Amid another lackluster rebuilding season that has continued to pose more questions than answers, the Chicago Bulls opting to leave their roster intact as the trade deadline passed may just be the most incompetent decision made by the franchise in some time.
Stuck in mediocrity, the Bulls have separated themselves from the worst teams in the Eastern Conference, but have yet to win a game against any of the eight teams currently situated in the playoff standings.
Boasting a 19-33 record and spinning their tires in ninth place, the Bulls had to make a move — either as sellers to bottom out or as buyers to improve the depth of the roster to push toward the postseason. Given the circumstances, actively choosing to do nothing is unthinkable.
Veteran big man Thaddeus Young seemed set to be moved. He wanted to be. Rarely used swingman Denzel Valentine was a lock to be traded to a team looking for bench shooting. Neither were seriously connected to any new rumor or sourced information of consequence, and executive vice president of basketball operations John Paxson claimed “nothing presented itself” for Young. Teams apparently called for Zach LaVine, to which the Bulls showed little signs of entertaining. Pax says “people like Zach” around the league, though.
Injuries to Lauri Markkanen and Wendell Carter likely impacted the team’s willingness to make Young available. LaVine was never being moved for anything less than a ransom. Valentine may simply have zero value around the league. Market forces being what they may, all of this can be true, leaving the Bulls with little leverage to be sellers who received anything of note.
But as injuries continues to mount and the depth of the roster stretched to its limits, no move to reinforce the rotation was considered, either. Playoffs were said to be the season-long goal. Thus far, the team is 14 games below .500. As currently constructed, are we really to expected to believe this team — with zero wins against East playoff teams — can collect themselves and push toward a playoff berth?
Shit, if nothing else, why not make a deal for cash considerations? At least allow us to get our jokes off. Instead, the fan base is left with a hollow feeling, wondering if anyone running this franchise truly cares about enforcing actual and notable change.
Doing nothing is accepting the present. Right now, the present is an apathetic wasteland where we sit back and watch a host of clever teams create progressive moves, all while the Bulls kick back and recall their fondest memories from the ‘90s.
Worse yet, this deadline provided a true reflection of how a well-managed organization can do what the Bulls never could. Somehow manufacturing a way to land Andre Iguodala and Jae Crowder from the Memphis Grizzlies, the Miami Heat continued their quest of turning over a once-middling roster filled with inflated contracts and zero young prospect into a promising squad with Jimmy Butler as its best player. They did all this while already being on pace for a 56-win season, all while maintaining sizable cap space for 2021.
The Heat’s trading partner, the Memphis Grizzlies, perhaps a more comparable team to the current Bulls given they too are rebuilding, also showcased roster improvements can be made outside of the annual draft process. Adding Justise Winslow to a young core already ahead of schedule is an embarrassment of riches at this point.
While we should expect smart teams to nail their deadline decision, even the woefully managed New York fucking Knicks had the ability to read the room, selling off Marcus Morris and netting a first-round pick from the Los Angeles Clippers for their troubles.
It’s easy to watch the rest of the league wheel and deal and feel left out. Trading and making changes to the roster should never be done just to appease a fan base, nor would I advocate as much.
Still, that doesn’t change the stark reality: Now was the time to either get serious about chasing that elusive playoff participation award and dealing for productive bench pieces, or moving on players for draft concessions in order to retool this flailing rebuild. The Bulls chose neither, something Paxson tried his best to justify:
John Paxson says Bulls didn’t consider trading White, LaVine, Carter or Markkanen because team doesn’t know what it has yet.— Cody Westerlund (@CodyWesterlund) February 6, 2020
At a critical juncture where the perception of the rebuild is suffering, Paxson isn’t necessarily wrong when he says the team doesn’t know what it has in its young core, alluding to injuries that have derailed yet another season. While there is truth to this statement, it’s a major self-own to suggest as much given the Bulls are approaching three full seasons since the commencement of the rebuild.
As troubling as it is for Paxson to admit he still “doesn’t know what we have yet,” such an excuse seems illogical given this time a year ago, when the team made a significant move in trading Jabari Parker and Bobby Portis for Otto Porter Jr. With one less year to evaluate his squad, how did Paxson know enough then to make a deal but not now?
Whether the Bulls truly know what they do or don’t have, there are times where bold decisions must be made without all the information being on hand. They did exactly that last season when they acquired Porter. This deadline presented a similar opportunity to change a broken dynamic. It will remain that way until seasons end.