As you surely know by now, the Bulls stood pat at the trade deadline.
As a team that had options to go to the extreme in one direction or another, fans are irritated that the Bulls front office chose neither.
Bulls Executive Vice President of Basketball Operations Arturas Karnisovas addressed media in Brooklyn prior to Thursday night’s game against the Nets to make his case for being one of two teams in the entire NBA that did not make any moves at this trade deadline.
His justifications? Parity in an ever-changing landscape around them makes the East more open, the upward trajectory the team is on and a doubling down on continuity.
Here’s why I’m not buying any of the above.
The East is wide open
“There’s still wiggle room. There’s parity in the East. I think the trade deadline shifted some quality towards the West, so there’s a chance to compete in the Eastern Conference”
Despite trading Kevin Durant and Kyrie Irving, the Brooklyn Nets remain very talented. They are flush with high-level 3-and-D wings, an elite defensive center and some scoring pop in the backcourt. And perhaps more importantly, they are 10 games over .500 and six games ahead of the Bulls in the standings.
They are not falling off a cliff.
The Raptors just made a win-now move, acquiring Jakob Poeltl to anchor their defense. In doing so, they traded a 2024 first round pick (top-six protected through 2026). They elected not to trade any of the hot names on their roster — OG Anunoby, Gary Trent, Pascal Siakam or Fred VanVleet — meaning they are still in the hunt. They are the 10th seed, one game behind the Bulls.
The Atlanta Hawks added Saddiq Bey, the Knicks added Josh Hart, the Bucks added Jae Crowder, the 76ers added Jalen McDaniels, the Celtics added Mike Muscala, the Pacers added George Hill and Jordan Nwora. Even the Wizards are experiencing addition by subtraction at the very least, going 7-3 since moving on from Rui Hachimura.
Nothing about the new Eastern Conference landscape indicates their road to the play-in or playoffs will get any easier. Everyone has gotten better around the Bulls. In fact, the Bulls were one of two teams in the entire NBA that didn’t make a move.
If everyone is getting better except you, you’re the one moving down the totem pole. And they can’t fall too much further without falling out of the play in tournament.
Even if you do believe the East is more open of a landscape than it was yesterday, that’s even more reason to make an addition. Because there’s nothing we’ve seen over the 54 games we’ve seen this season, the five game playoff series and 8-15 finish to last season (that’s a total of 35 wins to 47 losses) that signifies the Bulls are on the right track.
The Bulls are trending up
Reporter: “Do you expect to make the playoffs?“
The Bulls are 15-10 in their last 25 games. They have a 3.1 net rating over that time, tied for 6th in the NBA.
However, the Bulls are 21st in offensive rating over that time, which means they are being carried by their defense, which is built around three suspect defenders, which is sixth in the NBA, and the 2nd best defense over the last two weeks.
To build an elite defense, you have to force your opponent into low efficiency shots. Because makes and misses can be random, it’s better to prevent corner threes and shots at the rim than banking on the other team to miss shots. Well, the Bulls can’t seem to limit corner (25th) or above-the-break three-point attempts (26th), nor shots at the rim (21th). They also force teams into the fewest mid-range shots in the league.
In other words, the Bulls can’t stop opposing offenses from taking the highest value shots in the league.
So how is it possible that their defense is so strong?
Bulls opponents are shooting the second-lowest percentage on corner threes in the entire NBA and tenth-lowest on total threes. While the Bulls are giving up a ton of high quality looks, opposing offenses aren’t converting.
This quality of defense has helped them to a nice stretch of wins, but they’ve also benefited from luck in terms of their schedule.
The Bulls have had some good wins, in games like the Heat (without Jimmy Butler), the Bucks (without Jrue Holiday and Khris Middleton), the 76ers (without Joel Embiid). They have some nice wins over good teams like the Nets and the Warriors who were fully healthy. They also have some terrible losses, like the Cavs twice (both games without Darius Garland or Evan Mobley), the Wizards (without Bradley Beal), Charlotte, Indiana (without Tyrese Haliburton).
The Bulls haven’t been able to play consistently against good teams nor bad. The idea that they excel against good teams is false — they’re 12-17 against above .500 teams. The idea that they can’t beat who they should beat is also false — they are 14-11 against below .500 teams.
Lonzo Ball can still save us
“I don’t know, regarding Zo. I think he’s making small improvements, but we’re still going to have more information for you post-All-Star weekend”
Perfect timing to rule him out for the season.
The Bulls are relying on broken logic when it comes to Lonzo Ball.
The most recent update from Billy Donovan is that Ball is “nowhere close” to returning, and that they will have a check-in with Ball after the All-Star break.
At that point, the Bulls will have 23 games and 6.5 weeks before end of the season.
Even if, by some miracle, Ball is ready to start ramping up by the end of the break, he will need a significant chunk of time to get back into game shape, without experiencing any setbacks.
Even if, by some miracle, he ramps up without setbacks and is ready to go by the end of the season, it’s going to take reps, conditioning and a bunch of time to get back into shape enough to start contributing.
And all of this assumes the Bulls even make the playoffs in the first place.
Knowing all of this, the Bulls are rumored to be looking for additional point guard help, further indicating they have come to terms with the fact that Ball may not play this year, let alone contribute at a high level.
And yet, they won’t make any changes to the roster because Ball might come back to save them.