The Chicago Bulls are one of the tougher teams to get a beat on heading into the 2020 NBA Trade Deadline on Feb. 6. Without looking at the standings, you’d say the Bulls weren’t a playoff contender and should definitely be selling at the deadline. But at 14-26 in the Eastern Conference entering the mid-point of the season, Chicago is only 4.5 games out of the No. 8 seed. That has given a bit of blind optimism to the franchise, which was expected to take a step toward returning to the playoffs for the first time since 2016-17.
Anyone who follows the team will tell you the Bulls should sell. Those same people will also follow that sentence up with “But it’s GarPax, so who the hell knows, right?” My guess is the Bulls will try to position themselves to make a run at the No. 8 seed, but won’t make a big splash. They’ll also sell off a few players to retain assets, but nothing too crazy.
Here, we’ll take a look at how the Bulls should approach the deadline, and keep you updated on the latest news and rumors.
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Update, Feb. 4: The Bulls have received feelers asking about the availability of Zach LaVine in trade talks. The team says that LaVine is “off limits,” Marc Stein of The New York Times reported Tuesday.
The Bulls have naturally received trade feelers for Zach LaVine but "off limits" was the description used by one source briefed on Chicago's thinking— Marc Stein (@TheSteinLine) February 4, 2020
Update, Jan. 22: So the Chicago Bulls aren’t looking much like contenders, so it seems it’ll be another year of selling at the deadline. The issue is the injuries in the front court. With Wendell Carter Jr. and Daniel Gafford both out, the Bulls don’t have much depth outside of Lauri Markkanen and Thaddeus Young. Now, Markkanen isn’t going anywhere anytime soon, but Thad Young could be an intriguing trade chip to a contending team. Young is prepared for whatever happens, but unless Gafford or WCJ gets healthy before the deadline, it’ll be hard for the Bulls to make a move.
What should the Bulls do with this backcourt?
Heading into the season, many believed that the backcourt would be taken over by Tomas Satoransky and Zach LaVine. That’s sort of the case, but now Kris Dunn has emerged as the third guard in the starting five. He was a trendy name in trade rumors during the offseason, entering the final year of his rookie contract with a team option, which was picked up. So Dunn will be a free agent next offseason and it’s unclear if he fits into the Bulls’ future with rookie Coby White and LaVine.
Dunn has played well defensively, but the question marks were always surrounding his offensive game. He still can’t score efficiently and isn’t a great shooter. He’s a decent rebounder but not an above-average passer. Really he would be best served coming off the bench as a defensive stopper, but coach Jim Boylen likes Dunn starting and playing big minutes.
It’s hard envisioning the Bulls moving either Sato or LaVine. Both players have two years left on their contracts after this season and have salaries over $10 million. Usually it’s tough for most teams to take on those contracts mid-season. But if the Bulls think Dunn fits better in a future backcourt next to White or LaVine, then it may be wise to get that going sooner rather than later.
Should the Bulls fire sale and tank?
My answer would be yes, especially if they aren’t going to make the playoffs/will sneak in and lose to the Bucks in the first round. Sure, it’s nice to make the postseason, but it’s also nice to land in the lottery in a deep draft. I think the Bulls will build around White, Lauri Markkanen and Wendell Carter Jr.
So if that’s the case, they’ll need an elite scoring wing or power forward, and either a scoring guard/3-and-D type of player. Otto Porter Jr. was supposed to fit one of those roles, but he’s been out pretty much all season with a foot fracture. LaVine has been the go-to scorer but that hasn’t translated to any more wins. Can he take the next step and become an All-Star caliber player? Or has he reached his ceiling and the Bulls need to decide if they can win with it? I think LaVine is safe, but a player who should be dealt is Denzel Valentine, a 2016 first-round pick who really hasn’t stayed healthy or carved out a role in three-plus seasons.
I’d still suggest GarPax sells at the deadline and operates with the young core it envisions supporting the future. White has shown flashes of upside and I believe he’ll emerge as a strong scoring point guard. WCJ was looking like a lock for an All-Defensive team before suffering a bad ankle sprain last week. And while Lauri Markkanen’s season has been up and down, he’s finding his game a bit. Maybe the Bulls need another year to put it together. Maybe they need a new coach again. Either way, I think it’s clear this season isn’t going anywhere really, so taking another step back wouldn’t hurt much.