The Chicago Bulls are in a weird spot as Thursday’s March 25 trade deadline draws closer.
At 19-23 with one game remaining before the deadline against the Cleveland Cavaliers, Billy Donovan’s Bulls are undoubtedly better than Jim Boylen’s Bulls were last season, which is further evidenced by an average point differential that’s almost breaking even. Zach LaVine has blossomed into a legitimate All-Star and building block. Thaddeus Young is having arguably the best season of his career thanks to how Donovan is using him.
With the Eastern Conference in shambles, Chicago is still comfortably in the play-in picture. The Bulls hold the No. 9 seed and are tied with an Indiana Pacers team considering big changes themselves. The 11th-seeded Toronto Raptors are 2.5 games back and imploding, with Kyle Lowry and Norman Powell potentially out the door. Chicago could wind up as a play-in team by default, even with a tough second-half schedule on paper.
There are notable concerns, though.
Moving past LaVine, the Bulls’ young core has mostly stagnated. Lauri Markkanen has struggled since his return from a shoulder injury, while Wendell Carter Jr. and Coby White were just removed from the starting lineup in favor of veterans. 19-year-old rookie Patrick Williams has shown tantalizing two-way flashes and joins LaVine as essentially untouchable, but he’s still not close to a consistently impactful player. The youth-heavy lineups have been a disaster this season.
Furthermore, Chicago’s struggles against good teams are well-documented. The Bulls are 4-16 this season against teams .500 or better, with Monday’s 120-95 debacle against the league-best Utah Jazz the latest example of Chicago faltering against top competition. The Bulls have had their opportunities to win a few more games against good teams, but a number of meltdowns highlight a need for more talent.
At this point in this season of “evaluation,” it’s clear the Bulls’ new front office led by Arturas Karnisovas must do something with this roster. That could mean adding talent, selling off parts or maybe even a combination of both. The bottom line is this: After a quiet first offseason highlighted by drafting Williams and signing Garrett Temple while bringing back most of the rest of the roster, it’s time to act and change things up as LaVine’s free agency approaches in 2022.
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At bare minimum, the back end of the roster should get some tweaking. But the Bulls should think bigger, whether that’s a hard pursuit of Lonzo Ball (they’re a reported suitor) or putting in calls to the Pacers about guys like Malcolm Brogdon, Domantas Sabonis and Myles Turner. Aaron Gordon would also be an intriguing fit on the right timeline with LaVine, but he seems destined to go to a contending team. DeMar DeRozan and Andre Drummond have also been reported as potential targets. The front office should be careful about including first-round picks in trades, but they have all of them at their disposal and can use protections.
With all this in mind, let’s take a run through Chicago’s roster ahead of this trade deadline.
The Bulls should do their due diligence, but it would take a true Godfather offer or a trade demand to even think about pulling the trigger. Even then, LaVine is entering his prime at 26 years old and looks like a legit foundational piece amid this All-Star leap.
ESPN’s Zach Lowe reported a lot of teams have called about the 19-year-old rookie, but the Bulls have quickly shut them down. Unless there’s a superstar on the way in a trade, Williams isn’t going anywhere.
All the reporting out there suggests the Bulls don’t want to move Young. He has been extremely valuable both on and off the court, and trading the veteran away would likely result in a slide in the standings and might not sit well with LaVine.
However, Chicago must still consider trading Young. Lowe says getting a first-round pick would be “likely,” and perhaps the Bulls could extract more. If the right deal comes around for the future, they should pull the trigger.
Markkanen is having the best shooting season of his career, but he offers very little else on the court and is looking to get paid as a restricted free agent in the offseason. Markkanen and the Bulls weren’t all that close during extension talks last offseason, and he hasn’t shown enough else besides the improved shooting to warrant meeting his demands. His injury history and the presence of Williams also come into play.
Shams Charania of The Athletic reports the Bulls are listening on Markkanen and there are suitors. If Chicago can get legitimate value in a trade, a deal should be made (a Markkanen-for-Ball swap has been a popular idea). Otherwise, the Bulls should explore sign-and-trade options in the offseason because losing the big man for nothing would be unfortunate. Bringing Markkanen back could also be in the cards, but it’s hard to see that right now unless he really picks things up.
Wendell Carter Jr.
Like Markkanen, Carter has been a disappointment with injury problems. His offensive skill set hasn’t developed as hoped, and he hasn’t been a legit defensive anchor this season. Too often he gets in his own head and struggles with confidence issues, which ultimately resulted in him moving to the bench.
There hasn’t been much trade noise surrounding the third-year center of late, but the Bulls shouldn’t hesitate to look for potential upgrades at the position. At this point, Carter is just a guy.
Donovan gave White a lot of rope as the starting point guard, but he finally saw enough when he made the recent lineup change. White hasn’t been much better as the bench point guard, which only makes the situation murkier.
White still has value as a gunner and could one day still turn into a legitimate starting point guard, but the fit and timeline with LaVine isn’t ideal. The Bulls need a better option at point guard, hence the Ball rumors and why Brogdon would be intriguing.
Otto Porter Jr.
Porter still has his moments, but he’s just not the player he was when he came over to Chicago from the Washington Wizards in 2018-19. He has a $28,489,239 expiring contract and could be used as a trade chip, with Bleacher Report’s Jake Fischer confirming Tuesday he’s available. Fischer mentions using Porter to go after players like DeRozan and Harrison Barnes.
There’s also the possibility of a buyout, but the Bulls could prefer to keep Porter for a playoff push if he’s not dealt.
The Ringer’s Kevin O’Connor recently reported Chicago offering Satoransky and second-round draft capital to get Ball. It’s hard to see that getting the job done given Ball’s breakout of late.
Satoransky has been a steady hand as a veteran point guard, but his limitations are on display against quality competition. While an excellent bench piece, he’s not a starting point guard on a good team unless there’s loads of talent elsewhere. The Bulls shouldn’t be in a rush to trade him because, like Young, he has a partially guaranteed deal for next season, but they should be seeing what they can get.
Temple’s numbers don’t look impressive, but he has been a key veteran presence this season when healthy (he’s currently dealing with an ankle injury). The Bulls reportedly shut down the Indiana Pacers’ recent inquiries on him, and it’s understandable if they want to keep him around instead of just selling his cheap deal for a second-round pick.
Valentine has the right to veto any trade after signing the one-year qualifying offer, but would he really do that after a roller-coaster ride in Chicago? While the 27-year-old sometimes add a spark with his shooting, he’s very streaky and the Bulls should jump at the opportunity to trade him if it arises.
Daniel Gafford is an energy big who can play spot minutes off the bench, so keeping him around for cheap is fine.
Chandler Hutchison has been out for a while with personal issues, but he looked like a bust of a pick before that. Finding a new home for him makes sense.
Ryan Arcidiacono, Luke Kornet and Cristiano Felicio are all expendable. Felicio is making $7,529,020 in the final year of his disastrous four-year contract and could theoretically be used as salary filler.
Devon Dotson and Adam Mokoka are the two-way players. Given the Bulls’ struggles at point guard, perhaps Dotson gets some run at some point.