The NBA Trade Deadline is Thursday afternoon, and for the first time in a long while there is a serene feeling when considering the Bulls situation. Not even so much that the team has a good record and a lot of good players this year, but that we know unlike past seasons that there is a front office that actually 1) wants to do the job 2) is good at the job.
That’s a much better feeling than even a season ago, when all we knew of AKME was their unnecessary slow-lay of firing Jim Boylen, with GarPax and the ‘dorf family stewardship poisoning our brains. But the Bulls unexpectedly made the biggest acquisition of that deadline in their Nikola Vucevic trade, so now while we can’t necessarily expect a big move, it’s expected that they’re working on getting better.
But as much contentment as there is around the roster overall, there are some factors this season that add some stress.
One is that the Bulls have been so good, and this seems to be a wide-open year for the title, where you can argue that the Bulls should invest all they can in this superlative age-32 DeRozan season.
Another factor is the long-term injuries to key players. DeRozan himself has a take on that:
We’re missing Lonzo Ball, one of the top point guards in the league. Alex Caruso, one of the best defenders in this league. Patrick Williams, one of the young stars in this league. We haven’t had those guys. And we have them, and they’ll be back. We don’t need to worry or stress about having nobody else. Those three right there, I guarantee everybody in this NBA wish they had those three guys. We gonna get those guys back and we’ll be fine.
I am not zen like DeMar, here. I think the Bulls need reinforcements now for the month-plus remaining where they will still be without those guys. They could use bench help at pretty much every position, to take minutes from the overmatched fringe guys who are playing currently.
I’ll copy over a list from Stephen Noh at the Sporting News but filter for what I feel is that ‘level’ of a trade target and coming from a seller (like, a lot of Clippers and Grizzlies were on this list but I think they’re looking for an upgrade):
- Guards: Dennis Schroeder, Corey Joseph, DJ Augustin, Eric Bledsoe
- Wings: Justin Holiday, Torrey Craig, Josh Richardson, Terrence Ross, Danny Green, Gary Harris, Evan Fournier, Kenrich Williams, David Nwaba
- Bigs: Robin Lopez, Kelly Olynyk, Davis Bertans, Thomas Bryant, Montrezl Harrell, Paul Millsap, Nic Claxton, Mike Muscala, Derrick Favors, Marvin Bagley, Isaiah Hartenstein, Serge Ibaka, Jusuf Nurkic, Chris Boucher, Nerlens Noel
The first name on this list is also the most active in rumors. I wouldn’t consider any of the rumormongers totally legit but there’s been a lot of smoke in the last week about the Bulls acquiring Schroeder from Boston. Like this nonsense phrase from Jake Fischer of BleacherReport: “A framework of Schroder to Chicago for Troy Brown Jr. and a second-round pick has circulated around the league”. That interest has been corroborated by Michael Scotto, who I’ve never really paid much attention to but he did nail the Bryn Forbes trade last month when nobody else had it.
Another mention in those two links is Paul Millsap, a natural idea given that reportedly the Bulls were his second choice this past summer when he chose to go to Brooklyn. It has not worked out with the Nets, and Millsap is currently on-ice while they look to trade him. As Millsap is on a minimum contract, the Bulls don’t need to include a player or even use their trade exception to get that deal done. The Nets are holding out (via) for an actual useful piece in return, but the Bulls have no reason to do that as they can just wait...and perhaps after giving up that goal the Nets are more concerned with ‘doing right by the player’ and trading him to a place he wants to be versus exposing him to be picked up on waivers.
The problem is that the Bulls could use Schroeder or Millsap now, both to give them a better chance at winning games (yes I recognize Millsap is probably cooked, but we’re talking about replacing Alfonzo McKinnie and Malcolm Hill here) and also lighten the load on DeRozan, LaVine, and Vucevic.
But I understand why the Bulls aren’t jumping at that level of acquisition now if it hurts their chances at a bigger trade later in the week. The Bulls have very few assets and contracts at their disposal, so even using Troy Brown or a second round pick would mean those pieces could no longer be used for a bigger money move for Jerami Grant or Harrison Barnes.
Now, they should be ultimately able to do both, and maybe they treat acquiring Schroeder as insurance to use Coby White in a larger trade. But I understand the risk involved in doing that minor deal now with that hurting your chances if an opportunity unexpectedly arises later. And unlike the last regime, I no longer assume we’ll get the “we like our guys” edict following total inactivity this week. I am thinking they are laying in wait for the price to drop on a two-way starting big forward, and if that doesn’t happen then they’ll do some work around the margins.
Now, the question of whether the Bulls should suck it up and pay full price for that level of player to give them the best absolute chance this year at a deep playoff run, that’s a different post...