There have been rumblings around the NBA that the Chicago Bulls could blow it up at the trade deadline. For a while, it was hard to understand why.
The Bulls are not very good this season, currently sitting at 11-18, but they are missing Lonzo Ball. Ball has been out for nearly a year with recurring knee issues and was on a good path to recovery the last we heard. As a pass and defense-first player on a roster led by two score-first players, in Zach LaVine and DeMar DeRozan, Ball is the team's connective tissue. Most assumed Chicago would wait until he was back and see if the team can'capture the magic of the first half of the 2021 season before making any significant decisions.
Some clarity was provided today via Shams Charania that indicates the Bulls may not be able to wait. The Athletic's insider reports the franchise isn't seeing eye-to-eye with LaVine and it could be a big problem:
Even more, multiple league sources and sources close to the organization say LaVine and the Bulls are not seeing eye-to-eye. Over the past few weeks, there’s been a palpable feeling across various parts of the franchise of a disconnect over LaVine’s situation in Chicago.
That explains why Chicago is in the rumor mill. If other teams believe there's trouble in paradise, they'll make offers on LaVine. He's younger than DeRozan or Nikola Vucevic. He's lightning in a bottle as a scorer when he's on. LaVine is a bad defender and an unwilling passer but certain teams won't care about that. He is a 20-points per game scorer when all is well and that is very valuable in today's NBA.
LaVine is also on a big contract and is certainly overpaid. He signed a max deal with the Bulls this summer worth $215 million with a 15 percent trade kicker, which means he can't be dealt until January. He's making $37 million this year. If Chicago does decide to move on, who could work as a potential suitor?
Los Angeles Lakers
I know, I know. But they have to be mentioned here because the Lakers are always on the hunt for superstars and LaVine is repped by, you guessed it, Rich Paul's agency, Klutch. To be clear, the Bulls would only do this if they wanted to blow things all the way up. The Lakers don't have any assets that help in the near term. They'd be able to offer Russell Westbrook and someone like Kendrick Nunn. Not enticing.
But if the Bulls trade DeRozan, Vucevic, and any other useful players for draft picks in the near future, they could decide that sending out LaVine for those 2027 and 2029 Lakers first-round picks is a smart move. I don't know if it is, really. But they would probably consider it as a nuclear option.
New York Knicks
The other team always looking for a superstar, the Knicks could cobble together a more attractive package for LaVine than almost any other team in the league. They have an assortment of midsize contracts for middling players that the Bulls could flip immediately, plus a bunch of first-round picks with varying protections -- including all their own for the next few years.
New York would pull the trigger because LaVine is electric and would put butts in seats while forming an intimidating offensive duo with Jalen Brunson. The Bulls would be incentivized due to the quantity of draft picks on the table even if none are particularly attractive outside of the Knicks' own picks.
The Wizards are in a similar situation as the Bulls with one score-first guard on a max deal and a complementary scorer on a big but not max deal. They are running on the treadmill of mediocrity with no clear path to contention. If the trade deadline approaches and things aren't going well for either team, why not swap LaVine for Bradley Beal?
Beal is beloved in Washington but doesn't seem quite as enamored with being a lifelong Wizard as he once was. He'd be good for the Bulls if they don't want to embark upon a full-scale rebuild. The Wizards replace Beal's scoring and get to keep trying to be competitive despite signs they shouldn't, but that's been the case for decades now. Not exactly a win-win trade, but not a lose-lose, either.