Ranking value of Bulls’ trade assets as deadline pulls within month

Ranking value of Bulls’ trade assets as deadline nears originally appeared on NBC Sports Chicago

In 2007, the Chicago Bulls entered the season with high expectations.

The franchise was coming off a 49-win campaign and, after drafting Joakim Noah, largely opted for continuity, signing veteran forward Joe Smith in free agency.

By season’s end, they had flamed out. They opened 9-16, leading to coach Scott Skiles’ departure on Christmas Eve. They finished 33-49, engineering a significant trade in February in which lead executive John Paxson moved off his underwhelming free-agent signing of Ben Wallace in a three-team deal.

The only solace? The Bulls fell into draft lottery luck. They cashed in 1.7 percent odds to vault from ninth-best odds to win the lottery and draft Derrick Rose.

Which brings us to today.

The 2022-23 Bulls entered the season with heightened, if not high, expectations.

Coming off a 46-win season in which the franchise ended a four-year playoff rough, internal expectations centered on winning at least one playoff round. After drafting Dalen Terry, management largely opted for continuity, signing veterans Goran Dragić and Andre Drummond in free agency.

There is still time to right matters. But a troubling stretch that has featured three straight losses, including an uninspiring home loss to an Oklahoma City Thunder team playing its third game in four nights, has raised questions about what’s next.

Especially because, given the amount of draft capital expended to assemble this roster, the Bulls aren’t necessarily brimming with tradable assets.

Coach Billy Donovan isn’t going anywhere, having recently signed a multi-year contract extension that kicks in after the 2023-24 season. If the Bulls do fail to make the playoffs, they’d need similar lottery luck because their first-round pick conveys to the Orlando Magic unless it falls in the top four.

And as for trades, executive vice president Artūras Karnišovas has shown no indications of making a major deal to this point.

Obviously, the latter dynamic could always change. Some executives from other teams are speculating that it will.

And if it does, here is a ranking of the value of the Bulls’ most likely trade chips, not the ranking of the feasibility of which player could be moved. Given how often management has cited the desire for continuity, standing pat or making a minor move is still possible.

But if the season continues to trend downward, a major shakeup may be needed.

1) DeMar DeRozan

The team’s leading scorer also represents its best asset. Even at 33, DeRozan is elite in that department. With a true shooting percentage (.596) just .007 off his career high, he has virtually recreated his efficiency from last season, when he started the All-Star game and made second team All-NBA. He could make sense for a team looking to make a big splash like the Los Angeles Lakers or New York Knicks, or as a contender looking for a final piece.

Plus, DeRozan’s current three-year, $82 million contract runs through next season, giving a potential trade partner an extra year of control and the opportunity to negotiate an extension when that eligibility window opens in the offseason. That, too, is something to keep in mind as the Bulls analyze their options, given DeRozan will deservedly be seeking another lucrative payday.

DeRozan also represents the Bulls’ best opportunity to recover draft capital. The Bulls surrendered three future first-round picks to assemble this roster — one, from the Nikola Vučević trade, already has been conveyed to Orlando — and likely would desire to restock that cupboard should they pivot off this core.

2) Zach LaVine

LaVine fashioned an elite December after enduring an up-and-down start to his season that featured him in and out of the lineup as he dealt with a management plan for his twice-surgically repaired knee. Still, he, too, could be coveted by teams like the Lakers and Knicks should he be prominently placed in trade talks.

LaVine signed a five-year, $215 million max contract this offseason. The Bulls likely would seek a package of young players and draft picks in return.

However, given the history of LaVine’s knee and the amount of money left on his deal, it would take a partner convinced he’s a star that will impact winning to find a deal. And even in the event of a roster reset, his age (27) combined with his value being at a low point could compel the Bulls to prioritize the Bulls flipping other chips first.

3) Alex Caruso

The defensive-minded guard would be a plug-and-play reserve — and closer — for virtually any contender or team serious about making a playoff push. Golden State has been one prominently mentioned rumor. The Knicks, who have been scouting the Bulls closely of late, are another team on which to keep an eye.

Also boosting Caruso’s value is the reasonable contract he is currently on, which guarantees $9.4 million next season and has only $3 million (of a potential $9.9 million if not waived) due him in 2024-25.

Unless he is packaged as part of a larger deal, Caruso’s return would likely be a young player and pick because of that contract, his All-Defensive-team-caliber ability to defend at the point of attack and generate deflections and steals, and his playoff experience.

4) Nikola Vučević

Vučević will be an unrestricted free agent this summer. Given that no serious talks on a contract extension occurred last offseason, it’s clear that both sides are keeping their options open.

That’s why he may be the most likely to be moved if management pivots off this core group. Doing so would be admitting a mistake; the Bulls traded Wendell Carter Jr. and two first-round picks — plus a swap of large, expiring contracts — to acquire Vučević.

But as in the case of Paxson moving off of Wallace in 2008, sometimes lost seasons dictate new lines of thinking.

No team would give up significant assets for a short-term rental. So if Vučević is dealt, rest assured it would be to a team that knows it can and will re-sign him or is willing to buy him out after unloading an unwanted contract onto the Bulls. If a team that planned to re-sign him dealt for him, a rotation player and/or a protected first-round pick would be a solid return.

5) Coby White

The fourth-year guard has played very well of late and is also a free agent after this season, although he would be restricted provided his employer at the time extends a qualifying offer. So, like Vučević, consider him one of the most likely candidates to be moved, even if his value as a solo chip is nebulous at the moment.

White is shooting 35.8 percent from 3-point range this season. He has also displayed improvements as a defender and decision maker, plus a penchant for clutch shotmaking.

Still 22, multiple teams talking themselves into White as a change of scenery candidate is reasonable. The Bulls have fielded multiple trade offers for him since draft season. But he wouldn’t plan to fetch as much as the veteran names above — perhaps a middling rotation player or protected pick if he’s traded alone. As part of a package, his value increases.

6) Portland’s protected first-round pick

Like Caruso, this asset could be attached as part of a larger deal. But given how little draft capital the Bulls have, trading it would be a surprise. And it’s unclear how the pick is viewed around the league, given it is lottery-protected through 2028 before turning into a second-round pick. The Trail Blazers currently sit 12th in the Western Conference, a half-game out of the play-in picture.

Remember: The Bulls also are also out second-round picks in 2023, 2024 and 2025, and must forfeit their next available second because of improper contact made in the free-agency pursuit of Lonzo Ball.

Ah yes, Ball. His absence since last January has played a significant factor in this Bulls’ slide, a slide that needs to be stopped or major changes may be unavoidable. Saturday marks the one-year anniversary of Ball’s last NBA game and there is still no timetable for his return.

Continuity has been elusive to this point. Everything has to be on the table.

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