Neither Russell Westbrook nor any other available “superstar” will be joining the Chicago Bulls this season.
I think it’s become perfectly clear that – despite disparate pleas from fans – adding any of the leagues top (and priciest) talent wasn’t in GarPax’s 2019 agenda. Instead, the two opted to sign lower-tier (yet reasonable) players like Thaddeus Young and Tomas Satoransky to give the young core time to develop and role models to emulate on and off the court. The broader idea, it seems, is to demonstrate some competitiveness on the court, build up some cap space off it, and then strike on the trade and free-agent market when the timing is right. We’ll call that the 2021 plan for now, and I do still see it as the best possible solution to bring them back to relevancy.
But that doesn’t mean it should go unquestioned. There are legitimate concerns about the plan, in general, and the front office’s ability to actually pull it off.
For example, many have expressed concern about the Bulls ability to attract superstar talent with GarPax still at the helm of this ship (before you ask, I have considered storming the United Center to overthrow them). After all, the best free-agent grab this front office has brought along over the past decade is Carlos Boozer – no disrespect to the Booz, but that’s not something to hang your hat on.
And for another point, it’s not like we haven’t been here before.
During the 2004-05 season, the Bulls went 47-35 with a 19-year-old Deng, a 21-year-old Gordon (who averaged 15.1 points off the bench), a 22-year-old Eddie Curry, a 22-year-old Tyson Chandler, and a 24-year-old Hinrich. That’s a young squad with plenty of upside! Not unlike today, the front office developed a young, competitive core, and that group even made it into the playoffs. But, of course, when it came time to capitalize and upgrade the roster with a “big star” the front office traded Chandler away to make room for … Ben Wallace (yippee!).
And after losing to the Pistons in the second round of the Eastern Conference playoffs during the 2006-07 season, what came next? Another rebuild – in comes the D-Rose saga that brought much more of the same. So I get it. I really do. Eventually, the Bulls must become more aggressive on the free-agent market (to be fair, Paxson has suggested as much, as well), or they need to find another way to grab a star.
But if we can’t trust them to do it in free agency, can we trust them to do it some other way?
I’ll be the first to admit, there are plenty of reasons a Russell Westbrook trade – in isolation – didn’t make sense for this team, but that doesn’t mean others wouldn’t.
For example …
Next up Bulls fans, Bradley Beal.
— Chris Bleck (@chrisbleck) July 12, 2019
Hear me out, but I think Beal has much more appeal than Westbrook for this team right now.
I don’t necessarily believe the Bulls should be making such a move right now, but if you don’t want to sit there and wait for 2021, Beal is a great star to target in the meantime. The Wizards are in rebuild mode, and while recent rumors suggest Beal is off the table, it’s hard to believe things will remain that way.
And, again, the fit might be a whole lot better: Beal is still only 26-years-old and is a two-time All-Star who just hasn’t really been in the right situation yet. He is an incredible shooting guard (last season: 25 ppg, 5.5 ast, 5.0 re) who would be a clear upgrade over Zach LaVine (which is why, of course, he also comes with quite a bit more of a price to pay over the next several seasons).
All of this to say, if the Bulls start the season off better than expected, why not try to make a run at Beal (or a player like him) midseason? I’m not one of the people quick to trade LaVine, but if it was in a package for Beal then, well, I’d consider it.
Beal does become a free agent in 2021, but if you can grab him prior to that, it should be much easier for the front office to sell him on staying rather than selling someone else on coming. Not to mention, if you grab a star via trade who clicks alongside some of the current young talents, free agents in 2021 may even be more inclined to buddy-up with that said star.
I’m not necessarily saying this trade, or any trade in general, is the right route to go, but it isn’t the wrong one either. In today’s league of mobility, star players are becoming more and more available through the trade market than ever before. If the Bulls do not believe their young players will be able to sell free agents on coming to Chicago in a couple of years, the time may soon come to look at them as assets for that big, outside addition.
I’m pumping the breaks on a trade right now, but if the 2021 plan begins to turn south, GarPax can’t just sit still this time.