Bulls' Blueprint for 2022 NBA Trade Deadline

Zach Buckley@@ZachBuckleyNBANational NBA Featured ColumnistJanuary 20, 2022

Bulls' Blueprint for 2022 NBA Trade Deadline

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    Nam Y. Huh/Associated Press

    The Chicago Bulls are hard to recognize in the best kind of way.

    At best, this group figured to hover around the play-in tournament throughout the 2021-22 NBA season, but they have instead arrived at its midpoint with the Eastern Conference's best record (28-15).

    This has sustained long enough to see it not as a strong start but rather a full-fledged transformation. The goalposts are moving, and the front office would be wise to keep that in mind when crafting its approach to the Feb. 10 trade deadline.

    This three-step guide to swap season would help Chicago capitalize on its skyrocketing potential.

1. Put Future Plans on Hold for Present Upgrades

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    While the Bulls don't technically have a playoff berth in hand, it would take a cataclysmic collapse to knock this club out.

    Believe it or not—Chicago fans can surely believe it—but that trip would mark the organization's first taste of postseason basketball in five years. Because the franchise has encountered some rough patches in recent years, the front office had found a few prospects who figured to factor in the Bulls' future, namely Patrick Williams (No. 4 pick in 2020) and Coby White (No. 7 in 2019).

    It might be time to change those plans, assuming the right player becomes available between now and the deadline.

    Few contenders can match the offer Chicago could make to a long-term rebuilder. While many win-now shoppers have little in the way of attractive assets, the Bulls could offer up Williams as a potential cornerstone piece and White as a long-term keeper. Again, the target must be significant, but if it is, Chicago is in position to trade future growth potential for a big present bump.

2. Swing Big for a 2-Way Swingman

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    It isn't Chicago's fault that the roster looks one forward shy of truly terrifying. The Bulls thought they had covered that spot. Twice.

    The first attempt was Lauri Markkanen, the No. 7 pick in 2017, but he never gained full footing in the Windy City, and the Bulls let him bolt to the Cleveland Cavaliers last offseason. The more recent one was Williams, but a dislocated wrist torpedoed that plan.

    Now it's back to the drawing board, as the starting spot held by Javonte Green is clearly the one Chicago can most improve. Plugging a high-level, two-way forward into a lineup already featuring Lonzo Ball, Zach LaVine, DeMar DeRozan and Nikola Vucevic would be roster-building at its best.

    Jerami Grant and Harrison Barnes loom as obvious targets. Marcus Morris Sr. should be on the radar, too. If the Bulls want to get really bold, they could even try prying Pascal Siakam from the Toronto Raptors. It's all on the table if Chicago puts its best remaining trade chips in play.

3. Add Some Interior Oomph

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    Mary Altaffer/Associated Press

    Vucevic fits the Bulls' big three for a number of reasons, not the least of which are his activity on the glass and soft shooting touch.

    But he doesn't always impose his will around the basket, as his game is built more around skill than brute strength. While he has significantly improved on defense over the years, his lack of elite physical tools will always limit his impact to some degree.

    None of this is intended as an attack on Vucevic. The points are simply made to highlight that he's an imperfect option on defense. Where that becomes an issue is the fact that he's by far their best defensive presence in the paint, which could make that an area of focus for the front office.

    The Bulls might want to think about that end while searching for different options behind Vucevic. A bouncy big with long arms and nimble feet could add another dimension to this defense, which started strong (seventh though the end of November, per NBA.com) but has tailed off since (24th in December and January). Finding some paint protection might help this group get its groove back.