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NBA trade rumors and a Bulls deadline primer

what do the Bulls even have left to trade?

NBA: Chicago Bulls at Brooklyn Nets Vincent Carchietta-USA TODAY Sports

The NBA Trade Deadline is less of a day and more like a week, which started in earnest several days ago and really escalated yesterday with two major trades.

The informative part for the Bulls situation is less on the improved teams (as they’re both in the West) but the ones that are known sellers. The Portland TrailBlazers continuing to pull the plug on this season all but guarantees that the pick they owe the Bulls will not be conveyed this season (though they claim it isn’t a rebuild, so maybe the 2023 draft), and now Larry Nance Jr. is effectively off the board as a trade target, but perhaps Josh Hart and Tomas Satoransky are now flippable. The good news is that if Sato is bought out, since he has been traded from the team the Bulls dealt him to, the Bulls can legally acquire him again. The bad news is that Sato turned into the worst player in the NBA this year.

Another established seller is the Indiana Pacers, who dealt a couple veterans away in their big trade with the Kings but received two in return likely not in their long-term plans in Tristan Thompson and Buddy Hield, with Torrey Craig remaining on the roster as well. As always, it’s tough to figure what the Kings are doing, but if it’s indeed pushing for the 10th seed, you’d have to figure Harrison Barnes and to a lesser extent Richaun Holmes are no longer available? Could likely still get Marvin Bagley for very little!

Also making news, without a trade, is the Washington Wizards, who are likely going to be in full seller mode after news that Bradley Beal is being shut down for the year. Beal is overrated, especially this season, and the Wiz have a solid roster that may win ‘too many’ games even in his absence, so that could be motivation enough to deal their expiring veterans in Montrezl Harrell, Thomas Bryant, Aaron Holiday, and Raul Neto.

Another established seller is the San Antonio Spurs. And in the last rumor roundup, I did not include the Marc Stein report that the Bulls made an offer for Jacob Poeltl...perhaps subconsciously because it didn’t make any sense to me? I see grabbing talent for talent’s sake (and Poeltl is a superlative defensive center), but unless it was an outright steal I don’t see the motivation to get a player who has to play a position you already have filled by Nikola Vucevic, when that trade package (likely the Portland lotto-protected first and Coby White) could potentially get you someone who’d start in the playoffs for you?

There haven’t been any Bulls rumors since then. I expect them to get at least some short-term help as this current state of ‘look like crap and lose games but just say well Lonzo and Caruso are out no worries’ is going to have them sink in the seeding and maybe even into the play-in bracket which would be a disaster.

Here’s a primer on what the Bulls have available to trade:

First, I’m assuming LaVine, DeRozan, Vucevic, Ball, Caruso, Green, Dosunmu are not being traded. The last two aren’t what you’d typically say are ‘untouchable’ but as rotation players on insanely affordable deals they are the type of players that ‘buyers’ keep. Alfonzo McKinnie also isn’t tradeable, but that’s because he simply can’t due to him being a recent signee.

Roster space: the Bulls are maxed out at 15 players on the active roster (plus the 2 two-way deals, those can be traded but don’t serve as matching salary), so to do an imbalanced trade where they take in more players than they are sending out they would have to waive a player first (or trade them to the minor league feeder franchise in OKC as to not have it on the cap). I would suspect McKinnie would be first to go. Then Matt Thomas, though while he’s playing a ton right now you’d figure in a trade the Bulls would get players better for those minutes.

Luxury Tax: the Bulls can go into the luxury tax this season! There is nothing to say they can’t. They probably won’t, and that understanding is a bit depressing to have, where even with a new front office the ‘dorfs aren’t going to fully flex their big-market muscles. As it stands now the roster is around $3M under the tax. They are $9.4M under the apron, which is actually a hard ceiling since they had a sign-and-trade acquisition this year (Ball).

Trade Exceptions: The Bulls have a single TPE, at exactly $5M from when they signed-and-traded Daniel Theis* to the Rockets. It cannot be combined with a player to generate larger outgoing salary. There is also an exception for minimum salary players, so for example the Bulls do not need to use the $5M TPE to acquire Paul Millsap.

*(I’ll mention here that the Bulls can’t trade for Theis or Thad Young this year, they can only be on the Bulls if they’re traded elsewhere and bought out).

Players on expiring contracts: Derrick Jones ($9.7M) and Troy Brown ($5.1M) are the sizeable ones here. Brown is more clearly expendable when the team is fully healthy, but the team is far from that now. I don’t know what’s going on with Jones’s broken finger. There was a report when it happened that potentially he’d play with a splint on his non-shooting hand, but it’s been over a week since then. Maybe he’s waiting to see if he’s traded.

Players who are assets: Patrick Williams and Coby White are the clear positive-value players the Bulls can move. White was not looking that way to start the season, but has since turned it around to reach that subjective market assessment. But keep in mind - sadly - that the Bulls luxury tax situation is potentially worse next season with Zach LaVine maybe getting SUPERMAX! , and both White and Williams are making ~$7.5M next season. So what is a value contract for another team may not be that way for the Bulls.

Tony Bradley (24) and Marko Simonovic (22) are both technically young and they’re signed through next year, but they’d have equivalent value of a second-round pick at best. Same with two-way player Tyler Cook (Malcolm Hill is no longer ‘young’).

Draft picks:

1st round: 2022 own, 2022 Portland top-14 protected until 2028, 2024 own, 2026 own, 2027 own

Remember, the Stepien Rule is that you have to own a guaranteed first round selection in one of the next two drafts. Now, a team can get around this on draft night by making a pick and ten trading the player rights right afterwards. But for this trade deadline, the Bulls cannot include their own 2022 pick because they have no 2023 selection and the Portland pick may not convey in 2 years. But they could trade that Portland pick. They cannot trade the 2024 pick because 2025 is already gone. The rule is satisfied if they received a first in return, and they could do swap rights instead of outright sending a pick.

2nd round: 2023 from Denver, 2026 own, 2027 own. These can all be traded, but whenever the Bulls do own a 2nd round selection next (they could get one this deadline), it’ll have to be forfeited for that tampering penalty.

OK, now hit the trade machine you crazy kids.