The vultures have left Chicago and are flying north toward Toronto.
A couple of winning streaks have taken the Bulls out of the running for the NBA’s favorite “blow it up” team. Not to mention, a slew of recent rumors have suggested the Bulls will remain quiet at the deadline and potentially stick to more “minor deals.”
Meanwhile, as the Bulls have played marginally better basketball, the Raptors have continued their downward spiral. Toronto is currently 20-25 after finishing last season with 48 wins in the East’s 5th spot. They remain just outside the Play-In Tournament picture as the deadline looms, and it’s reportedly making their front office weigh some big mid-season changes.
Jake Fischer of Yahoo Sports has shared that Toronto isn’t likely to stay silent next month. More specifically, one assistant GM told Fischer that the Raptors have “told teams they’re going to do something,” and a Western Conference executive stated that “what they’re not gonna do is be in the middle.”
These comments come at the same time that HoopsHype’s Michael Scotto is sharing that “significant changes” could be on the horizon for front office leader Masai Uijiri.
If they continue to underperform, significant changes could be coming, which could include moving veterans like Pascal Siakam, Fred VanVleet, OG Anunoby, and Gary Trent Jr.,” Scotto wrote. “The Raptors still have some time to continue rolling with this group and try to improve the roster around them. But with all four of those players due for raises within the next two years, it would be untenable to keep all four long term. It won’t make sense to eliminate future flexibility for this group with the way they’re currently playing.
Do I think the Raptors end up trading away all four of those coveted players? Absolutely not. After all, Fischer does comment that the organization is only expected to “seriously” listen to offers on Trent at this time. But the mere fact that the front office does feel a sense of urgency to seek out a change is noteworthy, especially when we’re looking at things from a Bulls perspective.
Again, while eyes have turned away from the Bulls in recent weeks, we do have to remember that they still aren’t much better off than the Raptors. This is a team that is just a half-game ahead of the final Play-In Tournament spot, and they also happen to be an identical 5-5 in their last 10 games. Add in the fact that Chicago actually holds a worse net rating than Toronto, and I’m not sure the two franchises should be approaching the deadline all that differently.
To be clear, I’m not saying the Bulls should blow it up. I don’t think the Raptors necessarily expect to do that at the deadline either. What I do think Ujiri realizes, however, is that this roster isn’t built for sustained success, which is why the organization seemingly plans to make at least some tweaks ASAP. So why doesn’t it seem like the Bulls feel the same way?
Just like with Fred VanVleet or Gary Trent Jr., the Bulls also have paydays coming for guys like Nikola Vucevic and Coby White. Similarly, DeRozan will be extension eligible just like Pascal Siakam this summer. The Raptors seemingly understand that investing in all these players further when this is the apparent outcome doesn’t make a lot of sense. In other words, crossing your fingers that a Play-In-level team with a veteran core can become something more isn’t the move. You have to do something.
And, look, I know the Raptors-Bulls parallels aren’t perfect. Toronto at least has a very intriguing young player in Scottie Barnes to build around moving forward. Not to mention, several of those players could net more in the trade market than what the Bulls have to offer, thus making it easier to truly re-invent the roster. I’d also be remiss if I didn’t mention that Toronto has been trying out this core for longer than Chicago.
Still, I think this all goes back to what I wrote about in December. The Raptors are making it pretty clear that they plan to pick a lane. They may not be telling us which lane that is, but they want the league to know that their plans aren’t just to sit on their hands as they underachieve. That continues to be all I ask the Bulls to do. Don’t let hope dictate how you approach the deadline. Instead, let the results do the talking.
The last thing I’ll say is this: Is there any world where the Bulls and Toronto can swap around pieces? I highly doubt that they would consider Nikola Vucevic, but the organization has been desperately searching for a starting center in recent years.
What about Patrick Williams as part of a package? I’m not saying I’d do this in a heartbeat, but if guys like VanVleet/Anunoby/Siakam are on the table, Williams could be another young piece for this team to rebuild around (I do totally recognize the fit between Barnes and Williams isn’t ideal, though). I don’t know. All of this is just fun to talk about as the deadline inches closer and the Raptors’ rumors heat up – even if most scenarios are a pipe dream.
Anyway, Karnisovas recently gave some brief thoughts on where the Bulls stand below, so give that a read if you missed it: