The Chicago Bulls have been dragging their feet in the Eastern Conference as of late. The team is 6.5 games out of a playoff spot but would qualify for the play-in tournament as the No. 10 seed. The playoff format this year features the No. 7 and No. 8 seed pinned against each other. The loser of that game will take on the winner of the No. 9 vs. No. 10 seed with the winner of the third game securing the No. 8 seed in the playoffs.
If the playoffs started today, the 23-33 Bulls would play the 26-29 Indiana Pacers. The winner of that matchup would take on either the Miami Heat or Charlotte Hornets. After the Bulls traded for Nikola Vucevic, many believed that the Bulls would move up towards contention out of the play-in game, but here the Bulls are surfing through purgatory.
Even with the recent regression, eight losses in 11 games, new ownership's aggressiveness has given hope to Bulls fans across the nation. Chicago came into the season with Zach LaVine as their only star. With the addition of Vucevic, the team has a solid foundation to build this team into a contender next season. As the second half winds down, it's time to take a look at the early offseason plan for the team and what is needed to be done to finally put Chicago's name back in the top half of the playoff standings.
Acquire Lonzo Ball
The Bulls drafted Coby White in the first round of the 2019 NBA Draft with the No. 7 overall picks. There are times that White looks like a dominant contributor but then follows up with a dud of a performance. Example A would be his Friday night explosion of 27 points, which followed a two-point performance against the Magic two days prior.
White has value to his name being only 21 years old. He is averaging 14.3 points per game, 4.2 rebounds, and 4.5 assists. What we have learned is that White is not a starting point guard in this league just yet. He has traits in his game linked to the likes of Lou Williams. If the Bulls can use White as their version of Lou Williams, the second unit would have explosive firepower for when LaVine comes out of the game.
White also lacks defense, just like Williams, so the Bulls need someone like Lonzo Ball on this team. The Bulls were engaged with the New Orleans Pelicans about acquiring Ball at the trade deadline but the deal fell through in the closing minutes. Ball is averaging 14.2 points, 4.1 rebounds, and 5.6 assists this season. Ball is a better three-point shooter by about three percent, but it a 100% better defender than White.
Ball is just 23 years old and has four years of experience under his belt. The former N0. 2 overall pick is trending towards having the best years of his basketball career on the horizon. The Bulls need a facilitator and someone that can help sharpen the defense, which has been among the NBA's worst since Vucevic came over. If Ball is priced at around $14 million per year, it could be worth the cost.
Re-Sign Zach LaVine
Since LaVine came to Chicago in 2017 as part of the Jimmy Butler trade, he has taken the next step offensively on the floor. After being snubbed in the All-Star Game last year, LaVine is averaging 27.5 points, 5.1 rebounds, and 5.1 assists. He's also shooting 50.6% from the field, as well as 41.6% from the three-point range. With just one more year left on his first extension with the Bulls, it would be wise to get a deal done with LaVine soon.
At 26 years old, LaVine has many prime seasons left. The Bulls must sign him to an extension before next year begins. He is only making $19.5 million this year and cannot be offered more than 120% of his previous year's salary, meaning that his first season would not surpass $23.5 million.
If a deal doesn't get done, it is going to cause a circus of distractions. For starters, LaVine's name was already thrown around the rumor mill at the trade deadline. As a pending free agent, and if the Bulls aren't winning, it would come up again. Also, it would be cost-effective to strike now. If LaVine were to land on an All-NBA Team, he could make as much as $34.7 million in the first year of his next deal.
If the Bulls want to climb up the standings, it's important to have game-changing players. LaVine and Vucevic are two of the hypothetical big three the Bulls brass is trying to form. If the team wants to head in the right direction, then LaVine needs to be a part of that future. A perfect offseason features LaVine staying with the team past this offseason and offseasons to come.
Sign And Trade For Pascal Siakam
The Bulls would need to move around a few pieces to pull off this deal, but it is possible. Siakam is due an annual salary of around $33 million, $35 million, and $37 million the next three seasons. Siakam would complete this team and form a Big 3 of Vucevic, LaVine, and Siakam. The 27-year old swingman is averaging 20.8 points, 7.2 rebounds, 4.7 assists, and 1.1 steals per game.
To pull this off, the Bulls would need to headline the deal with a sign-and-trade with Lauri Markkanen. A deal could potentially be around $15 to $18 million. Markkanen is averaging just 14.6 points, 5.5 rebounds, and 38.5% from three-point range. His numbers may be down, but at 23 years old, he could still live up to the potential he showed two seasons ago when he averaged 18,7 points and 9.0 rebounds.
The Bulls could spice up the deal by adding Thaddeus Young, who has a salary of around $14 million. Young will be playing on an expiring contract next season, so that gives the Raptors flexibility to rebuild with new pieces after next season. With two first-round draft picks in 2022 and 2024, the Raptors could use this haul and have a team ready to complete in two to three seasons.
As for the Bulls, the team would have three All-Star caliber players and a window to compete in the next two years at the bare minimum. Scoring, rebounding, and passing would all be there. We saw how well Siakam played with two All-Star caliber players in Kawhi Leonard and Kyle Lowry. He was the Most Improved Player of the Year and the team won a championship. Maybe deja vu could land in Chicago if the team can pull off this deal.