Ranking Bulls' Top Trade Priorities Entering 2023

Zach Buckley@@ZachBuckleyNBAFeatured Columnist IVDecember 29, 2022

Ranking Bulls' Top Trade Priorities Entering 2023

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    CHICAGO, ILLINOIS - NOVEMBER 21: Zach LaVine #8 and DeMar DeRozan #11 of the Chicago Bulls look on against the Boston Celtics during the second half at United Center on November 21, 2022 in Chicago, Illinois. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and or using this photograph, User is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement.  (Photo by Michael Reaves/Getty Images)
    Michael Reaves/Getty Images

    Externally, more than a few people are ready to quit on the 2022-23 Chicago Bulls.

    The Bulls aren't bailing on themselves, though.

    Granted, they need more than an encouraging five-game stretch to turn things around, but knocking off four Eastern Conference playoff-caliber opponents in their last five trips to the hardwood is a start. Then again, this stretch also featured a home loss (by 15 points) to the rebuilding Houston Rockets, so consistent inconsistency remains in the Windy City.

    That inconsistency could drive Chicago's decision-makers to shake up this NBA trade season by adopting a seller's mindset and flooding the market with win-now veterans, but it might be too soon to pull the plug. Wednesday's triumph over the Milwaukee Bucks showed what can happen when this roster clicks.

    Now, that hardly means selling is completely off the table, but we'll assume the Bulls are buying as we assemble and rank the top three items on Chicago's wish list.

3. Rim Protection

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    CHICAGO, ILLINOIS - DECEMBER 26:  Nikola Vucevic #9 of the Chicago Bulls controls the ball against the Houston Rockets on December 26, 2022 at United Center in Chicago, Illinois. Houston defeated Chicago 133-118.   NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and or using this photograph, User is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement.  (Photo by Jamie Sabau/Getty Images)
    Jamie Sabau/Getty Images

    The Bulls knew they had a need for paint protection this offseason. That's why Andre Drummond is now a Windy City resident.

    That addition wasn't enough, though. This defense remains vulnerable on the interior, which is an issue when it's also vulnerable on the perimeter.

    Nikola Vučević is super skilled on offense and active on the glass, but he's not an interior anchor on defense. His offensive skills have value, but it's muted by his standing as the third option behind Zach LaVine and DeMar DeRozan.

    It feels unlikely that Chicago would make a massive change in the middle if it's chasing victories this season, but a defense-first center might better fit this roster.

2. Two-Way Wing

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    CHICAGO, ILLINOIS - DECEMBER 26:  Patrick Williams #44 of the Chicago Bulls controls the ball against the Houston Rockets on December 26, 2022 at United Center in Chicago, Illinois. Houston defeated Chicago 133-118.   NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and or using this photograph, User is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement.  (Photo by Jamie Sabau/Getty Images)
    Jamie Sabau/Getty Images

    The Bulls don't have enough players who contribute on both ends, and it's preventing this club from leveling up at either side.

    The offense sits just 22nd in efficiency, per NBA.com, despite the presence of some fiery hot scorers, the even the presence of some scrappy defenders hasn't pushed the defensive efficiency higher than 17th.

    A big wing who locks down the defensive end and makes consistent contributions on offense could complete this roster. That's why everyone keeps waiting on Patrick Williams, the No. 4 pick in 2020, to fast-forward his development and become a two-way force.

    Again, though, if Chicago's aim is to maximize competitiveness this season, then trading for a two-way forward offers the biggest return. Since virtually every club needs more two-way forwards, though, the trade cost would be steep.

1. Floor General (Like a Healthy Lonzo Ball)

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    CHICAGO, ILLINOIS - NOVEMBER 09: Lonzo Ball #2 of the Chicago Bulls looks on during the first half against the New Orleans Pelicans at United Center on November 09, 2022 in Chicago, Illinois. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and or using this photograph, User is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement.  (Photo by Michael Reaves/Getty Images)
    Michael Reaves/Getty Images

    Deep sigh.

    You know why it's so hard to completely quit on this team? Because we've all seen how it can function with a full-fledged floor general steering the ship.

    The last time Lonzo Ball played, Jan. 14, 2022, the Bulls were 27-13 and seeded atop the Eastern Conference. They've been free-falling ever since with Ball still dealing with a nagging knee injury.

    He was their connector on both ends. He kept the ball humming between Chicago's top scoring threats and supported them with spot-up triples when needed. On defense, he set the tone with versatility, tenacity and playmaking.

    The Bulls need that type of player to connect this club. A healthy Ball would be ideal, but it's not clear when—or if—they can expect to have him back. They probably can't find (or afford) a Lonzo clone, but a pass-first point guard who competes defensively and doesn't spoil the offensive spacing might be doable.

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