Bulls Insider

Bulls mailbag: Trade DeRozan? What's Vučević's future?

/ by K.C. Johnson
Presented By Nationwide Insurance Agent Jeff Vukovich
Bulls Insider

Typing this following the 2-4 trip and in advance of Wednesday’s matchup against the Bradley Beal-less Washington Wizards. Eight of the Chicago Bulls’ next 10 games are against teams outside the top-eight in the conferences as of Tuesday afternoon. This is an opportunity to stabilize matters.

Until then, the questions, the first four of which come from the same reader who isn't identified until the fourth question, seem appropriately doom-and-gloomish.

I believe the Bulls are an extremely talented team with several quality contributors up and down the roster. But I’m becoming more and more concerned with the fit of our Big Three and the effect that has on the team's overall cohesion and ultimate success. It seems as though Lonzo Ball was the glue that held this squad together, both offensively as a distributor/connector and on the defensive end as a disruptor/stopper. Seeing as though he still can’t even run, this brings his future into serious question. I’m thinking it might be time for Bulls management to consider making some major changes and I’d like to hear your take on a few questions that will need to be considered. 

For the sake of this exercise, let’s assume the Bulls situation remains the same through January, in which case they are on the outside of the playoff picture with no Lonzo return in sight to save them. 

Question 1: If they do decide to trade a core player, rank the following in terms of providing the greatest possible return: DeMar, Zach, Caruso, Vuč

 

DeRozan, LaVine, Caruso, Vučević.

Now, this is tricky because if you asked me to rank these in order of easiest to trade, it would be: Caruso, DeRozan, LaVine, Vučević. And if you asked me to rank these in order of feasibility of trading, it would be: Vučević, LaVine, DeRozan, Caruso.

Let me explain further. DeRozan would net the most return because if a team is trading for him, they have control for the season after this one, acquire his Bird rights and obviously would be doing so for a title push.

LaVine would net more than Caruso merely by his talent level, although I think Caruso would be far easier to trade because he doesn’t have knee issues and is an All-Star role player.

And, under the assumption that the current situation holds and management starts trying to trade assets, I think they start with the expiring salary first, making Vučević the most likely to move, if anyone.

Question 2: If the Bulls were to find one or more trade partners with offers acceptable in terms of their own valuation, which player(s) do you believe would be most easily replaceable by complementary pieces in order to remain competitive while offering some hope for the future? 

This is deep and I’m not sure I’m right, but I’d probably veer towards Vučević or LaVine. And this is talking about the current version of LaVine, not the one that appeared on an All-NBA path over the season and a half before his January knee injury.

As for Vučević, he’s an extremely skilled player and I think actually underrated in terms of how much he sacrifices on this team. But he’s more of a complementary star than a lead star.

Question 3: Ultimately, what do you think is the most likely move by AKME?
A) Blow it up completely in hopes of a top 4 pick this summer 
B) Trade a few complementary pieces & continue trying to build around core players (DeMar, Zach, Vuč, Caruso) to win now
C) Trade one or two of their core players in hopes of creating better fit to maintain winning culture while hedging bet with the future in mind 
D) Stand pat and pray for Lonzo 

I’ll rank these too: D, C (only slightly over B), B (but good luck with that) and A. I don’t see A as an option at all, quite frankly, particularly with the new lottery odds and the fact that the pick would have to be top-four to be retained.

Question 4: What’s the most annoying habit of your teenage son? — Seamus F.

Well, we have two, so I get two answers.

The amazing ability of the older one to pull shirts off hangers in the closet and have those hangers spin off the pole and land in hard-to-retrieve corners of said closet, never to be picked up again. I’m astounded by it every time I look into his closet. It’s truly amazing.

 

As for the younger one, he’s more prompt and neater, but he’s pretty darn good at pushing multiple syllables together in an unintelligible mush in the few instances he uses more than one syllable.

Thanks for this last question. I feel so unburdened now. And the best part is my kids never read a word I write so they’ll never see this unless somebody shows it to them.

