But first, some background.
(And if you don’t care for that, feel free to skip to the bottom. I won’t judge.)
The NBA trade deadline is fast-approaching, and the Bulls are at a crossroads.
On the one hand, a season that began with All-Star hopes and self-imposed playoff expectations has underwhelmed to this point. Well over halfway into the campaign, the Bulls sit at 19-33, are in the midst of an injury epidemic and face a rigorous slate to end the season.
And yet, they’re also just 3.5 games out of the eighth seed in the Eastern Conference and four out of the seventh, as of this writing, thanks in large part to midseason swoons by the Brooklyn Nets and Orlando Magic. Though Bulls coach Jim Boylen’s verbiage has shifted towards development over the course of the season, he and his team have not yet stopped touting the playoffs as a goal.
Dual objectives — ‘developing’ and winning — butting heads have thus defined the Bulls’ season, and the impending deadline is sure to muddy the waters further.
There is a conceivable timeline where the Bulls would actually look to ‘buy’ at some point this week, with the hypothetical thinking being that they’re only one or two piece away from vaulting into the thick of the playoff race when/if Markkanen, Carter and Porter return.
But that scenario would involve parting with draft capital, and the Bulls have little to flaunt outside of their own future firsts and seconds. Further, shipping valuable draft assets out to go all-in on an eighth-seed run (and a date with the transcendent Milwaukee Bucks) with a group that is currently 1-20 against winning teams feels reckless. They’re more than one move away.
The more realistic trade options center around distressed assets such as Thad Young or Denzel Valentine. Young expressed displeasure with his playing time allotment earlier in the season, but has slotted into the starting lineup nicely since Markkanen went down, averaging 14.2 points, 5.2 rebounds and 31.6 minutes on 58.1 percent shooting in his last six games. He could undoubtedly help a contender, and some have even expressed interest.
Valentine has, rather confoundingly, phased in and out of Boylen’s rotation all year. With his rookie contract up after the season, it would probably behoove the Bulls to find some sort of value in exchange for him before he inevitably seeks out a new home this offseason; though his inconsistent minutes have likely dinged his value league-wide.
But the Bulls’ recent spate of injuries have the potential to render all of these ruminations moot. Even if a playoff berth doesn’t materialize, playing somewhat competitive basketball should be a goal for this team at this stage of the rebuild. Parting with Young, Valentine, both Young and Valentine, or any other active rotation piece could jeopardize the team’s ability to even kind of hang around with most squads. Plus, selling on guys like Porter or Kris Dunn (who sprained his MCL last week) is nearly impossible as long as they’re sidelined.
So, in a deadline that has been noticeably devoid of buzz (until the last 48 hours, at least), the Bulls don’t seem likely to make a splash. And perhaps they shouldn’t.
But that doesn’t mean we can’t dream.
With all of the above as context, here are six ‘dream’ trade deadline targets I wish the Bulls could pursue at the deadline. The theme of this exercise is: Upside, playmaking and scoring ability — all qualities the Bulls should be in search of.
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