It’s time for the Bulls to do the right thing and trade Denzel Valentine.
To be clear, this is not the scenario Valentine wanted or envisioned. He enjoys living in Chicago, where his brother, Drew, is an assistant coach for Loyola. He remains respectful of the organization that used the final lottery pick in 2016 on him and would love to represent it on the court.
But that’s the thing: Valentine isn’t playing. Like, at all. And that’s after sitting out an entire season following reconstructive ankle surgery and listening to how much his shooting ability and court vision could help the 2019-2020 Bulls.
It did — for a while.
After logging just 44 total minutes through November and even playing one game in the G League, Valentine averaged 15.5 minutes in 14 December contests. He averaged 7.6 points, 2.1 rebounds, 1.3 assists and 0.9 steals as the Bulls went 7-7.
Plus, Valentine played with unbridled emotion and joy, and added a swagger that injected some life into a moribund season. Granted, Valentine crossed a line with his first-ever ejection after drawing two technical fouls in a home loss to the Warriors.
But Valentine did what pros are supposed to do: He stayed ready despite inactivity and produced when given the chance.
Look at him now, even. He’s on his feet often during games to cheer on teammates, engaged and enthusiastic, despite knowing whatever playing time comes his way will almost assuredly be mop-up minutes. Perhaps he let some frustration creep into his decision to sit out a Jan. 5 practice with knee soreness; only he knows his body.
But Valentine’s benching remains one of the more mysterious developments of this season. He’s fully healthy, saying recently that his surgically repaired ankle feels great.
When first questioned about Valentine not being in the rotation back on Nov. 11, coach Jim Boylen grew uncharacteristically evasive. Here’s the exchange:
Reporter: Why is [Valentine] out of the rotation?
Boylen: Because I said so.
Reporter: Is there something specific that he needs to improve?
Boylen: I think he needs some seasoning and he needs to play and he needs to grow.
Reporter: Grow in which areas?
Boylen: All areas.
Reporter: Why didn’t you play him at end of the [blowout] Rockets game?
Boylen: Because I didn’t want to.
Boylen has expressed concern to people about Valentine’s lack of explosiveness and athleticism. There likely are defensive concerns, as well. And in Boylen’s defense, he has used a 10-man rotation all season. You can’t play everybody, and somebody will always be looking in from the outside.
But for a team that has emphasized shooting the 3-pointer more consistently, ranking ninth with 35.1 attempts per game, it has always felt odd to see Valentine sit. The Bulls rank 19th at 34.8 percent from 3-point range.
This is a small thing, but making the whole situation even odder is Boylen’s association with Michigan State, where Valentine earned Player of the Year honors. Boylen actually served as an assistant coach for Denzel’s father, Carlton, during his senior season at Michigan State as Boylen began his coaching career as a graduate assistant.
Plus, Tom Izzo, whom Boylen worked with and is close to, loves Denzel Valentine.
Sources said at least one team has expressed interest in Valentine. It’s also possible the Bulls could package Valentine with Thad Young.
Bulls management actually has a history of trying to do the right thing for players as long as it doesn’t harm the future. Think: Honoring Nikola Mirotic’s request for a trade in light of Mirotic’s altercation with Bobby Portis.
It’s time to free Valentine and trade him somewhere he can play. Under Boylen, it’s clearly not here.
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