Three-time defensive player of the year winners aren’t linked to your favorite team in trade talks very often, especially those in the middle of their prime.
But that’s exactly what has been happening early in this offseason. Most recently, Jake Fischer of Bleacher Report and Kevin O’Connor of The Ringer have both heard rumblings that the Bulls *could* be a suitor for Rudy Gobert. Fischer even suggested that a Nikola Vucevic and Patrick Williams for Gobert package could make sense, according to some anonymous executives.
It’s important to note these reports simply suggest the Bulls could have interest and that some similar package could make sense. Fischer’s piece uses vague terms and theoretical trades coming from third-party execs. There’s a lot of smoke but no real fire … so far.
But this is rumors season and I’m leaning all the way in. We all want to see the Bulls swing for the fences and make improvements this offseason.
So let’s talk about why I would love this move for the Bulls, in spite of the price.
What is your stance on Patrick Williams?
Any trade package including Patrick Williams comes down to how good you think he can be. It’s weighing theory against reality.
As a fan, you can have blind optimism in your prospects. As an NBA exec, you aren’t afforded that luxury.
Just because Williams is young does not mean he will pan out. Maybe he will, we don’t know. But realistically, what is Williams’ best case scenario? Kawhi Leonard? Do you really think his upside is top-25 or even top-20 player in the world?
Even if you do believe he can be that good, how likely is it?
Rarely do prospects reach their peak outcome, and even if Williams does, there’s no guarantee that is anything close to what Gobert is presently doing.
Maybe the argument is that big wings are more valuable than rim protectors, but is that true if the wing is slightly above average compared to a elite-level big?
Trading Williams for a fringe or sub-All-Star caliber player doesn’t make sense. But Gobert is a bonafide top-five defender and top-20 player in the NBA and has been for the last 5 years.
None of this is to say Williams is a bad player and the Bulls should get rid of him. Williams is a good prospect and should be coveted by the Bulls and other teams.
The Bulls don’t have to trade Williams, but holding onto upside for the sake of holding onto upside is a dangerous game. If they decide they would leverage him to trade for a star player, I’m not sure one better than Gobert will become available.
It would be gut-wrenching to see Williams become a star on another team, but that’s the cost of trading for star players.
Is Gobert *the one*?
Gobert is not Luka Doncic or one of the league’s offensive engines. But this is not a Jerami Grant situation either. Gobert is one of the league’s few defensive systems. He’s one of the best in NBA history, named to Defensive First Team each of the last six years and he was Defensive Player of the Year in 2018, 2019 and 2021. The Bulls were a top-10 defense the first part of the year when Lonzo Ball and Alex Caruso were healthy. Add Gobert to the mix and they could easily land in the top-3 to 5.
Gobert is top five in Defensive EPM and first in defensive RAPTOR. He’s second in the NBA in defensive rating, first in defensive and total rebounding percentage, and fifth in block percentage. His defensive on/off is in the 96th percentile, and he holds opponents to a league-leading 6.9 percent below their average when he is the closest defender.
Complaining about Vucevic’s defense, rim protection and interior scoring ability and then not wanting to trade him for the player who is the best in the league in those areas is silly. Gobert is an elite defense on his own. For those complaining about the Bulls lack of rebounding and rim protection, he is not only the answer, but the best possible option.
Offensively, Gobert is far from net neutral. He’s the screen assist king, leading the league every year since the stat was counted. The Jazz generated a league leading 15.3 points on Gobert screens. He would immediately create scoring avenues for DeRozan and LaVine — if you help on the ball handler, he’s getting an easy lob. If the defense plays DeRozan one-on-one…we all know what’s happening.
How good does Gobert make the Bulls?
Gobert is very good. But the Celtics, Bucks, Heat are still around. The 76ers and Raptors too. Does Gobert really unlock a higher ceiling for the Bulls?
If Gobert was an offensive star instead of a defensive one, this would not even be a discussion. The way he impacts the game on the defensive end would immediately vault the Bulls in the running for top three in the East. They’d still have to fill out the roster with shooting, but you’re essentially flipping Vucevic and the idea of Williams for the league’s best rim protector.
Again, it comes back to the idea that the Bulls should be aggressive in trying to improve in creative ways. Gobert turns arguably the Bulls biggest weakness into a point of strength.
The bigger criticism is on offense. With DeRozan and LaVine operating from the elbow, cramping the floor further could be dangerous. Especially if the Bulls can’t bring in a sharpshooter to replace Williams at the four.
Vucevic is not just a throw-in here, either. He’s a versatile offensive weapon who provides an added element of floor spacing that Gobert doesn’t.
The problem is, he isn’t making his shots.
Still, Vooch is a threat and a much better connecting passer, but what the Bulls lose in spacing and connecting passing, they gain in the form of vertical spacing.
Having a roll big to dive and catch lobs can take a lot of pressure off of the ball handler, create tough mismatches and mitigate switches.
It would be clunky and a bit more limited, but the pick-and-roll game with DeMar DeRozan would be lethal with Zach LaVine and Lonzo Ball flanking the outside. Would you rather be very good at one or two things or just OK at four or five?
The cost of doing business
Entering his age 30 season, Gobert is entering the second year of his five-year, $205 million max contract. He’ll start at $38 million next year. That may seem like a lot, but again, this is a star defensive anchor we’re talking about.
There is no award for best asset management. Hoarding draft picks, sitting on cap space, hoping prospects pan out and maintaining future flexibility does not win you games.
It’s the same reason the Bulls should pay Zach LaVine his max salary this offseason and why money doesn’t really matter at this point, unless you’re Jerry and Michael Reinsdorf. If ownership is willing to pay the tax, and the front office is capable of operating above the tax and working the margins to fill out the roster with talented players, who cares if he’s paid more than you think he should be?
This was the Bulls approach when it came to trading for Nikola Vucevic and DeMar DeRozan and it should continue to be the same if they want to keep improving. In my evaluation of the front office, I said they need to continue to find creative ways to improve the team. Trading for Gobert would do that in spades.
This is by no means a perfect trade, but no trade is perfect. The Bulls have flaws now and they’d still have some if they traded for Gobert. So ultimately, it comes down to the following cost-benefit analysis: Which is more valuable?
- Williams’ potential to become an All-Star, Vucevic’s versatility and the flexibility to have a slightly more defined long-term future
— OR —
- Gobert’s ability to elevate the Bulls to a higher level during the window of contention that is DeRozan’s prime
It’s a risk, but I lean towards the Gobert side. Typically, I stray away from pure rim roller/protector types as they are more replaceable than wing positions, but Gobert is the exception. He is truly a superstar at what he does and I’d rather go down swinging. Which do you prefer?
Unlock all of Will Gottlieb’s Bulls columns by becoming a CHGO family member today!
Get Chicago's Best Sports Content In Your Inbox!
Become a smarter Chicago sports fan with the latest game recaps, analysis and exclusive content from CHGO’s writers and podcasters!
Just drop your email below!