The Chicago Bulls' up-and-down, turbulent 2015-16 season might be more than an anomaly or a team struggling with effort.
Perhaps they have gotten the most they’re going to get out of this particular core. Maybe they’re just not good enough. And maybe that realization is hitting them.
It was a good run—not a great one, but a good one. The Bulls have made the postseason every year since 2008-09. Only the Atlanta Hawks and San Antonio Spurs can make the same claim. Chicago has been to the Eastern Conference Finals once, was ousted in the second round twice and has won 364 games, good for fifth in the NBA during that span.
No, it never resulted in a title or a Finals appearance, but most runs don't. Sometimes they just end. And that’s the mindset that the Bulls will likely employ if they make a trade in the coming days.
The Type of Deal
A deal isn’t out there that can help the Bulls now, and it’s time to hit the reset button around head coach Fred Hoiberg. He's trying to jam square pegs into round holes, and it's not working.
The premise of Hoiberg's offense is athleticism, space and speed. Many of the old guard don't fit that mold.
With the exception of Nikola Mirotic and rookie Bobby Portis, the current frontcourt is either too old or lacks the necessary range.
The backcourt is better situated with Jimmy Butler set in as a player to build around. At best, Derrick Rose, who has steadily improved through the season, gets back to his previous All-Star level. At worst, his contract ends next season. The rest of the players are expendable.
K.C. Johnson of the Chicago Tribune elaborated:
In the long term, the previous notion that Noah's season-ending shoulder surgery would make Dunleavy the team's only "trade-deadline acquisition" could change. Two rival executives aren't convinced the Bulls are done gauging the market for Gasol, whom the Bulls would like to re-sign this offseason but at their price.
Remember: This is a franchise that offered Luol Deng a take-it-or-leave-it offer in his free-agency season before trading him to the Cavaliers to get out of the luxury tax. A similar approach with Gasol would be a sign that management is thinking big picture as much as, if not more than, this season.
The trade targets below are presented with this forward-looking thinking in mind.
The Type of Player
Since the Bulls would be building for the future, there are a few things we should look for in any trade:
- Youth: They’re not going to trade for Carmelo Anthony or Joe Johnson, period. They’re going to look for players who are still on their first contract or, even better, draft picks.
- Wings: The Bulls have Jimmy Butler, who is locked in for the future, and the returning Mike Dunleavy should help. After that, they have Tony Snell, Doug McDermott and little confidence in either player. They need another true starter under 30.
- Shooting: “Hoiball” is supposed to be about spacing, but the new coach’s offensive philosophy hasn’t gained traction, in large part because the shooters aren’t there to execute it.
- Defense: If a shooting wing who can't defend was all the Bulls needed, McDermott would be playing more.
Unfortunately, a three-and-D wing who is young and athletic is the hottest commodity in the NBA right now. When supply is limited and demand is up, you get inflation—because capitalism.
So who’s out there that meets our description? There aren’t many options, and even with the names below, there’s no hard evidence that these players are available. But there’s at least some chance they could be acquired, and they would help the Bulls if added to the roster.
Here is a short list of possibilities the Bulls could inquire about. We’ll look more at specific trade scenarios in the next article. They are listed from “worst to first” options.
The 2013 NBA Slam Dunk Contest winner certainly has the athleticism the Bulls are looking for. He’s a 37.4 percent three-point shooter for his career, and according to ESPN.com's Defensive Real Plus-Minus, he’s a passable defender at minus-0.32 (40th of 81 small forwards).
Ross has not developed much, still sports a subpar 12.6 player efficiency rating, is not a full-time starter and has a streaky nature, so the Toronto Raptors might be willing to move him for the right price if they're giving up on him.
However, even that becomes complicated since he has a poison-pill provision with his contract extension kicking in next season. That means he's already signed his extension, so his salary from this year is averaged together with that of his new contract, which makes it harder to work out a deal.
If Dante Exum were healthy, he would have star potential. But then there's Trey Burke, Raul Neto and Rodney Hood all competing with Burks for playing time. Someone's got to go to free up the logjam.
Burks is mending from a broken leg and is expected back shortly after the All-Star break, according to Jody Genessy of the Deseret News. However, that’s not a concern for the Bulls, as Burks wouldn’t represent a deal for now, but for the future. Burks has good athleticism and is a solid shot creator, though he could improve his efficiency.
That said, one place he is effective is from deep, as Burks is shooting 38.7 percent from behind the arc for his career. He’s obtainable, but likely not without including a first-round draft choice.
The Orlando Magic swingman would be a steal if the Bulls could find a way to pull it off. The Magic are indicating that their intention is to keep him, but they may also wish to open up max money in free agency next year.
The Bulls sending some of their expiring salary and picks for Fournier could help with that endeavor.
Fournier shoots 38.3 percent from three, 47.8 percent from two and averages 15.5 points per 36 minutes for his career. What's more, he has deep range, shooting 40.8 percent above the break, per NBASavant.com.
Fournier is surprisingly solid in the pick-and-roll, scoring 0.78 points per play as the ball-handler, according to NBA.com. His smart decision-making when setting up teammates is equally important, with 38.8 percent of his assists going to the rim and 18.6 percent of them behind the arc, per NBAminer.com.
Offensively, he's not going to "make" an offense, but he stretches the court and adds the element of gravity. And that's an essential aspect of Hoiberg's schemes.
His minus-1.17 DRPM is a tad below-average, but it’s significantly better than McDermott’s minus-2.80 mark. Fournier is not an elite on-ball defender, but he is a smart team defender who plays his position well.
In short, he's a poor man's Dunleavy who could become a future version of the Bulls wing.
Casspi the Omriscient, the Omripotent and Omripresent one. He is all-powerful. He knows all things and is everywhere at once. Well maybe he's not that great, but he’s the best possible option.
At ShotAnalytics.com, they track Points Above Expectation (PAE), which is how many more points a player scores over (or under) what the average shooter would do with the same shots. It includes such factors as range, whether it was a shot off the bounce or a pass and how close the nearest defender is.
Casspi ranks 15th in the NBA at plus-62. He’s also the proud owner of the third-best DRPM among small forwards.
In short, when it comes to being able to shoot the three and defend, Casspi is performing way above his pay grade, and he might be attainable with the right package.
The Bulls do have something Sacramento wants right now—the rights to its own protected pick. And the irony is that if the Kings trade Casspi (or Gay), that protection kicks in anyway (though it then becomes the same condition in 2017).
All stats courtesy of Basketball-Reference.com unless otherwise noted.