Let me preface the following conversation with what this is *not*: a report or an immediate, actual trade rumor.
The comments we are about to share from ESPN’s Brian Windhorst appear to be little more than educated speculation, but they do open the door for quite an interesting conversation. Not to mention, the fact that someone as well-connected as Windhorst threw the Chicago Bulls into this talking point is noteworthy in itself.
Okay, so what exactly did he say? Well, on the Brian Windhorst and The Hoops Collective podcast, Windhorst said the Bulls seemed to be a sleeper team to pursue a trade for Bradley Beal.
Read it for yourself:
“The other team that I would say would be a sleeper would be the Bulls. Zach LaVine’s value has never been higher, they have their full complement of picks to trade from, they have a couple of other young pieces on their roster that maybe could interest people. And Arturas Karnisovas – their general manager [executive VP of basketball operations] – has really emphasized the importance to build around shooting. Bradley Beal is one of the best shooters in the league. The Bulls have attempted to build through the draft, and they just haven’t been able to make contact on a star, so I think they are a sleeper team.”
Talk about juicy, right?
I would have never thought to hear the Bulls name brought up into this conversation, but Windhorst’s reasoning isn’t unfounded and is quite deliberate. After all, a trade for Beal would necessarily come with relatively enormous draft pick compensation, and Windhorst just pointed out (by way of omission) that the Bulls are one of the few teams around the league that have NOT drained themselves of draft picks recently. Indeed, they own all of their first-round picks moving forward.
Additionally, the Wizards would surely request young talent in the deal, as well, and I think we all know the Bulls have plenty of that on their roster. Sweeten the pot with the fact the Bulls have (1) no No. 1-star player at the moment and (2) an entirely new front office; and, well … yeah, picking the Bulls as a sleeper for Beal doesn’t really feel all that crazy on the surface.
Dig a little deeper, though, and there is considerable risk involved.
I’m not going to disagree with the belief that this team needs to be aggressive in its pursuit of a star. They do need one, and you can get them only when they’re available. However, they also need the flexibility to build around such a star, and most of that goes out the window by acquiring Beal. Perhaps you find it best to acquire a star and worry about the rest later. I get that, and don’t totally disagree. At the same time, there is a reason the guests, Tim MacMahon and Ohm Youngmisuk, pushed back on the Bulls as a legitimate sleeper pick for Beal.
Briefly pitching potential packages, the trio seems to land on something along the lines of Zach LaVine, Lauri Markkanen, three first-round picks, and some pick swaps. If that sounds like a lot, I encourage you to look at every recent trade for a superstar over the past two years. Like we said, teams want significant draft compensations and a hopeful franchise player (think Shai Gilgeous-Alexander in the Paul George trade and Brandon Ingram in the Anthony Davis trade). Zach LaVine might be on the rise, but he (25-year-old) is only a couple of years younger than Beal (27), and we are still trying to decide whether or not he is even worth a max contract (that’s likely why we also see Markkanen thrown into the deal).
And yet, they all still questioned whether that package above is enough, especially if a team like Philly can swoop in and offer a player like Ben Simmons as the headliner. But, fine, let’s pretend for a second that it is. Bradley Beal is now on the Bulls, and the core includes him, Patrick Williams, Coby White, and Wendell Carter Jr. You do not have your next several first-round draft picks to build things out, and you just traded away your best No. 2 options. Also, you have to keep in mind that Beal could technically opt-out of his current contract after the 2021-22 season. That is a whole LOT of tough realities to consider.
(And, hey, LaVine is, himself, blossoming before our very eyes. He could still turn into someone you want to build around. OR he could be used in an entirely different, safer/longer-term trade, given how many rumors have popped up on that front lately.)
But back to the parallel LaVine-less track: The Bulls are not trading for another superstar with all their picks gone, and they also aren’t drafting one any time soon. The hope, then, becomes that Beal sticks around, Patrick Williams becomes a second star (hey, it’s possible), and you convince high-quality free-agents to sign with the team because you have a guy like Beal already in house. How do you feel about the Chicago Bulls relying on free agency? *shivers*
Certainly, free agency should be easier with a competent coach (who also happened to be Beal’s college coach) and a bonafide star. But if it isn’t, how do we feel about a Beal-Williams-White-Carter Jr. core? How much better is that team’s future, especially considering the attendant dearth of picks? I do think it’s improved, but I truly don’t know by how much. Also, I kind of have to mention that Beal has led a team by himself over the past couple of seasons, winning just 25 games in 2019-20 and 32 games in 2018-19.
I’m not trying to bash him (after all, the Wizards infrastructure hasn’t been great) but it does show us how important acquiring that second star would still be (and, for the thousandth time, how difficult that could quickly become). Remember, the Wizards most recent success came with Beal AND an All-Star John Wall on the court.
At the end of the day, this is why we saw the Lakers, Bucks, Clippers, and Nets as the organizations to trade for Anthony Davis, Jrue Holiday, Paul George, and James Harden. These teams were a little more clearly just one star away from contending for multiple championships, which justifies risking that many future assets. Again, none of that means the Bulls should not pursue a star player like Beal if the opportunity presents itself, it just further demonstrates how challenging this whole “improving” thing can be.