The Chicago Bulls Future Beyond 2023: To Tank Or Not To Tank

Winter is forcing its way into Chicago as the temperature continues to plummet into the 30s. And yet, the atmosphere in United Center is far chiller because the Bulls sit at 10-14 with not even a glimmer of championship hope. While the DeMar DeRozan signing exceeded expectations, it’s clear that he cannot be a number one or perhaps even number two option. Nikola Vucevic has severely regressed, and Lonzo Ball’s health remains a massive concern. In addition, their young players have not taken the necessary leap forward. 

Where do the Chicago Bulls go from here? There are three possible options: fully rebuild, stay put, or attempt to cash in assets for short-term roster upgrades. Which is realistic, and which benefits Chicago the most? 

Chicago Bulls Trade Assets & Battle for the 2023 Championship 

This scenario is the least realistic option due to Chicago’s roster and the bleak trade market. DeRozan and LaVine would be locked in, but the Bulls would place every other player on the block. Unfortunately, there isn’t a single team that acquires the aging Vucevic and sends back a starting-caliber center who could hold up in the playoffs, especially due to his $22M contract. 

Dwight Powell would most likely be the best center Chicago could receive from a contender, which is underwhelming. And as for rebuilding teams, Myles Turner and Mason Plumlee represent the best options. Turner would be a solid addition, but he doesn’t provide a huge boost over Vucevic, and the Bulls would have to surrender assets they need for their big catch. Therefore, Vucevic is virtually locked in along with DeRozan and LaVine. 

Now, the Bulls do have desirable young players and plenty of future first rounders. Ayo Dosunmu, Patrick Williams, Coby White, and Dalen Terry compose their core trade chips, but do they really fetch enough in a decimated market? Bradley Beal is cemented in Washington, and there are no disgruntled young stars. That leaves players like Julius Randle, Tobias Harris, and Gordon Hayward as the premier options. Yikes.

The Knicks and 76ers wouldn’t take Vucevic, which means Lonzo Ball would have to be in the trade for salary matching. The Hornets are the lone squad that accepts Vucevic, but does a core of DeRozan, LaVine, Ball, Hayward even scare play-in teams? 

Overall, there just isn’t any viable way the Bulls can cash in assets to transform their roster into a contender, especially with the Celtics, Bucks, and Cavaliers lurking in their conference alone. 

Stand Pat & Wait For Lonzo/Off-Season

The Chicago Bulls certainty perform at a higher level with Ball in the lineup, so Chicago could choose to wait for his return and assess then. However, the harsh truth is that they remain miles away from competing even if Lonzo’s health is assured. Chicago could wait for the off-season to re-tool, but their limited cap space and an uninspiring free agency class means the notion of acquiring a star is delusional. 

Time is also not their friend, as the longer they stay mediocre, the further away they move from the top of the lottery. Orlando owns their first round pick this year, but it’s top four protected. With the 6th worst record, the Bulls currently have a 37.2% chance of it landing there. That percentage may keep decreasing though the longer they hover around .500, so Chicago must act quickly. The following table via Tankathon shows the current lottery odds. 

Current Draft Odds

Because of the lack of time and targets, it’s unwise for the Bulls to do nothing and embrace the foolish idea that this roster can be fixed over the off-season. 

Trade Veterans & Fully Rebuild  

While it’s difficult to enter a rebuild due to lost job security and potentially angry fans, it’s the correct long-term move for the Bulls. Chicago must embrace Dosunmu, Williams, White, and Terry as their future and hope those four along with their draft picks pan out. Here are two trades Chicago can make to bolster the asset cabinet. 

Trade #1 

Bulls receive: 

  • Russell Westbrook
  • Max Christie 
  • 2023 2nd (via Chicago)
  • 2026 1st (unprotected)
  • 2028 1st (unprotected)

Lakers receive:

  • DeMar DeRozan 
  • Nikola Vucevic
  • Alex Caruso
  • Goran Dragic 

The Bulls can sit Westbrook and embrace tanking to improve the odds that their own 1st rounder ends up in the top four. Chicago receives their 2nd rounder back – which will convey in the low 30s – and rookie Max Christie. In addition, the Bulls pick up two future unprotected 1st round picks during a period where the current Lakers veterans will be gone. 

Trade #2 

Bulls receive:

  • Kessler Edwards 
  • Day’Ron Sharpe 

Nets receive:

  • Andre Drummond 

This trade is far less impactful, but they swap Drummond for the chance to audition two young players. If Edwards and Sharpe don’t stick, the Bulls will still have enabled their tanking by removing Drummond’s bench production. 

As for LaVine and Ball, they will probably remain in Chicago despite the rebuild. It’s unwise to sell Ball at his lowest value, and the fact that he’s only 25-years-old means he still has plenty of time. LaVine, on the other hand, has a massive contract and remains more of an off-season trade target for teams rather than a trade deadline acquisition. He is also 27-years-old, so Chicago doesn’t have to rush his departure. 

The resulting depth chart would be the following: 

Ball, Dosunmu, LaVine, Williams, Sharpe

White, Jones Jr, Green, Edwards, Terry, Bradley, Christie, Simonovic, Hill

If the Bulls can land in the top four, then they would add a dynamic rookie to this group, along with a plethora of cap space. Chicago also owns Portland’s 1st rounder top 14 protected, which is likely to convey and provide another promising rookie. Finally, they would have their 2nd rounder to get one more chance at a prospect. 

While this option is far from a sure thing, it’s more beneficial than continuing this contention charade. The Bulls need to tear it down, and they need to do so immediately while they still remain within reach of the worst records. It could be the difference between lucking into Victor Wembanyama/Scoot Henderson or surrendering their pick to Orlando with no hope. 

Braxton has been covering the NBA for Lineups since the 2021-22 season. He's worked with multiple collegiate coaching staffs about analytics and scouting, which has allowed him to understand the game on a deeper level. Braxton is also a contributor at Thunderous Intentions and NBA Analysis Network.

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