The Bulls' nightmare is just beginning
Chicago's off to its worst start since 22-win 2018-19, and the schedule is about to get brutal. PLUS: Draymond Green hits maximal self-unawareness.
Good morning. Let’s basketball.
Time and the Old Women; Francisco Goya; 1820
On Sunday, the Chicago Bulls — losers of three straight and flirting with the Eastern Conference cellar — started their game against the Brooklyn Nets on a 22-3 run. The Bulls led by as many as 21 in the first quarter. Indications were that this was a “get right” game for Chicago: an ointment to soothe the wounds of a season that featured a players’ only meeting on opening night.
Alas, the Bulls trailed the Nets by 10 at halftime. Brooklyn outscored Chicago 44-19 in the second quarter. In the second half, the Nets — the Nets! a perfectly average team at best — had an answer every time the Bulls tried to get back in it, despite Mikal Bridges and Cam Johnson not really having much on offense. The assault came from Lonnie Walker IV, Royce O’Neale and Spencer Dinwiddie.
The Bulls fell to 5-13 on the season. They are already four games out of No. 10. In fact, Chicago is closer to the 2-14 Wizards and Pistons for last place in the conference (two games) than the play-in (four games). This is the Bulls’ worst start over 18 games since 2018-19, when they also started 5-13.
Chicago finished 22-60 that season. That’s the pace the team’s on now.
We’re already a few weeks into the well-reported news that the team and Zach LaVine are mutually open to a trade. LaVine, 28, has three more seasons on his contract paying him about 30% of the team salary. He’s a two-time All-Star who has never come close to making All-NBA, which means he’s probably around the 25th best player in the league at his best. He’s a scorer who has one top-10 scoring title finish in his career. He’s not going to pull a Lillardian haul for the Bulls in a trade. Bradley Beal is the more likely trade comparison here. The Wizards received Chris Paul, some first round pick swap options and some second round picks in that deal over the summer. Near-term pick swap options, for the record, are not particularly valuable to rebuilding teams by their very nature.
DeMar DeRozan and Alex Caruso are being mentioned in the rumor mill, as well, as you would expect if the Bulls indeed tear down this monument to mediocrity. The problem for the Bulls front office is that none of these players are likely to return a blue-chip young player to Chicago, and the team doesn’t have a blue-chip prospect on its roster thanks to the stunted development of Patrick Williams. The Kings aren’t trading Keegan Murray for LaVine. The Lakers aren’t trading Austin Reaves for LaVine and/or DeRozan. The Raptors aren’t trading O.G. Anunoby for any of these players. Who’s the best young player the Bulls could get from the Magic in a LaVine trade? Wendell Carter Jr., perhaps?! (The Bulls traded Carter and picks to Orlando to get Nikola Vucevic. Carter is better than Vucevic when healthy and Vucevic is on a very difficult contract.)
A mood killer in all of this is that trades probably can’t realistically happen until January 15 due to restrictions on when 2023 free agents can be moved. The responsible thing for the Bulls would be to wait until the market is at peak froth, which will be in the lead-up to the trade deadline. Meanwhile, everyone in the building is going to be miserable.
What’s worse is that the schedule is getting tougher. Here are the Bulls’ next 16 opponents:
Celtics, Bucks, Pelicans, Bucks, Nuggets, Heat, Heat, Sixers, Lakers, *~*SPURS*~*, Cavaliers, Hawks, Pacers, Sixers, Sixers, Knicks. There will also be a couple of TBD games next week after the Pelicans’ game as a part of the weird NBA Cup non-participant scheduling stuff.
In any case, the Spurs are the only team among the Bulls’ next 16 known opponents who are currently below .500. Chicago would need a remarkable string of good fortune or a level of strong performance heretofore unseen this season to pull out of this next month within shouting distance of the play-in.
And then the team still has two more weeks until trade season really picks up!
This is an absolute nightmare in Chicago, and we haven’t even started the crescendo to the climax yet.