The Chicago Bulls are at the end of their first real schedule break of the season. They have been fun, yet ultimately average. Some roster issues we speculated on before the year have been alleviated. But there's still one that maybe will be addressed by a mid-season trade: at the power forward position.
Yes, Patrick Williams has strung some solid games together, but he still feels as if he’s years away from potentially being an above-average contributor in a starting role. And as exciting as Javonte Green has been, his massive height disadvantage ultimately is unavoidable, especially in potential playoff matchups.
This position is also incongruous to much the rest of the team, as the Bulls have a lot of players basically in their primes, with DeMar DeRozan presumably near the tail end of his at age 33.
So let’s take a look at some fun players at the four, and consider how the Bulls could get them. Some of these moves would be far more disruptive to Chicago’s roster than others. Some might even be mildly insane, but I’m pitching them anyway.
Vanderbilt is on an insanely reasonable contract (he has two years and $8.9 million remaining on his current deal), and would represent a massive upgrade over Patrick Williams as a terrifically long and athletic defender with a high motor. He can (and has) guarded a variety of players from 1-4. He’s not much of a jump shooter, but his abilities as a terrific and versatile defender who can cut inside for easy points around the rack. Chicago could flip one of its rookie-scale contracts (for salary-matching purposes, it might have to be Dalen Terry) and some kind of future pick equity for Vanderbilt and another Jazz player on a veteran’s minimum. Vanderbilt is as good young player on a great deal, the kind of guy Danny Ainge could build around. So convincing him to part ways with Vanderbilt could take some pleading.
The issue with any deal for Vanderbilt is... the Jazz are 10-4 and the top team in the West! Vanderbilt is currently their starting power forward, with old friend Lauri Markkanen serving as the team’s technical starting small forward. Would Utah, which had been thought of before the season as a tanker, really be willing to surrender a young, high-upside talent how’s already proven himself to be a vital piece of their rotation? That remains to be seen.
Speaking of the Jazz, should the team’s front office ultimately decide to start selling off players, power forward/center Olynyk could be a great fit for Chicago. The 31-year-old is currently averaging 12.3 points a game, 4.2 rebounds a game, an insane 3.2 assists a game, 1.4 steals, and 0.5 blocks, while serving as Utah’s starting four, ahead of Vanderbilt. He’s become a reliable three-point option, boasting a career average of 36.9% on 3.3 attempts. He has been red hot from deep to start the season, connecting on an unsustainable 56.8% of his 2.8 looks per contest.
Adding Olynyk would help improve the team’s shooting game and add another above-average distributor for his position among the starters. He’s also a solid screen-setter. Though not a terrific rim-roller or defender, his attributes could offset the minuses.
The 6’11” big man is owed $12.8 million during this final guaranteed year of his deal this season. The Bulls could certainly include their lottery-protected first-rounder from the Trail Blazers for a contributor of Olynyk’s caliber, and then piece together the funds for Olynyk without giving up too much in terms of rotation pieces. Coby White’s $7.4 million contract, along with the salaries of deep-bench centers Tony Bradley and Marko Simonovic, would make the money work. Would Ainge try to counter by requesting Patrick Williams in the place of White? Perhaps. What would the Bulls do then? It’s up to their talent appraisal, but it may not quite be worth the risk.
Should the Minnesota Timberwolves continue to stumble (they’re currently 5-8, and losers of seven of their last ten games), is there a chance the team cuts bait with some players and tries to get back into the 2023 draft, having surrendered its own unprotected first-rounder to the Utah Jazz in a deal for three-time Defensive Player of the Year Rudy Gobert?
“Slow-Mo” has carved out a surprisingly effective pro career despite moving with the speed of a tortoise. Anderson was generally a starter during his four-year stint with the Memphis Grizzlies, but has been a reserve combo forward while with Minnesota this year. In 19.1 minutes a game this year, the 6’9” combo forward is averaging 6.1 points (on .571/.364/.846 shooting splits), 2.9 rebounds, 2.7 assists, 0.8 steals and 0.6 blocks a night. Anderson, a sneaky-good defender on and off the ball, would represent an upgrade over both Williams and Green, at least for now, and wouldn’t cost Chicago too much.
Would the Timberwolves, led by Arturas Karnisovas’s former boss Tim Connelly, be amenable to receiving, say, two future second-rounders and Coby White in exchange for Anderson? It would probably not be worth it for Chicago to surrender much more than that.
A Crowder trade would be pretty perfect for the Bulls monetarily. Crowder’s expiring $10.2 million contract is so reasonable, and the Suns at this point seem pretty desperate to at least extract value from him as he holds out for a trade, that maybe they’d be happy with, say, a deal that provides them with some shooting depth at the reserve guard spot in the form of Coby White, some level of future pick (the Trail Blazers’ first, and/or maybe a pair of seconds?), along with the contract of Tony Bradley to make the money work. It’s possible the Suns, who very much want to contend this season, could balk at the offer, or counter with something that includes a better returning player (with Cameron Johnson out as he recovers from meniscus surgery, perhaps they’d bite on Paw’s similar salary?).
Crowder is not the same level of player as some of these others, but would in theory be easier to add to the Bulls’ roster without sacrificing highly-valuable contributors. His finishing has taken a dip, but he remains a solid three-point shooter (34.8% last year on 5.4 tries) and defender at the wing and power forward positions, which is really all the Bulls need from the position. The burly 6’6” forward was a starter on consecutive Finals also-rans, after all, so he’s no slouch.
The Washington Wizards generally have seemed reticent to trade win-now players, even though they haven’t been able to “win now” themselves since 2017 and seem destined for a play-in tournament cameo in the spring, despite sporting a decent 7-6 record for now (better than the Bulls, albeit with just one back-to-back vs. the Bulls’ four). Kuzma has been playing out of this world for the Wiz, averaging 18.8 points on .469/.351/.733 shooting splits as the team’s starting four, along with 7.7 rebounds, 2.4 dimes and 0.7 blocks.
With Bradley Beal and Kristaps Porzingis sitting out Thursday’s game against the Dallas Mavericks, Kuzma showed off just how much he can do offensively. He served as the team’s main scorer and handled the ball a lot more than normal, scoring 36 points on 14-of-26 shooting from the floor, while also chipping in 11 boards and six dimes.
Will Washington ever look in the mirror and face the music, should the team fall into the play-in bracket (which feels like their destiny, given their personnel)? If so, would the Wizards be amenable to trading for, say, the contracts of Patrick Williams and White (a deal that would work for Kuz’s insanely reasonable $13 million contract), plus that Trail Blazers lottery-protected first-round pick and some future second-rounder, in exchange for one of the league’s more underrated starting two-way power forwards?
The big caveat should the Bulls try to add him this year: Kuzma has a $13 million player option for the 2023/24 season, and is liable to opt out should he continue playing like he has thus far.
Wizards reserve Rui Hachimura, still on his rookie deal (he’s making $6.2 million this year), is a restricted free agent himself next summer. Should Washington not want to retain him, he could be an interesting pickup for Chicago too, and would cost less to add via trade. Through 12 games this season, the 24-year-old 6’8” power forward out of Gonzaga is averaging 12 points on .483/.292/.724 shooting splits, plus 5.2 rebounds and 0.6 blocks. He’s a career 35.6% three-point shooter, albeit on just 2.3 triple attempts a night. Injury and personal issues could at least give the Wizards pause when it comes to keeping him rostered (he was available for just 42 games last year), so perhaps the Bulls could pounce?
Collins has been displaced by Dejounte Murray in the Atlanta Hawks’ offensive hierarchy, and has looked relatively disjointed as he struggles to adapt to his new reduced role with the club. He is averaging just 12.4 points on .504/.250/.933 shooting splits. He has never shot worse than 34% from long range over the course of a whole season. Collins is also chipping in 7.9 rebounds per contest for an 8-5 Atlanta team.
Were the Bulls to trade for Collins, they’d be doing so with the hope that his numbers would stabilize in a new situation, even if his offensive standing on the Bulls would still be at least third, maybe fourth, behind DeMar DeRozan and Zach LaVine. For his career, the 25-year-old is averaging 16.4 points per game on .558/.372/.784 shooting splits, along with 8.3 rebounds and 1.5 assists.
