The NBA trade deadline is weeks away, and the Chicago Bulls could be in the market for a move.
How splashy of a move, if one comes to fruition? That remains to be seen.
But even as the Bulls have surged to an Eastern Conference-leading 27-12 record, a need for additional size, shooting and wing defense, particularly at the power forward spot, has emerged. That need is only intensified by the ongoing absences of Patrick Williams, Javonte Green and Derrick Jones Jr.
Here are three potential deals that could address that, and potentially push the Bulls over the top come postseason time:
1. Jerami Grant, F, Pistons
Bulls receive: Jerami Grant
Pistons receive: Patrick Williams, Derrick Jones Jr., 2022 first-round pick (via Portland)
Grant addresses a couple areas of postseason concern for the Bulls. He is a highly athletic and versatile defender, both on the interior and perimeter, with experience manning the power forward spot on playoff teams – a better option against the Kevin Durant and Giannis Anteokounmpo’s of the world than the Bulls have in-house.
In past, lower-usage roles, Grant has also proven a reliable spot-up shooter and ancillary offensive threat. Provided he is amenable to that type of role once again – he’s averaging 21.6 points and 16.8 field-goal attempts in 78 games for Detroit since the start of last season – he’d be a hand-in-glove fit in the starting lineup.
Plus, Grant has rapport with Artūras Karnišovas from their shared season in Denver, and Billy Donovan from their three shared seasons in Oklahoma City. At 27 years old, potential exists for a longer-term marriage. There’s a lot to like.
He’s also the hottest commodity on the trade market right now, so there will be competition for his services. But the Bulls have an intriguing package to offer Detroit, headlined by a player in Williams that Troy Weaver and Co. projected great interest in during the 2020 pre-draft process.
The question is whether the Bulls’ front office would be willing to part with the former No. 4 pick – and first draft choice of the new regime – who flashed intriguing two-way upside as a rookie. Jones Jr. and Portland’s 2022 first (which is lottery-protected every year through 2028) provide salary filler and (mild) draft-asset sweetening.
2. Harrison Barnes, F, Kings
Bulls receive: Harrison Barnes
Kings receive: Patrick Williams, Derrick Jones Jr., 2022 first-round pick (via Portland, lottery-protected through 2028)
That same package should get the Bulls in the conversation for Barnes if the 17-27 Kings wind up sellers.
Barnes and Grant both play the same position, but boast different skill sets. Barnes has a better track record as an outside shooter, having cleared at least 38 percent from 3 in each of the last four seasons, which makes him a slightly simpler offensive fit. He is also averaging 6.1 rebounds this season – 6.6 last season, and 5.1 for his career – while Grant has only averaged five boards per game once in his eight-year career.
But Grant is two years younger and has a higher defensive upside – possibly making the Williams pill easier to swallow if the Bulls do decide to deal him (far from a given).
3. Nicolas Batum, F, Los Angeles Clippers
Bulls receive: Nicolas Batum
Clippers receive: Next tradable second-round pick
The Clippers, per a report from Jake Fischer of Bleacher Report, are a potential seller to watch at the deadline if Paul George’s injury absence persists through the rest of the season. While Fischer identified Marcus Morris or Serge Ibaka (in a salary-dump scenario) as the two most likely moves, Batum would be a more intriguing name for the Bulls to check on.
Why? For one, Batum’s $3.2 million salary would fit snugly into the $5 million trade player exception generated by August’s Daniel Theis sign-and-trade, meaning the 33-year-old forward’s contract could be absorbed without the Bulls needing to send out matching money.
And the 33-year-old Batum, while not as springy as Grant or Barnes, fulfills a lot of what the Bulls need in the frontcourt. He was a revelation for last season’s Clippers because of his defensive versatility and still-solid spot-up shooting, even manning some small-ball center during Los Angeles’ run to the conference finals.
There are, of course, caveats. The Bulls absorbing Batum would place them right up against the luxury tax line, if not over, and they would need to waive a player and eat their rest-of-season salary to do so. If the Clippers were more interested in a cheap young player, the Bulls would really only have Marko Simonović to offer – or Troy Brown Jr., in the unlikely event the already-in-the-tax Clippers were willing to take on an extra $2 million in salary. Williams, Coby White and Ayo Dosunmu are too valuable.
Plus, save for a potential protected Nuggets pick in 2023, the Bulls don't own their own second-round pick until 2026 – and will be docked their next available one as a result of the NBA’s investigation into premature negotiations in the Lonzo Ball sign-and-trade. Perhaps there will end up being a more competitive offer, or the Clippers decide to hang onto Batum, who is still a productive player. Either way, he’s worth a phone call.