How do you think management is approaching Nikola Vučević's upcoming free agency? Losing him for nothing this offseason seems like a disaster. But at this point, so does re-signing him at market value on a long-term deal. And it’s not a given he would even re-sign with us. Given the all-in nature of this season and the Bulls’ lack of a first-round pick (unless top 4), how do you see this playing out? — Patrick S.

The crucial sentence in this question is “it’s not a given he would even resign with (the Bulls).”

This is a good reminder that Vučević will be an unrestricted free agent this offseason (I recently explored this topic with him for a story). That’s why I don’t think you can predict how this is going to play out until you see how the season plays out. Would the Bulls consider trading Vučević in February if their record is poor? Would Vučević sign elsewhere if he isn’t traded?

He said in our conversation that he is happy here and his family enjoys living in Chicago. The Bulls may be in a position where they’re forced to sign him merely to have something to show from their big trade. Stay tuned.

Three-point shooting was a clear need that went unaddressed in the offseason. Going back in time, who was realistically available to fill that need? And who would be available now that would be any kind of difference maker? Do the Bulls even have assets (Portland first-rounder?) to get a shooter? — Matt H.

They have one who isn’t playing much in Coby White. Goran Dragić is shooting a career-high 41.7 percent from beyond the arc, albeit on low volume of 2.7 attempts and in just 17.4 minutes per game.

It’s well documented the Bulls targeted Danilo Gallinari this past offseason, losing out narrowly on a player who ultimately chose the Boston Celtics and then unfortunately suffered an ACL injury in international play.

I don’t think the Bulls are in position to trade that protected first-round pick merely to slightly upgrade a need. Given how little draft capital they have, the only way I see that pick being dealt is if management trades one of the Big Three and it’s packaged as part of a larger deal. I’d peg this as a longshot for now.

 

It seems that many fans are now clamoring to "blow it up" in hopes that we increase the likelihood of drafting a generational talent like Wemby or even Scoot Henderson.  My thought, however, is that there is little to no chance that the front office would pivot this significantly given that the draft pick is only top-four protected and bottoming out could still result in a near 50 percent chance that we still lose the pick. Do you think it's fair to assume that the Orlando pick allocation heavily influences what AKME would be willing to do with the roster this season? 

If a "full tank" is off the cards, do you think it's plausible that the Bulls move Vooch for players that don't match his "star power" but might create better offensive and defensive balance? What about swapping Vooch for Utah's Kelly Olynyk (a lesser version of what Vooch provides), Malik Beasley (shooting), and maybe one additional asset? This would be bad from a PR perspective given all that we gave up for Vooch, but at some point, I hope the front office accepts the L from that trade and is willing to recoup as much value as possible. — Ian L.

I think common sense influences management’s thinking for this season as much as Orlando pick allocation. The Bulls’ recent attempts at tanking prove how hard it is to strike lottery luck. Despite all that losing, they never drafted higher than seventh until 2020. At this point of the season, it would be supremely difficult to pivot that dramatically and, with the lottery’s new odds, secure a top-four pick. Can you imagine how damaging it would be if the Bulls tried a full tank and then didn’t land one of the top-four picks, sending their pick to the Magic? Even if they finished with the league's worst record, there would be a 47.9 percent chance of that happening. It's one of many reasons why I don’t see this path as realistic.

If Vučević is moved, I think it’s because the Bulls aren’t confident they can re-sign him on a deal that makes sense for them. I don’t think it’d be because they’re worried about anything from a PR standpoint. They made that trade because they felt the core they inherited was underachieving and in a bid to be relevant again. In that sense, you could make an argument that the trade succeeded. It certainly cost a lot and it’s a fair debate whether or not, in retrospect, it was the right move. But at the time, it generated strong and widespread excitement within the fan base and aligned with management’s vision to acquire skilled, reliable players.

 

Was the Bulls trade to acquire Nikola Vučević from the Magic in 2021 the worst non-draft day trade in Bulls history? I think so since Wendell Carter and Franz Wagner are both significantly better and younger than Vooch, who has played like an average starting center since being acquired. The Bulls also still owe Orlando this year’s top four protected pick and will likely not make the playoffs this year and possibly lose Vooch in free agency after the season! What a disastrous trade. At least they nailed the Patrick Williams pick… — Dan B.

