Tristan Thompson, for example, for some of those offensive rebounds he always seems to steal from the Bulls? Perhaps a tough Paul Millsap, who was reported to be on his way to the Bulls last summer? Maybe E’Twaun Moore, an old friend. Who is Thad Young? No, it doesn’t appear that he’ll be able to play this season. Isn’t it past time to give Enes (Kanter) Freedom? Is it finally time to take a shot at Dennis Schroder? Is there a hint of Dragic or Josh Richardson in there?
The NBA trade deadline ended on Thursday afternoon, with the Bulls and the rest of us, or at least the rest of us, recalibrating fantasy leagues and playoff odds with a flurry of major trades that included James Harden to the 76ers, Ben Simmons and friends to the Brooklyn Nets, assuming of course that he chooses to play, and several other prominent players changing addresses, including Kristaps Porzingis, Spencer Dinwiddie, Young, Serge Ibaka, Montrezl Ha
With a half-dozen recent All-Stars and many probable future Hall of Famers switching teams, it was a thrilling NBA must-see week.
Obviously, the ramifications will not be understood until the playoffs are completed in June.
In the event that Brook Lopez is unable to return from back surgery, the defending champion Bucks appear to have benefited from the signing of 6-foot-10 Serge Ibaka. The biggest story was the trade of perennial MVP candidate James Harden to the Philadelphia 76ers, where he would join current MVP favorite Joel Embiid.
The deal provides the 76ers two of the league’s top talents, as well as a high-level scorer in Tobias Harris.
Without Ben Simmons, the 76ers were in a tight competition for first place in the Eastern Conference with the Bucks, Bulls, Cavaliers, and Heat.
The obstinate All-Star guard will now join shooter Seth Curry and former All-Star center Andre Drummond in helping the Nets rebuild their bench, which was ravaged by Harden’s trade.
Simmons appears to be a better fit for scorers Kevin Durant, who is now out with a knee sprain, and Kyrie Irving, who has been sidelined for half of the season due to his refusal to receive the COVID-19 vaccine. However, assuming Durant returns and New York removes its immunization requirements, allowing Irving to play at home, the All-Defensive team’s 6-foot-10 Simmons appears to be a great match for scorers like Irving and Durant.
Making the Eastern Conference all the more difficult for a Bulls team that, according to Executive Vice President of Basketball Operations Arturas Karnisovas, should be significantly improving its squad in the near future.
With probably two or three of the league’s best defensive players.
Lonzo Ball and Alex Caruso, as well as Patrick Williams and Derrick Jones Jr., are among the Bulls’ injured players. The four key Bulls contributors have been absent due to injuries, but they are expected to return next month.
Which, coupled with sustaining the team’s enthralling chemistry, appears to be one of the key reasons why the Bulls, who made headlines last year’s trade deadline with the purchase of Nikola Vucevic, did not make any deals on Thursday.
“I think it reflects that we like this group,” Karnisovas said Thursday afternoon on a media Zoom conference. “Billy (coach Donovan), obviously, said it all along. We’re just waiting for guys to come back from injuries to get this group together because we had a short sample of 16 games where most of our guys were healthy. That doesn’t include Patrick (injured in October). In those 16 games, we were top five in offense and defense. So we liked what we looked like when everyone was healthy. Hopefully, we’ll get this group back and see what we can do.
“This group has shown we can compete in the Eastern Conference and our record reflects it,” Karnisovas emphasized. “We were taking calls, but basically the mutual feeling with all of our group was, ‘Let’s get our guys back.’ We’re going to have enough time in the regular season to see what this group can do when they’re all healthy. We were pretty busy last trade deadline, we were pretty busy this summer; we made a lot of changes. We’re pretty much looking for continuity. We’re just gonna have to wait a little bit until the guys get healthy and we’ll see what we can do when we come back.”
The Bulls have four home games left before the All-Star break, starting with Friday’s game against Minnesota. All four games are against teams who missed the playoffs the previous season.
After that, Zach LaVine and DeMar DeRozan will travel to Cleveland for the 75th anniversary team All-Star celebration, where rookie Ayo Dosunmo will play in the Rising Stars game, providing he recovers from his concussion. LaVine will also compete in the 3-point shooting event, attempting to make history by being the first player to win both the 3-point shooting and dunk contests.
The Bulls return from the break on February 24 with a tough schedule that includes two long road trips, one to the Western Conference, and a tough schedule against their major Eastern Conference opponents. The team should be receiving back its injured players during two road trips, which begin March 14 in Sacramento and run through the rest of the month.
With the Bulls flirting with the top of the Eastern Conference all season and in the last month even without those guys, Karnisovas and his staff are sure the team can maintain its position and revert to its exceptional defensive play from earlier in the season.
“I think we wanted to see what we would look like when we’re all healthy, and I think that sample size showed we’re pretty good,” said Karnisovas. “Since Dec. 2 we weren’t (healthy). When you lose guys like Alex and Lonzo, guys like Javonte (Green), you don’t have Patrick, there’s a defensive identity that you lose. And that’s where we need to get better for the rest of the year. But until that first week of December, we were in the top five defenses in the league.
“We were happy with the group, our two-ways that come into games, and our roster guys, our off-the-bench guys, they’ve done a tremendous job,” said Karnisovas. “DeMar and Zach, All-Stars this year, which we’re proud of. What they are doing on the floor when they’re healthy, it’s amazing. And, obviously, Vooch is a huge part of that and what we do. He’s averaging 18 and 12. Once we can get Lonzo, Alex, Patrick and Derrick back I think we’re very competitive in the East. There’s a lot of great stories out there, and I think in our success everyone on this roster participated. I’m proud of that roster.”
Which also is not to say he wasn’t looking.
But it was difficult because of all those injuries.
According to the numerous moves made, adding someone of relevance would have required the Bulls to give up a current regular on a limited roster.
However, now that the Bulls are among the top teams in the league, they should be more tempting to players who opt to accept buyouts or are released.
Moore, a former Bull, was recently waived by Orlando after missing the first half of the season due to an early season injury and Orlando’s decision to go with youthful players. He’s a 6-foot-4 guard who knows what he’s doing. Schroder has been linked to the Bulls in rumors and conjecture. On a one-year agreement, he was dealt to the rebuilding Houston Astros. As a point guard scorer, he’d be a valuable acquisition. Josh Richardson, a 6-foot-6 3-point shooter who was acquired by the Spurs, is also expected to be released or bought out.
Guard Goran Dragic is rumored to be on his way to Dallas as part of a buyout deal. Jeremy Lamb, who was part of the Sabonis trade, is another good shooter who could be available. Former Bull Thad Young would be eligible to return to the Bulls if he was released or bought out, which seems doubtful.
Interior players have been mentioned as probable Bulls acquisitions during the season. Tristan Thompson, Paul Millsap, and Enes Freedom are among the players that might be bought out or released.
“My wish list was to get healthy,” said Karnisovas. “That’s the primary reason for us not doing anything. We’ve got a little bit to wait, but I think hopefully when we get all healthy we’re going to have a whole group there and see what we’ve got. (And) when the dust settles after trade deadline, I think we’re going to look at some things. We’ve got four games to go. We need to close that strong and we’ll see what happens.”