Tag Archives: Bulls trade rumors

To trade or not to trade: Thad is the question

With 30 games in the rearview and just over 30 days until the trade deadline, it’s a good time to reflect on this Bulls season and think about how Artūras Karnišovas should approach his first trade season as the lead decision maker for a team.

As of this writing, the Bulls’ 14-16 record is good enough for 9th in the bunched up Eastern Conference; they trail the 6th seeded Boston Celtics by a game in the loss column, and have a one game advantage on the 11th place Hawks. They are clearly a cut above the Pistons, Cavaliers, Wizards, and injury plagued Magic. They need to outplay just one of the Hawks, Heat, Knicks, or Hornets to finish within the top ten of the conference and secure a spot in the play-in tournament, which seems likely!

Likely that is, unless Karnišovas decides to trade away Thaddeus Young before the March 25 deadline.

Despite not making a start this year and averaging just 25 minutes per game, Young has been the second most important player on the Bulls after Zach LaVine. Young is second on the team in Win Shares and Box Score plus/minus (if you ignore Cristiano Felicio’s 38 minutes played). The Bulls have a positive net rating of +6.7 points/100 possessions when Thad is on the court, and a -6.8 net rating when he’s on the bench. Of the Bulls five man lineups that have logged at least ten minutes on the court together, Thad is a member of nine of the top ten in net rating.

It seemed like Young’s career was headed into its twilight phase a year ago, miscast as a shooter in Jim Boylen’s unimaginative offense. But with new responsibilities allotted to him by Billy Donovan, Young has proven he has plenty to contribute to winning basketball. Stephen Noh wrote before the season began about how Donovan’s system in OKC allowed Steven Adams and Nerlens Noel to operate from the high post and log assist numbers they hadn’t sniffed under other coaches. While the article’s intent was to hype up potential development in Wendell Carter’s game, the way it’s really manifested itself thus far has been through Young’s playmaking.

Young is averaging 4.3 assists per game, after never averaging more the 2.5 in his previous 13 NBA seasons. He is second on the Bulls in assist percentage at 25.4%, which is more than double what he’s ever finished with for a season. “THADGIC JOHNSON” is the fun thing to tweet this year after a sweet pass for a bucket, but the way Young has taken advantage of disadvantaged defenses should have people calling him Thraymond Green. When teams have tried to trap LaVine and force the ball out of his hands, Young has made them pay by catching near the foul line and picking out cutters and shooters as the Bulls operate with a 4-on-3 advantage.

If the Bulls were to trade Thadeus, not only would they be losing a fulcrum of their offense and one of their better defenders, they would also be forcing inferior players into roles they’ve not shown to be capable of handling. Daniel Gafford didn’t show much promise during his run as starting center while Carter was injured. Billy Donovan exhumed Luke Kornett for a few nights before being swiftly returned to the depths of the bench, where he belongs. Young is the Bulls’ best option at backup center on the roster, and has closed games well at the five even on nights Carter is available, giving the team a small-ball element that’s been sorely lacking in years past. Moving on from Young would shoehorn the Bulls into more traditional lineups who have traditionally put up poor results.

Having Young keeps the Bulls respectable. Solid. Not a joke. Is that really why we invest ourselves in a team? So they can hopefully rise to the ranks of “not that bad, I guess”? Yes, trading Young could cause the bottom to fall out on this season, but would that be the worst thing?

Young certainly has value as a trade target. The 32 year old has just one year left on his contract at $14 million, and could be bought out and waved for just $6 million. A team looking to free up $8 million in cap space could send the Bulls back $14 million worth of bad salary and some draft capitol, enjoy the fruits of his labor for the stretch run and save $8 million on their 2021-22 books.

What would the Brooklyn Nets be willing to part with to add a capable interior presence to their potent offensive group? Could Denver see Young as a serious upgrade over the production they’re getting from JayMychal Green? Does Milwaukee really want to count on Bobby Portis in the postseason?

All of those teams could offer up a mix of second round picks, or possibly a well protected first rounder in the future. Thad isn’t going to fetch a high caliber prospect, but it’s possible a team would be willing to part with somebody young they don’t consider a part of their core. These could be assets used to bulk up the Bulls when they eventually have a chance at contention, a time that will not happen before Young’s value on the court has dramatically diminished. Trading Young before the deadline would also do wonders for the Bulls’ own draft pick this season. Are all of these potential benefits to a trade really worth it to keep the dream of squeaking into the playoffs for the right to be sacrificed in the first round?

A few years ago, I would have emphatically said yes. Winning is a Process, and there are clear steps to follow. But after three years of dreck and drudgery, I’m starting to sing a new tune. I’m actually enjoying Bulls basketball! There is value in not being a dumpster fire, building a competitive culture throughout the organization, and staking out the Bulls as a rising team that appeals to future free agents.

Young’s impact is easily quantifiable on the court, and he seems to be making an equally large one off of it. Is whoever the 48th pick of the 2023 NBA draft going to contribute more than Thad is to the growth of Carter, LaVine and the rest of the young team? I’m skeptical!

The Bulls have a lot of big decisions ahead of them. LaVine’s next contract will be a defining moment for this team, and what the front office thinks of the long term upside of Markkanen, Carter and White are all decisions I’m glad I don’t have to make. But the choice for whether or not to hold onto Thaddeus Young for the remainder of the season looks much simpler.

Taking Advantage of a Bullish Trade Market

One of the hardest things to do in life is self-assessment. We all see ourselves in a positive light. We all have fond, vivid memories of our successes and brush off our shortcomings as blips on the radar that don’t truly represent who we are. Many people live their whole lives in a bubble of false self-perception.

