Nikola Vucevic Trade Could Be the Chicago Bulls Quietly Setting Up a 2022 Tank

Nikola Vucevic and Zach LaVine could give Bulls fans something to cheer for.
Nikola Vucevic and Zach LaVine could give Bulls fans something to cheer for. / Dylan Buell/Getty Images

The Chicago Bulls are buyers and not sellers after acquiring Nikola Vucevic from the Orlando Magic on Thursday. Sitting in 10th place in the Eastern Conference on trade deadline day morning, the Bulls sent Otto Porter, Wendell Carter Jr., and two first round picks to the Magic in exchange for Vucevic and Al Farouq Aminu. A trade sending Lauri Markkanen out of town could be next. So what does this mean?

Well, when you combine Vucevic with Zach LaVine the Bulls now have two current All-Stars. The last time two Chicago Bulls made the All-Star team together was in 2015-2016 when Jimmy Butler and Pau Gasol were both All-Stars. That team went 42-40 and missed the playoffs so I guess that doesn't really matter.

The Bulls at least appear to be trying to improve the team in a wide-open Eastern Conference. While they're five-games under .500, they're also just three games out of fourth place. If LaVine and Vucevic and whoever shows up in place of Lauri Markkanen work out they could fly right past the play-in tournament and end up in a normal playoff series. The teams standing between the Bulls and home-court advantage in the first round don't look very formidable right now, so who knows.

That certainly seems like the plan on the surface. Put together an actual playoff team right now. LaVine has one more year on his deal and Vucevic has two. With the right free-agent signing, maybe they become a good team. Not contenders, but the kind of team that makes the playoffs and doesn't serve as a punchline.

Or maybe they realize the team is just good enough right now that the '21 first-round pick won't be in the lottery so it's worthless. Maybe next year they flip LaVine and his expiring deal and bottom out for the 2022 draft. It's not like Vucevic was carrying Orlando to the playoffs this season. There's no reason to think he'd do any differently in Chicago next year and he could be used as an asset as well.

It looks like the Bulls are giving up on Wendell Carter Jr., but so what? Through three seaons he's a 10 and 8 guy and could become a fine defender, but will they want to invest in him when the time comes in... 2022?

Trading LaVine right now might not wouldn't give them enough time to bottom out and catch the Rockets, Pistons and Timberwolves. So they pick up Vucevic and maybe give the fans a fun playoff team this year. Then next season they can make a push in the opposite direct to get a really good pick. It seems like the kind of thing a smart team would do knowing they'll never catch the Bucks / Nets / Sixers in the East. We should find out if that's the Bulls by the next trade deadline.