The Chicago Bulls' plan is working to perfection. Heading into the trade deadline, the Bulls had to make a classic choice - should they buy or sell? With Zach LaVine playing at an All-Star level, they went to market and acquired Nikola Vucevic, perhaps the only All-Star besides LaVine who was available. At the time, I suggested they might secretly be looking at the big picture and setting up a tank in 2022, rather than trying to compete. Whether that was the plan or not, that's exactly where they are headed.
The Bulls are 4-9 since acquiring Vucevic from Orlando. That's a winning percentage of 30%, down from 44% before he arrived. On April 14th they lost to Vuvevic's old team. Wendell Carter Jr., who the Bulls traded in the deal, had 19 points, 12 rebounds, and four assists.
It's not like the Magic have gone on a tear since Vucevic left, but they don't seem much worse off than the Bulls. The Magic are 3-8 with Carter Jr., who is averaging 14.5 points and 8.7 rebounds a game in Orlando. Carter Jr. being a serviceable NBA player isn't a revelation, but when you throw in those two extra first-round picks and the fact that he's under team control for a few more years at a reasonable salary, it's already looking like a very nice trade for the Magic.
Meanwhile, Chicago has played worse since the trade, but hasn't budged in the standings. On Mach 24th, the Bulls were 19-24 and the 10th seed in the Eastern Conference. On March 25th they acquired Vucevic. Three and a half weeks later, they are 23-34 and the 10th seed in the Eastern Conference. The Wizards have the same record as the Bulls and the Raptors are just a half-game back.
There are four weeks remaining in the regular season. The Bulls both look more likely and are more likely to slip out of the playoffs altogether than make any noise in the postseason. Even if they hold on to the 10th seed and beat whoever finishes 7th, the Nets or Sixers will make quick work of them. Then it's an offseason without a first rounder. And it was reported this week LaVine will likely turn down a contract extension, which means he will become an expiring contract.
So this year is officially a wash no matter where the Bulls finish. Next year won't be too much better even if that is their goal. Since Chicago traded their 2023 first-rounder in the Vucevic deal, 2022 is their only window to land a star. That means the tank for next season is on. The only question is who is on the roster to help them lose next year.