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The Bulls trade deadline was a big zero, do they not believe they’re contenders?

rest of the East made moves while the Bulls like their guys

Chicago Bulls Introduce Arturas Karnisovas and Marc Eversley Photo by Chris Ramirez/NBAE via Getty Images

This year’s NBA trade deadline was perhaps the most exciting one ever, and the Bulls sat it out.

They joined the Lakers and Warriors as the only teams not to make a deal (even the Hawks and Knicks did that now-looking-pointless Cam Reddish trade weeks ago), but more worrisome is that most of their Eastern Conference playoff contemporaries all used the day to load up: Despite their surely-serious injuries and mental health struggles, both Ben Simmons and James Harden will likely help the Sixers and Nets (hilariously in 8th now). Elsewhere the Cavs (Caris LaVert) and Celtics (Derrick White) made big additions to their rotations while the Bucks and Raptors made more minor moves.

The Miami Heat also did pretty much nothing but tax-dodging, but surely they will be steep competition in the February buyout market that the Bulls now see themselves locked into.

I’m not gonna do...what everyone thinks I’m gonna do...and freak out that the Bulls did nothing, even considering that in his press availability following the deadline Arturas Karnisovas went full GarPax:

We were taking calls, but basically the mutual feeling with all of our group was that let’s get our guys back, we’re going to have enough time in the regular season to see what this group can do when they’re all healthy

But, Arturas...isn’t there actually no time after you ‘see what you have’ to make a trade because the trade deadline just passed?

It’s a reasonable debate as to whether it made sense to ‘go all-in’ by including Patrick Williams or yet another first round pick for a starting-quality forward. There’s also the factor of the trade market itself being hot and heavy for ‘buyers’ like the Bulls (even Thad Young got something of a pick swap for the Spurs) and not a lot of true impact players even available.

But to be sure there were deals out there that would simply add someone to the rotation for the next six weeks, a time where the team has to play NBA games and not simply wait for injuries to heal for Williams, Lonzo Ball, Alex Caruso, and Derrick Jones (apparently he’s not going to play sooner with a splint). Wouldn’t it be worth it if only to reduce the load on Nikola Vucevic, DeMar DeRozan, and the back-spasm’d Zach LaVine?

So altogether AKME displayed a discouraging mindset, but there are key differences between now and “we like our guys” days past: the guys are actually good, and unlike drawing on ten years of ineptitude this front office has proven they can make trades.

What may not be much of a difference is financial constraints from ownership. The Bulls may not have had many assets to trade, but they had the capability to add $9M in payroll in a year where a bunch of cheapskate teams were out there trying to get under the Luxury Tax. And teams are always looking to move off from multi-year money. Question is whether the Bulls are too. To use a real example, was getting Torrey Craig for Troy Brown never even discussed because Craig is signed for next season?

To the Zooming reporters’ credit, this was asked (amidst other off-topic questions like how Ayo Dosunmu is a great ‘kid’). What we received was a non-answer answer:

KC Johnson followed up with a ‘team source’ saying that “ownership is comfortable paying the luxury tax and management knew this as it approached this deadline”, but also used the phrase ‘bracing for’ when describing paying Zach LaVine a well-deserved raise starting next year.

(maybe they’re playing the long game here and wearing down LaVine by having to carry a GLeague bench so he’s not SUPERMAX eligible?)

It’s foolish to pass along ownership edicts (let alone believe them) when we history to draw from. And as tempting as it is to repeat speculation that they’d ‘pay for a contender’, even that, at best, means they’d pay after the team establishes themselves as a contender. They won’t pay to become a contender.

And really, as a big-market team who has already doubled-down on present-day success they should be willing to pay to even get marginally better right now, and that was not done at this deadline. Instead it’s off to the buyout market, where the players are worse but they can be signed for the minimum.

I do think they can get a contributor or two off the scrap heap that can help steady things for the next 6 weeks, but they didn’t give themselves the best chance to do so. And though the current team has done well staying afloat by winning games against the likes of Charlotte and Toronto the past couple weeks, they don’t really have too much of a cushion, with just 1.5 games down to losing home court advantage in the first round, and 3.5 games from being forced into a the play-in tournament.

This perspective would’ve been unheard of even before the season, and it’s a testament to the front office that we are even worried about playoff seeding. Before the year I was ‘happy’ with a fun team that can win more than they lose.

That’s ultimately still the case, but it can’t be ignored that the acquisitions from the summer have been so good that it’s shifted expectations, to where there was talk last month about the Bulls being real contenders to make the conference finals in a league year where it looked like a lot was up in the air. Through their inaction yesterday, ownership and management has made it clear that they don’t see themselves at that level.