This trait is not just true of individuals. Often times, large groups of people are even more likely to buy into a false sense of success. This truth extends beyond your group of friends and coworkers. It also has some validity in professional sports.

The NBA landscape right now is very interesting on many levels. The traditionally strong Western Conference is in a down year and boasts only seven teams with a winning record. The uncommon weakness in the back half of the playoff race has emboldened several slow-starting teams to continue their playoff push. The Eastern Conference field is stronger than it’s been in memory. 12 of the 15 teams have had successful beginnings to their seasons. Many of them have not enjoyed a playoff run in many, many moons.

Optimism in the NBA is at an all-time high.

Despite all the teams dead set on making a playoff push, any serious NBA fan would tell you that only three have a real chance at winning the championship. The Golden State Warriors, San Antonio Spurs, and Cleveland Cavaliers are in a tier of their own, able to reach heights far beyond the reach of the rest of the potential playoff field, save perhaps Oklahoma City.

The ultimate goal in the NBA is to win a championship. Just making the playoffs is nice, but in a league where more than half of the teams qualify for postseason play, it ultimately is not a memorable achievement.  If any team knows that, it should be the Bulls. Chicago is a city that has been spoiled by ultimate basketball glory and does not look fondly upon second round exits.

Thibs was done in by playoff failures.

While only three teams can be considered serious contenders, there are an inordinate number that are enjoying some of their first success in a long time and/or experiencing ownership pressure to win. What all this means is that the rapidly approaching trade deadline will be much quieter than most years. There will be very few teams next month willing to throw in the towel on the season and sell off any valuable trade pieces to acquire future assets. The rising salary cap and diminished value of expiring contracts will also play a part in what I predict will be a quiet trade season.

And the teams that really stink, the obvious sellers, each have unique quirks that make them unlikely trade partners. Philadelphia, Portland, the Lakers and Timberwolves are each built around young cores without much veteran talent of value on the roster. Brooklyn is convinced they can field a quality team as soon as next season. Milwaukee probably still thinks they’re closer to last year’s surprise success story than the mess they’ve been this season

Sacramento and New Orleans are under pressure to win now and are unlikely to transition to selling mode. The Pelicans should try and move the expiring contracts of Ryan Anderson and Eric Gordon, but with GM Dell Demps unsure of his employment beyond this season, it’s unlikely he makes any trades with an eye towards the future.

Phoenix has some potential trade chips, but their hands are tied until they sort out the messy Markieff Morris situation. Denver’s decision to extend Danillo Gallinari seems brilliant, and is probably the most valuable trade chip should they decide to make moves. But beyond the Suns and Nuggets, no team jumps out as an obvious deadline seller.

Which is exactly why the Bulls need to make a trade.

Bleacher Report’s Ric Bucher is reporting that the notoriously quiet Bulls front office is quietly shopping their big men around the league ahead of the deadline. This news greatly excites me given the circumstances of the entire league.

Look, I’ve definitely enjoyed what I’ve seen from Hoiball in year one. The offense looks alive, and the defense has maintained the characteristics that had been instilled by Tom Thibodeau. The six game win streak was a blast, and Jimmy Butler has solidified himself as a legitimate NBA star and a top three player at his position. But there is no way in hell that this team has the juice to squeeze by the Cavaliers in a seven game series.

I’m not saying the Bulls should “blow it up.” While the current roster is not quite championship caliber, there are certainly players who could be members of the next great Bulls team. Jimmy Butler, Bobby Portis, and Nikola Mirotic (I’m still a believer) are all potential cornerstones of a title contender if the team is able to retool effectively.

Jimmy and Niko are long-term keepers.
Jimmy and Niko are long-term keepers.

Sadly, the same cannot be said about Pau Gasol, Joakim Noah and Taj Gibson. The trio of bigs are all past their prime and are just crowding a front court rotation that should be spending more time focusing on developing younger guys.

This is not to say that Gasol, Gibson and Noah are all worthless, washed up basketball players. Quite the opposite is true. Gasol, defensive shortcomings be damned, is still a dangerous offensive threat and above-average shot blocker. Noah’s athleticism has slipped, but his passing ability and overall creativity on offense will allow him to thrive carrying second unit offenses for years to come. Gibson is 30, but somehow managed to escape Thibodeau’s murder by minutes, and should have some good years left in his legs.

Given the state of the NBA marketplace, the Bulls would be very well served to trade at least one of these three players. With so many teams with a buyers mentality and nowhere to spend their money, the Bulls could bring back far greater returns on their veteran big men than logic would dictate. Moving one of these guys would sting in the short term, but the assets they could bring back could be crucial pieces in Chicago’s seventh championship.

Of the three, Taj Gibson likely has the most value on the trade market. Joakim Noah and Pau Gasol can both hit free agency next season while Taj is under contract for $8 million, far below market value for an average starter in the new salary cap era.

What could the Bulls pry from Toronto in exchange for Taj? The Raptors are a prime example of a team feeling great about themselves right now that also is desperate to advance beyond the first round of the playoffs. Taj Gibson’s skill set is something sorely missing from the Raptors. Toronto is rich with picks and prospects. Would Toronto be willing to part with Lucas Nogueira, Luis Scola, Anthony Bennett and a pick?  What about the Clippers 2017 first round pick? What about their own 2016 pick? What about the Knicks 2016 pick?

That seems like a steep price for a big man with no shooting range clearly past his athletic peak. But in this Bull market, anything can happen. While losing Taj will certainly sting for Bulls fans, the pain will be dampened with the hope that he’s been replaced by building blocks for the future.