Bulls

Should Bulls explore trade for Westbrook, Paul or Holiday?

Bulls

Well, it certainly feels like the NBA offseason.

Russell Westbrook reportedly wants out of Houston. Chris Paul suitors are lining up at Sam Presti’s door. Jrue Holiday’s days in New Orleans appear numbered.

And we know what you’re thinking, all ye Chicago faithful: Could the Bulls get involved in negotiations for any of the above? Or, for that matter, should the Bulls get involved? The new front office appears poised for a "retool,” not a full-blown rebuild. There’s been buzz of a desire to address the point guard position this offseason. And it is a star-driven league.

Let’s break it down and try and get some closure before another avalanche of Twitter alerts commences.

*All contract figures via Spotrac

Russell Westbrook

2019-20 Stats: 27.2 ppg, 7.0 apg, 7.9 rpg | 47.2% FG, 25.8% 3P, 76.3% FT

Contract: 3 years, $132,633,438 remaining

Age: 32 (As of Nov. 12. Happy birthday!)

Westbrook’s 2019-20 campaign ended unfortunately -- with a COVID-19 diagnosis, quad injury and playoff catastrophe all coming in rapid succession. But before the hiatus, he was playing his best ball in years. From the time the Rockets traded for Robert Covington on Feb. 5 -- and committed fully to microball -- through March 10, he averaged 31.7 points, 8.2 boards and 5.5 assists per contest with 54.6-38.5-72.6 shooting splits, a dizzying stretch of play enabled by him largely eschewing 3s and a roster of floor-spacers constructed to suit his bulldozing style.

 

Amid organizational tumult in Houston, he now wants out due to, per The Athletic, a desire to “to join a team where he can have a role similar to his prior, floor-general role in Oklahoma City.”

Hm. Does parting with assets to indulge the id of a post-prime -- albeit exhilarating -- high-usage superstar sound constructive for the Bulls’ current rebuild? Taking the long view, probably not, even if he would likely inject five to 10 regular season wins, position the Bulls to snap their current three-year playoff drought and sell some jerseys.

And all of that is without mentioning the $132 million Westbrook is owed over the next three seasons, which would sap almost any hope of financial flexibility for the Bulls until 2023. There’s no reason to expect a superstar splash in the summer of 2021 (yet?), but punting the chance in this context isn’t worth the potential reward, especially if it cost positive assets.

The Verdict: Hard Pass

Obligatory James Harden note: Charania followed up to report that Harden is “committed to the Rockets and ‘locked in’ for the season.” Even if he -- a former MVP, perennial MVP candidate, three-time reigning scoring champ and five-time reigning win shares leader -- were to become available, the Bulls probably don’t have the assets to compete with other contenders for his services.

Chris Paul

2019-20 Stats: 17.6 ppg, 6.7 apg, 5.0 rpg | 48.9% FG, 36.5% 3P, 90.7% FT

Contract: 2 years, $85,569,960 remaining

Age: 35

Similar to Westbrook, Paul is an aging superstar who is owed oodles of dough over multiple seasons. Two crucial differences, in my view: Paul is coming off an All-NBA second-team selection last year (Westbrook was third team, to be fair), and proved with his resurgent campaign leading the upstart Oklahoma City Thunder that he can still impact the game in every facet and foster development in players around him (see: banner years for Shai Gilgeous-Alexander, Dennis Schröder and Steven Adams, among others).

Plus, with only two years left on his deal, the financial pain is a tad duller than with Westbrook. Sure, you’re mailing a shot at a big splash in the 2021 offseason. But there’s no guarantee the rebuilding Bulls would be in play for any Tier 1 guys anyway, and bringing Paul aboard could facilitate much-needed development for a core about which the new front office has preached optimism. Picture Paul... 

  • Helming three-guard lineups featuring him, Zach LaVine and Coby White
  • Running relentless pick-and-rolls with Lauri Markkanen and Wendell Carter Jr.
  • Instilling in the Bulls’ young talent the keys to late-game execution
  • Guiding LaVine and White to improvements as defenders and passers

Reunited with Donovan, the Bulls being next season’s version of the Thunder is a tantalizing proposition. And it might not take more than salary filler (Otto Porter Jr. + Thad Young or Tomáš Satoranský?) and maybe a modest asset (future protected first?) to snare him, given his age and price tag. Sounds perfect, right?

 

Eh. Possibly. Paul also brings marked injury risk -- as if the Bulls need more of that -- and perhaps Artūras Karnišovas and Co. value future flexibility more than going all-in on the current roster. If suitors begin lining up -- as the Suns, for one, are reported to be -- the Thunder’s asking price wouldn’t have to escalate too far for it to be an unworthy gamble for the Bulls.

Verdict: Maybe. Make a call or two. See what’s up

Jrue Holiday

2019-20 Stats: 19.1 ppg, 6.7 apg, 4.8 rpg | 45.5% FG, 35.3% 3P, 70.9% FT

Contract: 1 year, $25,396,111 (+ player option for $26,285,000)

Age: 30

Holiday would be a splendid fit with most any team. A stalwart perimeter defender, capable secondary playmaker and unimpeachable veteran presence, he brings a lot of the same qualities as Paul, but younger and cheaper. For the Bulls, especially, those are valuable qualities. 

He’s also likely to cost a heftier trade package, given the amount of interested teams reportedly flooding the Pelicans’ line. And without an extension guarantee, Holiday carries the risk of packing up and leaving after next season. That hypothetically preserves the Bulls’ long-term flexibility, but if an eventual deal for Holiday cost them a young player and draft capital, it would be a hefty price for a rebuilding team to pay for a rental.

And even if they somehow got him for next to nothing: With the Bulls still acres away from legitimate contention, is the new front office ready to commit four years at (likely) more than $20 million annually to Holiday from ages 31 - 35? Without getting a hard look at the pieces currently on the roster under a new coach, and knowing where matters stand, that seems a bit rash. Holiday is awesome, and is probably the best on-court fit of this trio, but might not sync with the Bulls’ timeline.

Verdict: Pass, with love

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