The Bulls did very little on NBA trade deadline day. Earlier in the trading season, they obviously made the move with Nikola Mirotic, and wound up acquiring one of the best picks moved all year. In an apparently-tight market for these picks, the high cost of getting that first-rounder is still pronounced, but also somewhat in alignment with the rest of the league.
Having gotten a main objective done, the Bulls worked around the fringes of what was a full roster:
- Flipped Jameer Nelson (who was part of that Mirotic trade) to the Pistons for a second-round pick swap in 2022, and while I cannot fathom a lower asset it is still technically something. They received Willie Reed in the deal as well, but Reed was quickly waived.
- With an open roster spot after that trade, they acquired Noah Vonleh, a 22 year old former lottery pick but also an upcoming restricted free agent. They also reportedly received cash in that deal, and have hit the limit for this season with $5.1m from this and the Quincy Pondexter trade (after also receiving maximum cash in 2017 for selling the 38th pick). GarPax truly succeeded in building equity.
- They waived Tony Allen - also a throw-in for the Mirotic deal - soon after the deadline, creating another open roster spot
But what they didn’t do on deadline day:
- Use upwards of $10m remaining cap room to take on some other money and get any kind of asset. While it’s true that the traded player exception the Bulls have can be used on draft night, selling teams can’t trade expiring money or affect their luxury tax payment at that time, the trade deadline was their last chance. And given Bulls history, we should expect that TPE to remain unused and be cap space for 2018 free agency.
- Acquire any additional second round picks - they still don’t possess any second rounders in the next two drafts. Not only is this pretty bad strategy for a rebuilding team, even if you (stupidly) don’t want to ‘throw darts’ with them they’re obviously useful assets in minor trades.
- Deal away any players from the rotation to ‘help’ themselves get worse and strengthen the tank.
I think that last point was the most unreasonable ask: simply giving away players and not care what the return was in order to help the lottery odds. John Paxson made it sound like he simply wasn’t going to do that: both in that he values the veteran leadership but also feels like they can get better assets next year when both are on expiring deals.
I’m not sure that obviously tank-y of a trade is even that good of a strategy. For one thing they will still be plenty bad, especially if Dunn remains out, and the mentioned likes of Felicio and Payne get more minutes down the stretch. Though I do get the argument that the 2018 lotto balls have outsized importance because the Bulls put themselves in such a hole already with their tear-down moves up to now.
To that point, Paxson was making it sound like 2006 again: He identified seven young players, and focus is on patiently developing them. This is the GarPax core version, I don’t know, 13 or something: Markkanen/Dunn/LaVine/Portis/Valentine/OwnPick/PelicansPick.
To them, ‘building through the draft’ is pretty restricting. They only draft their guys (we can count Dunn in that group given their widely reported prior interest), and stick with their guys, and also please be sure you don’t get too many guys!
A rebuilding team should have a lot more roster churn: finding who can be serviceable at the end of the roster, and making early calls on whether the ‘top’ guys are really going to pan out that way. But that’s a lot of work! Instead we hear rumblings of ‘already have a first rounder’, and the complete disregard of 2nd round picks, and the lack of activity on the waiver wire (Bulls can claim guys with their cap space before they reach free agency).
Paxson also said they weren’t going to take on any 2019-20 contracts, which is somewhat reasonable. But they also didn’t take on any 2018-19 money (after Omer Asik in the Mirotic trade) and didn’t use nearly all of the space they have for this season.
It’s all being spun as ‘patience’, but it also just looks like a lack of aggression. Given their payroll cheapness and lack of resources, it’s just the Bulls way to settle for less activity. Slow and steady keeps your jobs, provided you luck out in the lottery like they did 10 years ago.