OK, this might sound like a broken record at this point, but the Chicago Bulls are destined to make a trade this season. This time it’s not just frustrated fans conjuring up fantasy trades on the Internet. The need for the Bulls to make a trade feels inevitable now that the team is off to a slower than expected start.
This summer the Bulls’ front-office tandem of Gar Forman and John Paxson did what Gar Forman and John Paxson do best — change as little of the roster as possible. Chicago brought back basically the exact same roster from the team that couldn’t even force a Game 7 against a depleted Cleveland Cavaliers squad, with only Bobby Portis and Cristiano Felicio coming in and Nazr Mohammed going out.
The decision to stand pat this summer was a surprising move, even for a front office that’s infamously gun shy, since the roster features a frontcourt logjam that apparently everyone anticipated except Forman and Paxson. Finding minutes for Joakim Noah, Pau Gasol, Taj Gibson, Nikola Mirotic, and Portis has proven to be a tall task for a rookie coach. Especially when bringing Gasol off the bench, which would allow the ideal pairings to play with each other, hasn’t even been “discussed” by the coaching staff, according to ESPN’s Zach Lowe.
Meanwhile, injuries have further complicated the start of the Bulls’ season. Mike Dunleavy Jr., who got a three-year, $14.4 million contract this past offseason despite being injury prone and 34 years old, might not even play this season with complications from back surgery. That’s left Tony Snell and Doug McDermott to fend at the wing positions, and two months into the season McBuckets is the only one of the two to survive. Snell was a DNP-CD on Monday against the Nets with Mirotic, who’s shooting 33.6 percent on three-pointers this season, filling in for him. To make matters worse, Noah injured his shoulder in the game and won’t be reevaluated for a couple weeks. He was just starting to play like his old self, too.
Here’s the situation the Bulls are in 26 games into the season: They’re 15-11 and in the midst of a three-game losing streak with the point differential of a .500 team. Chicago is also as dysfunctional as they were under Tom Thibodeau last season, with Jimmy Butler publicly calling out the new head coach and refusing to take back his remarks when given the chance. Two projected starters are now down with injuries and the expected frontcourt logjam has been just that. Also, Derrick Rose is looking like he’ll never be that Derrick Rose ever again. This is a team that needs change, whether the front office likes it or not.
The Bulls haven’t made a trade since July 14, 2014 when they dumped Anthony Randolph to Orlando. That streak will come to an end this season, because it has to.
The rumored interest in DeMarcus Cousins isn’t the type of trade the Bulls will make, and it doesn’t look like Cousins is going anywhere anyway. Although the Bulls possess all of their own first-round picks and interesting pieces in Mirotic and Gibson, nabbing an All-Star-caliber player is probably wishful thinking. More realistically the Bulls have two choices: A) trade for a player (s) that’ll help the team team immediately or B) make a trade with the future in mind.
Option A is the most attractive of the two. Players will eventually be open on the market as teams begin to learn if they have a chance to make the postseason or not. The Bulls could use a more formidable backup behind Rose and a starting wing player who could play both ways. Finding those players won’t be easy, but there are tons of players across the league who’d represent an upgrade over Aaron Brooks, Snell and even McDermott.
Option B is unlikely, but the Bulls could choose to save money ahead of the cap explosion this summer. Noah, and likely Gasol, will be off the books after this season. Gibson and Mirotic could easily be dealt as two bigs with some upside. The Bulls could also shock the world by trading or even waiving Rose. Lowe murmured that the Bulls could still get something in return for the former MVP, and a trade would take the Bulls off the books for the remaining $21.3 million of his contract (not including the pro-rated amount for the rest of this season). Waiving Rose via the stretch provision would open up $14 million in cap space this summer, per Bradford Doolittle. Getting rid of Rose is unlikely, but if he can’t even eclipse a 10 PER, then his Bulls career may come to a close sooner rather than later.
There’s not an Option C with the Bulls standing pat. Not this season. The Bulls’ train wreck of an offense, as well as the team’s inability to play with energy, has forced the front office’s hand to make a move this season. The roster is screaming for a trade, any trade, to improve the team in the present and/or the future. The trade doesn’t have to be a home run, but this team can use any positive change right now. Butler, McDermott, Portis and maybe Mirotic are the core of this team. Everyone else should be involved in trade talks.
There are ways to improve outside of trades. The Bulls can draft some young stud or sign a star free agent, but history says that’s not happening in Chicago. Even with their recent struggles, the Bulls haven’t been bad enough to select at the top of the draft for years. Chicago has drafted well late in the first round, but those picks more often turn into Tony Snells and Marquis Teagues then Jimmy Butlers and Taj Gibsons. The Bulls also aren’t likely to attract any big in free agency with a washed-up Rose and a front office with a reputation for poor relationships.
The Bulls are going to need to make a trade to improve. The roster as it’s currently constructed isn’t going to accomplish anything past a first- or second-round exit. Hope for Rose to get back to his former self and for Hoiberg to magically improve the offense has run out. It’s time for Gar Forman and John Paxson to go to work.