A bomb dropped on the NBA just a week before the 2020 NBA Draft with the news that Russell Westbrook wants a trade from the Rockets. While the general assumption was that James Harden would also ask out, he’s supposedly committed to Houston for now. There have already been a few teams thrown around as Westbrook suitors, including the Knicks, Clippers and Hornets.
But what about the Bulls?
Chicago is in a spot where everything should be on the table. There’s a new front office and coaching staff in place, and this franchise has accumulated decent young players but is still seeking a legitimate star since the Jimmy Butler trade.
Russell Westbrook would certainly bring star power to Chicago. However, that star is fading now that he’s 32 years old and has undergone numerous surgeries throughout the years. He can still put up big numbers, averaging 27/8/7 this season while really finding a groove before the NBA went on hiatus.
But the flaws were all there to see during the playoffs in the bubble. To be fair, Westbrook did get COVID-19 before coming to the bubble, and suffered a quad injury during the early portion of the restart. But even taking that into consideration, his outside shooting is a train wreck and his decision-making, especially late in games, can be costly. He’s often prone to major lapses on defense. These have been issues in the playoffs in his career, but it’s becoming more evident now as his physical advantages deteriorate.
Adding Westbrook in a vacuum might seem like a no-brainer, flaws and all, but bringing in a 32-year-old who relies so much on his speed and athleticism with three years and over $132 million left on his contract left is dangerous.
Russ also supposedly wants to go back to a role similar to what he had with the Thunder, which implies that he wants to go back to being The Man. New Bulls coach Billy Donovan let Westbrook do what whatever Westbrook wanted after Kevin Durant left. That led to historic amounts of triple-doubles but three straight first-round exits. Would Donovan want to go through that experience again, but this time with an older version? I have my doubts.
Still, say the Bulls do explore this. The Athletic’s Darnell Mayberry suggests trading LaVine and Otto Porter Jr. for Russ, leading to this scenario:
Contractually, by swapping Porter and LaVine for Westbrook, the Bulls would easily cover Westbrook’s $41 million 2020-21 salary, and their clean books going forward makes the remaining two years more palatable than it might appear at first glance.
Assuming either Young or Tomáš Satoranský wouldn’t be involved in a potential deal, the Bulls could create more cap space by trading them. Both have cap-friendly, partially guaranteed deals in 2021-22, which could make them more attractive thus easily movable. A potential Lauri Markkanen extension — assuming he’s still around — would kick in for 2021-22 and cut into that space. A potential Wendell Carter Jr. extension would then balloon the Bulls’ books in 2022-23, the final year of Westbrook’s contract.
But that’s potentially three good years with a nucleus of Westbrook, Markkanen, Carter, Coby White, Daniel Gafford and this year’s No. 4 overall pick. There are worse ways to retool.
Honestly, I don’t like the idea of including LaVine in a Russ trade. Russ is a bigger star with bigger numbers, but for how much longer? LaVine is on an affordable contract and still improving. He may not ever be a legitimate alpha dog, but Westbrook isn’t really one either at this stage and trending down. Porter would obviously have to be included in any deal to make salaries match, but though he has his injury issues he’s still an impactful player when healthy.
Even if you swap out LaVine for lesser stuff, I’m still not crazy about adding Westbrook to this team. I could probably be talked into it simply for the excitement factor, and he would make the Bulls better, but that contract is scary and I have my doubts about how much he’d help the rest of the core. I also don’t know if an aging Russell Westbrook is much of a draw for other stars in the future.
If the Bulls want to make a big trade for a star point guard who has played for Billy Donovan, I would turn to Chris Paul first. It sounds like both L.A. teams, the Suns, and the Bucks should be going hard after him. So it’s unlikely, but it wouldn’t hurt the Bulls to take a look.
Yes, Paul is even older than Westbrook at 35 with his own share of shortcomings and injury issues. But Paul’s massive contract is a year shorter (overall two years, over $85 million). Plus, Paul proved last season how his game has aged gracefully, reliant more on savvy and guile than brute force and athleticism. The Point God is still a wizard with the ball in his hands and a clutch performer [remembering all too well...-yfbb], thanks in large part to his mid-range prowess and ability to manipulate defenses.
If you want a deeper dive into the possibility, check out Mark Karantzoulis’ persuasive read over at BullsHQ. It’s easier to see Paul boosting the Bulls’ young core in the coming few years, and he’s already a mentor for Coby White. Again, like Russ, there would be risks involved. I’m also not trading LaVine in a trade for CP3, and the Bulls should be wary of what kind of draft assets to include in a deal.
But maybe Arturas Karnisovas would! Who knows? Nobody seems to know what the Bulls are doing right now. I don’t ultimately anticipate the Bulls pulling off a trade for either of these players, but we shouldn’t rule out anything with this new front office in charge.