In the wake of the Bulls quiet NBA Trade Deadline, John Paxson stood in front of the media Thursday night to explain the organization’s decisions. Er, well, lack of decisions.
But just 23 seconds in, Paxson uttered the word “injuries,” beginning a deja-vu-fueled interview of your nightmares:
“We weren’t going to be buyers per se. Just given the fact that the roster the way we have it right now and the fact we’ve had kind of a disjointed year with the injuries, we weren’t going to trade Zach, Lauri, Wendell, Coby … because we don’t know what we have yet. We need to see.”
The Bulls have been figuring out what they have for basically the past three seasons. And it sure feels like very little groundwork has been made when it comes to actual development. If anything, we’ve probably seen a regression of talent (Lauri Markkanen, for one big example).
And besides, not many were asking for the Bulls to ship out the players Paxson named. Instead, their deadline strategy should have been about making the most out of pieces like Denzel Valentine and Thaddeus Young who have clearly failed to fit in this roster and may not have a long-term future with the club anyway.
However, when it came to those players, it appears nothing materialized. In fact, when asked about whether there was anything going on with the speculated interest for Young, Paxson merely responded “no.” It’s one thing to feign discontent with the offers you’re receiving, but part of a front office’s job at this time of the year is to also market and sell those players to other teams. It’s not a one-way street. And a total lack of conversations going on today, of all days, sure feels like a bit of a missed opportunity. I suppose I should point out that there were apparently some calls about Denzel Valentine, who should’ve been even easier to move from the Bulls-future perspective, but clearly nothing got the job done.
Ultimately, Paxson reiterated his continued belief in the Bulls young core and mentioned he “absolutely” has long-term faith in Zach LaVine and Lauri Markkanen. While doing so, he also confirmed the Bulls received phone calls from around the league on LaVine’s availability:
Do Bulls have long-term belief in LaVine, Markkanen? Pax: "Oh absolutely. Absolutely. Zach has had a great year. . . . And from many of the phone calls we got, it’s a common theme around the league. People like Zach."
— K.C. Johnson (@KCJHoop) February 6, 2020
As for Markkanen, well, Paxson may not be giving up on him, but a report from earlier today indicates that Markkanen may have given up on Paxson.
Joe Cowley of the Sun-Times said Lauri Markkanen would want out if the Bulls didn’t make changes. Paxson must have heard about these rumors because he made a clear effort to fully address the situation Thursday night.
“Lauri we believe in at a high level. We view him as a cornerstone player. It’s our responsibility to help him become the type of player we believe he can be. We’ve had direct communication with him, his agent, I spoke to Mike just in the last couple hours because of things that are out there and we’ve never been told Lauri doesn’t want to be here.”
I guess that’s good news, but I still have little doubt frustration is suffocating this locker room.
The lack of movement today isn’t about the Bulls not finding an immediate fix in the form of a player or draft pick, that’s just unrealistic. Instead, no trades signifies (to me) that this team is content with where they currently stand. Even last season they made an effort to shake things up with the acquisition of Otto Porter. This year, I guess it felt better to do nothing at all.
According to Paxson, the plan moving forward now is to use the rest of this season to continue evaluating the team they have in house. The plan is for Markkanen, Porter, and Wendell Carter Jr. all to return to the floor by the end of February (or the beginning of March), when the organization hopes they’ll have roughly 20 games to properly determine how to move forward.
But nothing about the past should make us believe Paxson and Co. will be able to use this time wisely. The only justifiable outcome from the rest of this season would be a cleaning out of the front office, in a cleansing that hopefully also reaches Jim Boylen.
NBC Sports Chicago’s David Kaplan is standing by the fact that he believes that’s still on the horizon.
I know fans are frustrated with the #Bulls lact of action at today’s trade deadline. I’m as frustrated with the rebuild as you are. However, I truly believe they will make major changes to the organization after this season.
— David Kaplan (@thekapman) February 6, 2020
And to that end, you can kinda-sorta make the argument that waiting for some version of a new front office to make personnel decisions is better than forcing them a few months before those people arrive (potentially mucking things up), but also … shrug. It’s not like trading Denzel Valentine a few months before unrestricted free agency was going to dismantle whatever efforts are put forth to turn this cruise ship around.