Let’s refresh: The Chicago Bulls sit 22-10. They are 2nd in the Eastern Conference, 5th in the league standings, and hold the 6th-best Net Rating in the NBA. So, to put it differently, the Bulls are really freakin’ good. And when a team can classify themselves as “really freakin’ good” some questions become harder to answer. For example, how should they go about augmenting their team before the deadline?
As the trade deadline nears, the Chicago Bulls will have to ask themselves which team they want to be. Sure, we already know the organization is considered a “buyer” in the upcoming market, as most top-tier teams are, but how much are they looking to buy? How much do they want to rock an already smooth-sailing boat? That’s where things get tricky.
— Bleacher Nation Bulls (@BN_Bulls) December 16, 2021
Precedent says Arturas Karnisovas and Marc Eversley will look for upgrades around the margins. Indeed, we saw the front office look for improvements across the 15-man unit last season. And while the difference now is that this roster is (finally) completely their own, the decision to swap out Alize Johnson in favor of 10-day hardship player Alfonzo McKinnie could have already demonstrated their intent to improve the bench.
With that in mind, I have to wonder if that is where we’ll see most of the trade work done in the coming months. A team can never have enough reserve shooting, especially one that averages the 2nd-fewest bench points per game and the fewest 3-point attempts per game.
We also can’t forget the Bulls’ lack of size upfront. While the likes of Derrick Jones Jr. and Javonte Green have done a great job holding down the fort, is either a suitable option come playoff time? Adding a more traditionally sized and experienced power forward could be key when the much more physical playoffs arrive. Robert Covington, anyone?
If it’s a power forward the Bulls hone in on, however, then who’s to say they will not dream bigger? A couple of more than serviceable fours project to be available in the coming month, with the brightest spotlight on Jerami Grant and Harrison Barnes.
The Athletic’s John Hollinger recently listed some of the players he believes will “dictate the 2022 trade deadline.” Versatile forward Derrick Jones Jr. found himself on the list. Considering Jones is on an expiring deal and has displayed strong two-way play as an undersized four and ultra-small-ball five, seeing him make the list isn’t shocking.
However, while addressing Jones’ potential trade value, Hollinger threw out the idea of including Jones’ salary in a deal for a heavy hitter.
Chicago also has another tantalizing possibility in its hip pocket: Patrick Williams. The fourth pick in the 2020 draft is out for the season with a wrist injury, but he could be the icing on a trade sundae for the right player. Would the Bulls consider dealing him in a Harrison Barnes package, for instance? What about for Detroit’s Jerami Grant? A Grant-for-Williams (and, um, Jones and Brown) swap has to at least get Detroit’s attention, right? That might be one of my favorite fake trades right now.
When those two names, Barnes and Grant, are thrown out into the Bulls universe, things get really interesting. Going after either wouldn’t merely be “buying” at the deadline, it would be “splurging.” Both guys would come with a costly price tag, one the Bulls can potentially meet but only by further erasing all future flexibility. We’re talking about the possible departure of 2020 No. 4 pick Patrick Williams, as well as the Portland lottery-protected first-rounder.
Yossi Gozlan at HoopsHype also recently mentioned the Bulls in the Grant conversation. He brought up the idea of the Bulls possibly centering a trade around the Portland pick and Coby White, with several role players filling out the remaining salary (sign me up!). For what it’s worth, if I’m the Pistons, I’m not making any deal that doesn’t include Williams, which is the issue I think the Bulls would face with any team that has an obvious starting power forward like Grant or Barnes to deal.
Anyway, the point of this discussion isn’t to highlight Grant or Barnes. We can do that at a later date. The point rather hinges on how big of a splash the Bulls will be willing to make at the deadline. Do you go all-in this season? Or do you ride the wave with marginal improvements?
It’s a hard question to answer, especially with the upside of Patrick Williams still very real at only 20-years-old. He could very well be the perfect young piece to continue building around next to LaVine and Lonzo Ball for years to come. The Bulls also may not be getting any younger, but hand the easy max to LaVine this summer, and the core doesn’t change moving forward.
Yet, at the same time, “the Bulls are not getting any younger” is an unavoidable and telling fact. They tied their knot to a 31-year-old Vucevic and a 32-year-old DeRozan. Championship windows can fly by faster than Zach LaVine in transition, particularly with veteran talent. Karnisovas deciding to throw all his cards in would be a big risk, but it could provide the biggest payoff.
I’m not going to leave you with an answer to this question right now. I don’t have one, and it’s also (fortunately) not one I have to answer. I lean toward doing whatever it takes to build the most immediate contender, but I’d also be lying if I said I don’t still love the upside of Williams and the idea of a more sustainable winning product. I’m sure I’ll have more thoughts on this as the February deadline nears, but until then … I’ll be here waffling.
Anyone got some syrup?