the Chicago Bulls appear ready to throw in the towel on this version of the roster. The hard truth is, that since the Lonzo Ball injury, the Chicago Bulls have been unable to reproduce his impact through any one player or lineup for the better part of two years.

An even harder truth is that there were many unsustainable elements to their early 2021 success including DeMar DeRozan’s incredible clutch shot-making and the severe lack of three-point shot attempts that were offset by an incredible shooting percentage.

Couple these with the fact that the Bulls were getting blown out by top teams even with Lonzo, and then compound all these issues with the Lonzo injury, it’s not hard to understand how the Bulls have gotten to the place they find themselves now.

Yet, despite Bulls fans, the local media, and the national media clamoring for the Bulls front office to see what is so apparent, the Bulls have stood by continuity; believing that more time on the floor, more camaraderie, and more ball movement should correct these issues.

*Spoiler* It hasn’t corrected anything.

All of it has led to where they are now: sitting Zach LaVine down to “nurse his injury” until they can inevitably trade him and move the organization in a new direction.

However, would trading Zach LaVine send a signal that the Bulls are open for business and heading toward a full-scale rebuild? One would hope so, but the history of this front office tells us to expect the opposite.

The Chicago Bulls may still opt to extend DeMar DeRozan and hold onto Alex Caruso even after trading Zach LaVine.

The truth is that in Zach LaVine’s absence, Coby White’s ascension to being a quality NBA-level point guard has been undeniable. Albeit in a small sample size, his composure, clutch shot-making, and leadership have been on display.

While this is objectively exciting news for anyone who’s a fan of the Bulls to have a 23-year-old point guard on a cheap contract to build around, it may provide cover for the organization to flip Zach for more role players to put around a new big three of Coby-DeMar-Vucevic.

What makes this possible is that the Bulls are doing the one thing now, that they have struggled to do all season with Zach LaVine: win.

Winning cures all and if the Bulls front office believes that there’s a recipe somewhere here with Coby-DeMar-Vucevic that could carry them to another play-in spot and potentially a playoff round, I believe that they may choose to hold off on any more trades in favor of seeing where this team goes.

Factoring in any shred of optimism they might have over Lonzo’s recovery timeline only makes this scenario more likely as well. Ultimately, the Chicago Bulls could look to pursue a retool rather than a full-scale rebuild.

For example, a team like the Knicks which is built around two all-stars in Jalen Brunson and Julius Randle and a litany of high-effort, high-energy role players could be a model that the Bulls try to emulate. With their core of young players, they may attempt to recreate a version of the Knicks, believing that they could reach their goal of winning a first-round playoff series.

There are pros and cons to this type of approach, though. The biggest drawback is that the Bulls wouldn’t be able to give Patrick Williams and Ayo Dosunmu the space and freedom to develop if they simultaneously bury them in the offensive lineup and put pressure on them to be winning players right away.

The biggest positive, however, is that by keeping good, team-first veterans around the Bulls’ younger players, is that the habits and success they collectively achieve could be instrumental in laying a foundation that helps the current Bulls’ youth take the team forward when Vucevic, DeRozan, and Caruso inevitably move on to greener pastures or retire. The biggest key though: they have to win.

All in all, the Chicago Bulls are in a fascinating spot, and while the expectation is for them to trade Zach, Caruso, and then DeMar, and begin the tank, I think there is a real chance that they retool by trading Zach and continue onward with their “win-now” mentality.

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