I sense sarcasm. And this would be a voice from the fan base who may not have been excited about the trade when it happened.

As I’ve written in this space before, I don’t think you can get hung up on the players the Magic received because Carter Jr. was pretty mentally fried here — and has admitted as much in interviews — and there is no guarantee that the Bulls would have drafted Wagner. Now, two first-round picks, particularly when DeMar DeRozan cost another one, is a high price and has left the Bulls in an asset-poor situation currently. But, again, management had grown tired of watching the core of young players it inherited and made a bold move in a bid to restore relevancy to the franchise.

As for it being the worst non-draft day trade, 1982 would like a word. Artis Gilmore requested a trade. And while the Hall of Famer’s best days were behind him, Rod Thorn received homegrown product Dave Corzine and Mark Olberding in return from the Spurs. Gilmore never matched his most dominant days while in San Antonio but did make two All-Star appearances in four seasons.

I understand Artūras Karnišovas wants to see continuity. But have you gotten any indication that they’ve seen enough that this roster, even with Lonzo Ball, can’t possibly make a jump to a serious playoff contender? Why not trade DeMar at this point? He’s a midrange shooter in a 3-point shooting league. He also doesn’t play much defense. Get what you can for him while his value is high. Package him with Vuč. Bulls need to see what they have in Pat Williams, and it’s going to be hard as the fourth option at best. I like DeMar, but you can’t win a championship with a midrange shooter taking the most shots on your team. Can’t keep stunting the development of Pat. — Emir M

Going back to my point at the start of the season about whether the Bulls would consider trading DeRozan next summer to give PWill more of an opportunity to grow. Do you believe this has now become a realistic possibility given the start to this season and do you think it even gets pushed up to the trade deadline especially if they continue to play like this? — Cory B.

 

Cory, meet Emir. Emir, meet Cory. Are you two secretly the same person?

As previously mentioned, I don't think there is any definitive direction on a major move at this point. In fact, I think the continuity factor and hoping for the return of Lonzo Ball is still the plan for now. If the season gets worse, I think you have to consider everything and DeRozan represents their biggest trade asset. That said, I'd still be surprised if they moved him. I think things would really have to go south.

Obviously hard to know what's out there, but if there are good trades focused around young players and picks on the table for DeRozan, Vučević, LaVine, Caruso etc., to the point where the Bulls might even be selling high or at least getting good value back and setting themselves for a nice rebuild (after this season with the likely lost pick) with a core of Ayo Dosunmu, Dalen Terry, Patrick, Lonzo, and whoever they get, how would you feel about that? Total failure on this short era or props to front office for recognizing the mistakes they made and quickly pivoting? — Reilly M.

There's an old saying in professional sports that the best executives are the ones who move on from mistakes and don't double down on them. As of this writing, I don't think management thinks their moves have been mistakes. They saw the way the group performed for the first half of last season. They're hoping to get back to that. But if they did move on, you'd have to gauge the return versus the cost to fully judge the "era." The Bulls expended a lot of draft capital to assemble this roster. So any moves would have to set the team up for the future, and the remaining core you mentioned obviously isn't enough.

After the promise of the early wins over the Heat and Celtics, the Bulls have looked lethargic and disinterested. Why didn’t they address their PG and PF needs in the offseason and why would they reward Donovan with a contract extension when the team is playing so poorly? — Mike N.

The Donovan extension talks began before the season and progressed. It’s clear Karnišovas values continuity. And he has great respect for Donovan’s communication and leadership.

As for the off-season moves, Dragić is the purest point guard not named Lonzo Ball on the roster. So they took care of that position to me. They have plenty of guards. I’d play Dragić more.

Power forward, I’d agree with you. While I understand the value of Javonte Green and Derrick Jones Jr. in their roles, the Bulls are undersized at the position. The easy answer is you’d hope for a bigger jump from Patrick Williams than what he has shown to this point.

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