The Bulls could use some certainty before trading, but they aren't going to get it
this season still matters (to them)
I said in the immediate aftermath of the Zach LaVine surgery news that it may actually not make any difference in the team’s mindset heading into the trade deadline.
After thinking about it for a couple days - which included another fall-down-huge-and-failed-comeback loss to The Kings - I still pretty much feel the same way.
What has changed is any hope for the Bulls to still trade LaVine even with this surgery hanging over his career. I was flailing, thinking of ways to get out of the LaVine business even at this negative trade value, for a couple reasons: 1) to still salvage a season that LaVine wasn’t helping anyway 2) LaVine’s trade value may still get even lower next year (reminder: in the offseason he can earn a trade kicker!)
But there’s a huge problem with this: nobody knows what surgery LaVine is even having! They (both the team, and LaVine’s camp) just said surgery is this week and it’s on his right foot. So while I could maybe squint and find a team who’d take on LaVine even if he’s not playing the rest of this season, nobody is going to trade for someone without knowing the diagnosis and long-term prognosis of the injury. Given how LaVine (#BeKlutch) has handled this season so far, it’s likely they are holding this information precisely for the reason to dictate where he gets traded and when.
When the trade request was first made, I reasoned (hypothetically considering the Bulls as a replacement-level front office and not the outright terrible one they actually are) that there was a way for the Bulls to make a ‘good’ LaVine trade even if it wasn’t the start of a full-on rebuild. That included making an honest push for a playoff seed this season.
To specify what I believe their goals are: it’s make the playoffs. It’s a meme to say they merely want 9th place, but I think based off of AK’s biannual word salad where he tries to to sell meager achievements, that’s coping not a mission statement. To them, it’s not actually a success to be in the play-in tournament if they don’t win a playoff seed.
(This is not fixating on how pathetic that is as a franchise goal, but just taking it as truth that they don’t want to rebuild. I think it helps to rationalize this mindset in figuring they’d be terrible at a rebuild anyway and just buy themselves unearned time in power, and failing at that is even more painful than failing at what they’re attempting now.)
While making the play-in versus winning a playoff seed is a small distinction, is actually a very important one in terms of their major trade pieces in DeMar DeRozan and Alex Caruso. There was some uptick in rumor-ing today, but upon closer look it may be wishcasting: while making the aggregation circuit by saying the Bulls are seeking a major haul for Caruso, Woj said the sentence prior that this was the case before the LaVine surgery news too. Similarly, Shams mentioned DeRozan’s availability in relation to his approach of unrestricted free agency, but that’s been the case all year.
Also not changing is LaVine not playing. While his absence doesn’t impact this goal of winning the play-in, two other factors do:
they’re no longer going to get helpful players for this season in a LaVine trade
they don’t know if Patrick Williams - unlike LaVine, actually critical to team success - will return from his own injury
The first thing is all but certain, but the second thing we don’t really know. Unfortunately, the Bulls have admitted to having extremely slow reaction to major injuries in the case of Lonzo Ball, so I’m not hopeful they’ll make a good decision regarding Williams’ availability in the next few days.
If the goal was simply making the play-in, the East’s terribleness (for the 25th year in this ‘cycle’) means the Bulls could trade Caruso and still have a good chance (they’d probably get a useable rotation player too). I think if they trade DeRozan it removes the competitive floor to where they may not even qualify at 10th place.
But I will assume (perhaps irrationally) that the Bulls won’t settle for 10th. No sir, they’re striving for 8th! And that means unless they do get a “Godfather” offer they are holding on to both. And perhaps this is Stockholm Syndrome at this point, but I at least somewhat understand it.
[I will be beyond upset if they do literally nothing, have to at least try and salary dump Vuc, get a couple second round picks for Andre Drummond, something...]