The 2020-21 NBA Trade Deadline is just a few days away, and although we haven’t been bereft of Bulls-centric rumors here lately, it does still feel like literally anything can happen. After all, a new front office, unattached to a roster they largely inherited, and a collective position at the edge of an expanded playoff field (with a number of assets reaching decision-points in their contracts) leaves almost anything on the table.
We may have gotten our biggest and best hint at AKME’s deadline intentions this morning when sources revealed that the Bulls could likely pull in a first-round pick for Thad Young, but have so far refused to bite.
REPORT: Bulls Could Likely Get a First-Round Pick for Thaddeus Young, But They’re Still Saying “No”https://t.co/v4h1F4tmIk
— Bleacher Nation Bulls (@BN_Bulls) March 22, 2021
But there’s a lot more to get to than that, so strap in.
So You Want Patrick Williams, eh?
Probably the other biggest news in that same Zach Lowe piece is that “lots of teams have called to ask about Patrick Williams, but Chicago has roundly rebuffed such inquiries, league sources said.”
And, uh, yeah. Not only has Patrick Williams’ performance more than justified his (at the time) unexpectedly high pick in the draft, but also he’s (1) already survived a starting rotation purge of younger players and (2) is one of just two-hand picked players by this new front office. And with all love to Garrett Temple, 34, Williams is seen as a building block for the future.
Perhaps if the Bulls were looking to go all-out for a win-now superstar *or* Williams greatly struggled to find his footing early on, the Bulls would consider negotiations. However, the rookie has looked nothing but comfortable and promising, so it’s not surprising at all to hear the Bulls front office has taken him completely off the table.
Why Aren’t the Bulls Interested in Turner or Sabonis?
Okay, so we know the Bulls aren’t particularly interested in trading one of their best players (Young) or one of their primary building blocks (Williams), but they’re hardly a lock for the playoffs – let alone any sort of serious run at the Finals – so … what are they going to do at the deadline? Is a buy-side trade even on the dream board?
Zach Lowe asks something similar, with a couple of specific names in mind:
“Why wouldn’t the Bulls call Indiana about Turner (or Sabonis)? Billy Donovan demoted onetime center-of-the-future Wendell Carter Jr. to a reserve role, and is now starting Thaddeus Young at the 5.
I was pretty shocked to see Lowe mention these names alongside the Bulls. Yes, the organization could very well be in the market for front-court upgrades, but Turner and (especially) Sabonis come with a hefty price tag. Sabonis is a two-time All-Star, and Turner is a 24-year-old potential Defensive Player of the Year candidate. Trading for either would likely mean sending over a package that includes young talent and draft compensation. Getting rid of the existing talent for either player would be bearable, but moving on from draft picks feels like a big ask for an executive that has built a reputation on drafting smart.
To be clear, I wouldn’t mind adding Turner or Sabonis, I just don’t necessarily see it as a very likely situation. Lowe is right, though, why not make the call? That’s a good general philosophy, and it’s one I expect Arturas Karnisovas to follow.
Is a Lauri Trade on the Horizon (or what)?
I feel like we’ve been discussing the immediate future of Lauri Markkanen all season long, but rumors keep popping up – and getting more specific – as we approach the trade deadline. The fact that he is playing well and is also headed towards restricted free agency (but may not fit into the Bulls long-term plans) complicates matters. Thus, rumors.
For example, Zach Lowe writes that Lauri Markkanen is the most interesting Chicago Bull to watch this week in terms of a trade, adding context that Chicago may be concerned about having to match an offer sheet “from a youngish team like the San Antonio Spurs with cap room” this offseason. Which, yeah, sure, that makes sense. If all things were equal, I’m sure the Bulls could want to keep Markkanen around, but that’s not how it works. And the front office may already have big plans for the cap space they do expect to have available this offseason, especially considering their upward trajectory and their potential financial need for someone like Zach LaVine. If they don’t think they’ll be able to keep Markkanen on their terms (and remember, they were very far off in an extension before the season), then a trade now makes the most sense.
But what kind of deal are we talking about? Well, that part has been very hard to pin down. Jake Fischer of Bleacher Report has reportedly heard that “there were early discussions centered around swapping Lauri Markkanen for [Lonzo] ball,” but those talks never really got rolling. We know the Bulls are still interested in Ball and have even made an offer, but Markkanen was not included. The question now is … could he be by Thursday?
REPORT: Bulls Have Made an Offer to Pelicans For Lonzo Ballhttps://t.co/pgJ9BlOINV
— Bleacher Nation Bulls (@BN_Bulls) March 21, 2021
The Market for Lonzo Ball
Speaking of Ball, there is still time to get a deal done, and the Bulls clearly want an upgrade at PG (more on that in a minute), but they’re not the only team in the field.
In that post about the Bulls offer for Ball, we learned that the Atlanta Hawks are also in pursuit, and Zach Lowe added the Denver Nuggets:
“Lonzo Ball would also be an interesting fit in Denver. The Pelicans’ appetite for moving Ball ahead of his restricted free agency this summer has been murkier since Ball’s surge in the past month, but the sense among league sources is they would be open to a deal if the offer is strong enough. Teams with cap room to sign Ball this summer have some incentive to pony up now, since the Pelicans will have the right to match any offer for Ball in free agency.”
Draft-pick limitations complicate any Clippers pursuit and would likely require a three-team (or more) construction … but they have six days to keep working the market in search of a difference-making trade.
— Marc Stein (@TheSteinLine) March 19, 2021
It’s up to you, for now, to decide if the Bulls should increase their offer for Ball, but the fact remains that they are not alone.
Bulls Clearly Want a PG
And finally, a couple of local reporters added to the broader Ball conversation, and I want to touch on that here because there are some interesting implications on their general search for an upgrade at point guard.
K.C. Johnson (NBC Sports Chicago), for example, echoes the Bulls interest in Ball, but adds that the Pelicans are looking for more than what the Bulls were said to have offered (Tomas Satoransky and a couple of second-rounders). Specifically, Johnson believes that “sacrificing a first-round pick would seemingly run antithetical to a new regime that values draft capital,” and I have to agree. The Bulls are playing well, at least relative to expectations, but we’re still early in this re-tooling/ramp-up/whatever-you-want to call it.
There will be a time – or player – that forces the Bulls to sacrifice the future at the cost of the present, but I don’t know if that player is Ball or that time is now. And for what it’s worth, Johnson doesn’t think a return that is focused around Markkanen fits the Pelicans, which tracks with our earlier rumor.
With all of that said, both Johnson and Jamal Collier (Chicago Tribune) share their belief (vis à vis comments from head coach Billy Donovan) that the Bulls are looking for a long-term upgrade at the point guard position:
“The position has really been done by committee, to be quite honest,” Donovan said. “Arch (Ryan Arcidiacono) was at the point a little bit [Sunday]. Coby played some point. Sato. We’ve obviously played Zach (LaVine) there. The biggest thing with it for us is we’ve got to get settled and we can’t turn the ball over.
“(Vice president of basketball operations) Arturas (Karnisovas) is always going to look at how he can continue to help the group, how can he help them get better,” Donovan said. “I like our guys, they work hard, they’re unselfish, they’re coachable, they want to do the right things, they want to get better, but there’s no question there’s times where we’ve struggled back there at that position.
Sato is a competitive guy, so is Arch, and I think those guys are investing a lot, so I’m happy with the job those guys are doing. Can we all be better? Absolutely, but I appreciate the way those guys are sacrificing, trying to make the team better.”
The fact of the matter is the Bulls don’t have a sure-fire option at point guard, and that means the door is very much open to acquire one this week.
Elias Schuster contributed to this post.