He’s never been an amazing defender, but he does possess the athletic tools to be pretty solid on that end. His $23.5 million annual salary would make a deal a bit tough for Chicago to pull off. The Nikola Vucevic or Lonzo Ball contracts could be used in a trade, but the 6’6” Ball would then become the Hawks’ third above-average point guard, and probably relegated to a bench role behind Murray and Trae Young, so perhaps the Bulls could consider trading Nikola Vucevic, who has seemed to be more amenable to working as a third option than Collins has so far, and Patrick Williams in exchange for Collins and Atlanta’s own intriguing young prospect (a center), Onyeka Okongwu. How Atlanta would opt to use current starting center Clint Capella after the arrival of Vucevic is up to them, but presumably he could be packaged in a separate transaction to give the Hawks wing help.
Though they sit at a mediocre 5-6 record overall, the Sacramento Kings are on a bit of a hot streak right now, having nabbed all five of their wins over the course of their last seven games. Barnes, the team’s starting four, has been in a shooting slump so far, but still brings it defensively. The 30-year-old may be averaging 11.1 points a game while shooting a lackluster .407/.216/.816 from the floor, but for his career he’s a 37.7% three-point shooter on a decent 3.5 looks a night. The (ostensible) 3-and-D 6’8” vet is happy to operate as a lower-priority offensive option, while frequently taking on tough coverage assignments at either forward spot. If Sacramento really goes in the tank this season (no guarantee as they’ve been chasing the West’s 10th seed for years, and seem capable of actually getting there this season... and then immediately losing in the play-in tournament), Barnes is certainly a desirable asset. Rookie lottery pick Keegan Murray looks to be the team’s long-term plan for its starting power forward spot, and a Barnes trade could expedite Murray’s development.
Barnes’s $18.4 million contract would be a bit of a hurdle. Chicago could trade that Nikola Vucevic ($22 million) and Patrick Williams ($7.8 million) package for Barnes and reserve center Richaun Holmes, although ESPN’s trade machine absolutely loathes that proposal from a wins standpoint, claiming the Bulls’ projected win tally would slip by -11 per its “Hollinger Analysis” tool. Again, this hypothetical deal is a gamble, predicated on Barnes returning to his performative level from last season, and Holmes looking like the player he was in 2021-22 prior to the Kings’ deal for Domantas Sabonis that shifted the center to the bench.
Should both players somehow not reach their prior performance levels, it could be a massive blow to the Bulls. If Chicago is feeling really confident about the play this year of Ayo Dosunmu (a restricted free agent next summer), the team could try to get Sacramento to bite on the $19.5 million contract of Lonzo Ball in place of the Vooch money. Sacramento loves starting point guard De’Aaron Fox so much it traded away Tyrese Haliburton, so the 6’6” Lonzo would most likely be moved to a shooting guard role whenever he does come back from his knee surgery. In theory, it could be sort of a poor man’s version of what the Hawks are doing with Trae Young and Dejounte Murray, both point guards last year, in their own backcourt. But would the Kings care that the addition of Ball would squeeze some minutes from 2021 lottery selection and stellar defensively-inclined point guard Davion Mitchell?
After The Ringer’s Bill Simmons indicated that there had been “buzz” surrounding a possible Anthony Davis trade, our old pals at Cash Considerations, Jason Patt and Ricky O’Donnell, talked through a potential deal for The Brow, a native Chicagoan, on the latest episode of their must-listen Bulls podcast.
The star Lakers big man, stuck on a miserable 2-10 Los Angeles team, seems to get hurt a whole heck of a lot these days, and generally looks to be in pain even when he is ostensibly “healthy.” He has added mass to play more center minutes, but he has also expressed, over and over, that he unequivocally would rather player power forward than center. One wonders if a move to his preferred starting gig on his hometown team could miraculously improve his attitude and health a bit. The Cash Considerations crew pitched a deal around the Vucevic contract that could still free up A.D. to mostly play at the four. Davis, earning $38 million this season, could be had for the combined contracts of, say, Vucevic, Williams, and White (a combined $37.2 million), the Trail Blazers’ lottery-protected future first-rounder (quite possibly conveying this year), and as many second-rounders as the Bulls can send. L.A. could probably get additional first-round picks should it choose to flip Vucevic and Williams.
Andre Drummond, who has been playing extraordinarily well on his veteran’s minimum deal, would become Chicago’s starting center.
Would Davis improve his hometown team in the short-term, returning to his favorite position of power forward, and could Andre Drummond and Derrick Jones Jr. convincingly survive their respective elevated minutes as Chicago’s primary center rotation (with Davis perhaps playing spot minutes)? Probably, but it might still behoove Chicago to poke around for another frontcourt piece on the buyout market in such a scenario.