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Reaction: The Bulls must think long-term if they trade Zach LaVine this season

Will Gottlieb Avatar
November 14, 2023

Even if we all assumed it was coming at some point, hearing it from The Athletic’s Shams Charania makes it feel a bit more real.

According to Tuesday’s report, there is an “increased openness” from both the Chicago Bulls and Zach LaVine about “exploring a trade.”

LaVine has been through a lot in his seven years with the Bulls. He came to Chicago in the Jimmy Butler trade while recovering from an ACL injury. He turned himself into a two-time All-Star despite facing losing seasons in all but the 2021-22 campaign. He has been a hard worker, a true professional who has been approachable and open with the media.

But it’s time.

After a predictable 4-7 start to the season, it’s abundantly clear this iteration of Bulls basketball is no longer viable. LaVine deserves a chance to play for a winning team and permanently put to rest the ’empty calories’ narrative. The Bulls can finally move on from the team destined for mediocrity and try to build a better future for themselves.

It’s a win-win.

As long as the Bulls do the right thing.

Still, we may have a few weeks to wait before anything materializes. It’s early in the season and teams are still in the process of finding themselves.

Players signed this summer aren’t trade-eligible until December 15 — or January 15 in some cases. Packages from most teams won’t fully crystallize until closer to the deadline, and the Bulls should not rush to get this done if it comes at the expense of evaluating all options.

Potential trade destinations for Zach LaVine?

There will be up-and-coming teams, like the Indiana Pacers, Orlando Magic, Oklahoma City Thunder and Houston Rockets who are perhaps ahead of schedule and want to strike while they can. Those with cap space who aren’t free agent destinations should be salivating at the chance to trade for a locked-in All-Star player to add to their young cores.

Teams that have gotten off to disappointing starts, like the Los Angeles Lakers, New York Knicks and Sacramento Kings should be ready to strike if given the opportunity.

Successful teams that want to distance themselves from the pack, like the Philadelphia 76ers, Miami Heat and Dallas Mavericks should still have enough in the way of picks and young players to get a deal done if they want.

The biggest mistake the Bulls can make with a potential LaVine deal is thinking short term. Looking for win-now veteran pieces to supplement DeMar DeRozan and Nikola Vucevic would be a disaster. Not only would they be worse off for it in the present, it would set them back another decade in the team-building process and reinforce the theory that a push for the eighth seed is more important than a sustainable future.

There are no guarantees with draft picks and potential. But the Bulls can’t afford to think so narrowly. According to the report, there is still internal interest in keeping DeRozan long term. It would be irresponsible not to trade a 34-year-old, free agent to be, now rather than let him walk for nothing or re-sign him again.

They can’t seriously think there is a real future there.

Who else could be traded by the Bulls?

Alex Caruso is perhaps the Bulls most valuable trade chip at the moment, with two playoff runs left on his contract at a bargain $9.4 million contract. The time to leverage his value into return is now.

If Nikola Vucevic has suitors, the Bulls need to be willing to move off of their newly signed center.

The priority for the rest of the season should be putting themselves in the best position to land a top-five pick in the draft and giving Patrick Williams as much runway as they can to determine whether he is worth keeping around past this year.

With four extremely expensive seasons left on his deal, LaVine will likely not fetch the same caliber of youth and draft capital as some of his All-Star predecessors, but the Bulls must do whatever they can to set themselves up for the future. Even if they can’t get what they think is fair value, even if they can’t get a potential star back for theirs, they must settle for the best they can get as long as the package is oriented around the upside.

As they did when they traded Butler, the Bulls had a chance to rebuild the right way and build a future for themselves. When they missed on some picks, they got impatient, skipped steps and sped up the process.

Look where it led them.

This rebuild should have started at the last trade deadline or last offseason at the very latest. But they still have a chance to right the ship. They can do so as long as they have learned from past mistakes.

Otherwise, we’re going to be staring down the barrel of another mediocre-at-best team for the next five or 10 years.

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