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A tough schedule could spur deadline activity

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A brutal schedule between now and the trade deadline could totally derail this season

NBA: Chicago Bulls at Orlando Magic Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports

I don’t need to rehash the current state of the Bulls. If you’re just coming out of a four day coma and need to catch up, I recommend this, this, and after last night, this.

As bad as it is right now, the Bulls could still be far from rock bottom. The schedule between now and the February 23 trade deadline is as brutal of a stretch the Bulls will face all season.

Bulls schedule and win probabilities

Date Opponent Win Prob per FiveThirtyEight
Date Opponent Win Prob per FiveThirtyEight
29-Jan 76ers 70%
1-Feb @Thunder 26%
3-Feb @Rockets 21%
6-Feb @Kings 39%
8-Feb @Warriors 7%
10-Feb @Suns 43%
12-Feb @Timberwolves 32%
14-Feb Raptors 47%
16-Feb Celtics 55%
Bulls schedule between now and the trade deadline Win Probabilities from fivethirtyeight.com

Sunday, the Bulls will face the red-hot Philadelphia 76ers who will be without their star, Joel Embiid. The Bulls are catching a huge break that Embiid will be held out for rest, as the 76ers are 8-2 in the last ten games Embiid has played in. But even without Embiid, the upstart 76ers are 2-2 in their last four games without The Process.

The game Sunday will be the Bulls’ last in the United Center until February 14, as they begin a grueling six game Western Conference road trip. On the trip, the Bulls will face three of the West’s top six teams, in addition to a motivated Kings squad who will want to avenge their recent controversial loss in Chicago. Per FiveThirtyEight, the Bulls, who are 9-14 on the road, are not favored to beat any of their opponents on this trip.

Even when the Bulls finally return home, their last two games before the All-Star break and trade deadline are against the Raptors and Celtics, the second and third best teams in the conference, respectively.

This nine game stretch could become franchise-defining.

The Bulls could easily go 2-7 over this stretch, fall seven games below .500 and nearly disappear from the playoff picture in a conference where two sub-.500 teams could finish in the top eight. Should a bad run like this come after a stretch of relative success, it could be brushed off as just schedule misfortune that the team will bounce back from.

But with tensions at their highest point of the season, I don’t think the organization will be able to idly stand by and watch as the roster they constructed immolates itself game after game. Gar Forman and John Paxson will need to be active at the deadline.

A lot of what happens will depend on the certainty GarPax feels that their jobs are safe for next season and beyond.

If they do feel safe, they will hopefully begin a mini-teardown project that could yield resources to help the Bulls while Jimmy Butler is still in his prime. It’s been widely reported that the Bulls are willing to move Rajon Rondo and Nikola Mirotic. Should this free-fall continue, I hope they include Taj Gibson to the list of available players. Gibson is having an excellent season by his standards and could certainly help a contending team fortify its big man rotation. He’s the kind of guy, even as a rental, teams would consider parting with real assets to acquire.

Should Forman and Paxson be concerned about their employment status, the Bulls could potentially make some damaging win-now moves in the hopes a playoff birth would save their jobs. The Bulls have been wise to hold onto their own draft picks, but job insecurity could cause the front office to abandon that philosophy. This is a duo that may no longer value a pick destined to fall in the low to mid-teens after they’ve completely whiffed on their last few draft selections taken in that range. Remember this quote from Paxson on Christmas?

We tried to plug holes. In the meantime, you’re drafting in the middle of the pack all the time. You’re good enough to make the playoffs a little bit, but you’re picking between 14, 15 and 22. It’s difficult to get impact players, unless you’re lucky like we were with Jimmy (Butler) years ago. We’re started that portion of it

A year ago at the deadline, GarPax chose to stand pat. Pau Gasol was rumored to be on the move to Sacramento, but the Bulls opted to hang onto the pending free agent, famously calling Gasol a “big piece” of the future.

The Bulls may very well use this road trip as an opportunity to come together and salvage what is left of the season. Perhaps another outing to the movies is in order.

But should the free-fall continue on the road, big changes could be coming our way.