Yet another email chain was created between Mark and Morten who decided to look at the roster in an honest light, which saddened both a smidge. The name Kevin Durant also popped up in their conversation, albeit briefly.
Mark: A topic that you and I routinely find ourselves discussing is trades, transactions and roster construction. This could be based on a variety of reasons; hypotheticals can be fun, this offseason has been extremely long and boring, and due to the logjam at the forward positions, trades seem like an obvious solution. Maybe too obvious?
You know where I stand on team building for this current iteration of Bulls players - pick a lane at some point this season, be it a go-for-it approach or consolidating for the future wave, preferably the latter.
I’m interested to hear what you think, so let’s hash this thing out.
If you’re like me, you don’t think we have enough to truly challenge the NBA's elite. The roster is imbalanced and needs work. Trades are more than just speculative fun for fans, it’s also requirement for this team, no matter which avenue of team building we should explore. But, if winning is the ultimate goal, are there any viable and logical trading options for Chicago that may present themselves this season that not only help to tick over wins, but potentially improve this team enough to true contender status?
Let’s start with who will be, or perhaps more importantly, who should be on the block for the Bulls.
Morten: It is an interesting topic for sure, and I certainly agree that trades in general should be more than hypotheticals for the Bulls.
That said, I also agree with the logic you presented in our first podcast, which was not trading for the sake of trading. There needs to be some underlining logic to the whole thing, and as such I'd currently be interested in, primarily, making deals for the future. My reasoning for that is based on some sad truth, however. Under normal circumstances, and with a 35-year old Pau Gasol on the team, I'd prefer to swing big for a second tier guy and see how far the Bulls could go. Someone like Rudy Gay whom I wrote about some time ago. But those kind of deals just aren't out there. And if they are, there's no way anyone would settle for some of Chicago's youth, and Taj Gibson.
And from the Bulls' side, there's no logic in making a trade that'd require them to give up a huge chunk of the established talent.
But to answer your question, I think two guys need to be on the block, but not at the same time. Because you need to hang onto one of them. And that's Pau Gasol and Taj Gibson. Those names mean something different, however. Gasol should only be traded for whatever youth you can get for him, and Gibson should be sent off in a deal that help the Bulls immediately.
Why? Because trading Taj for youth would further negate the need for Pau, just like trading Pau for veteran help would be completely redundant. Pau, warts and all, is the best sort of veteran there is in the first place.
Mark: Gasol and Gibson certainly seem the likely candidates for trade. Both are on quality contracts, have worth around the league and clearly would bring value to a team. They would be sought after, but the logical question is, who goes on the block first?
Pau just went Genghis Khan on any team he faced in the EuroBasket. The big Spaniard was truly dominant, averaging 25.6 points per game and 8.8 rebounds per game through the tournament. Even against inferior talent, those are quality numbers, particularly when you consider that the weakened Spanish outfit needed the 35-year old to carry the load.
Has his perceived value increased, decreased or remained stagnant? Would the Bulls even be interested in moving him after such an encouraging display?
As you note, if you're dealing Pau, you do so for youth. Though that may be the plan, one which I would support, are teams going to give up a quality young piece for someone who is closer to a mid-life crisis than his prime? Probably not.
You then have Taj Gibson, whose offseason couldn't be more different. Currently in rehabilitation mode following ankle surgery, questions remain how long it will take the 30-year old forward to reach peak form. Clearly a difference maker defensively, he has great value in guarding pick-and-roll, something every quality defense requires, but will teams be interested in dealing for him before seeing how he has recovered?
Morten: In our latest podcast, you mentioned how the Bulls have gone from gathering defensive guys, to actually being a group of offensive-minded players. Because of that, you shop Pau first. If you shop Taj, and get a good offer for him value-wise, but the player in question is a scorer, you really lose out on a lot defensively. One could make the argument that these Bulls are offensively skilled to the point where removing Gasol from the equation might not have a big effect. So if you trade him for a youthful perimeter defender, it might actually help bring balance to the force (sorry).
As for what the Bulls think, I'm not sure. On one hand, I could totally see them going "Hey, Pau just did this at EuroBasket, and since we're going for it, let's keep him" - Because I genuinely believe the Bulls believe they're good enough to go for it, even thought I have serious doubts about belief. On the other hand, maybe you're lucky enough to get that one phonecall that makes you go "Well shit, this offer at least needs to be discussed", which is the phonecall I'm hoping Gar receives within the next few days.
Mark: Youthful, perimeter defender for Pau. Isn't that Doug McDermott's pending role...?
Are these guys in existence, let alone available? I love the idea, but sadly, I'm not sure that is a sellers market at this point. For this reason, to me, the only real value for Gasol that we can likely hope for is for future considerations such as a late 1st rounder. That's the best I've got. Welp.
This, to me, is why Taj is more expendable. He isn't as old, will have more good years in front of him than Pau as well as his replacement already being on the roster. Power forward is a deep position in this league, but teams can always upgrade in that area, be it as a starter or reserve - enter Phoenix.
How long do they keep up this charade of retaining Markieff Morris? He is gone. He has to be. If it plays out this way, which it will, they will need a PF. They have young wings who I'd love to get my hands on, though they won't be silly enough to move any of them for Taj. Those young wings need development time and P.J. Tucker is in their way.
Chicago need a defensive, ready-made role playing wing for depth. The Suns will require a power forward. Too good to be true, right?
Morten: They are in existence, but not likely available no. I absolutely love the idea of Marcus Smart on the Bulls, but Boston absolutely loves the idea of him not coming to the Bulls, so that's a non-starter. That said, I'd take a late first for Gasol since I deem it fairly obvious that the Bulls aren't this elite team that'll challenge for the title. I hate saying that mind you, but that's where I'm at. As such, there's really no point in having Pau around and I'd thus prefer to send him elsewhere for something.
Taj is more expendable if you look at the depth charts, and deem the Pau-for-youth idea impossible. Which I won't disagree with. Niko is not just Taj's replacement, but eventually Gasol or Noah's, depending on where you see them play. He should be the power forward of the future, even if there are some mild concerns about him from my end in regards to consistency. And since you're name dropping Phoenix and P.J. Tucker, I can't help but nod along. Good lord that'd bring some roster stability, wouldn't it?
'Kieff is gone. So gone. And maybe even out of the league in a few years. Taj would absolutely be of interest to Phoenix. Of that, I have little doubt.
The deal here is Taj for Tucker, and Jon Leuer. That works. Let's look at that roster for the Bulls:
Bigs: Noah, Gasol, Mirotic, Portis, Leuer, Bairstow
Wings: Butler, Tucker, Dunleavy, McDermott, Snell
Smalls: Rose, Brooks, Moore, Hinrich
You'd have to waive Leuer or Crawford to make that work, so I chose Crawford since he's unguaranteed and because you can't stand his game. But that's a helluva lot better than having an overloaded bigs section. If you could then move a big like Bairstow for a point guard, I wouldn't hate it.
Mark: If you have any ambitions of being a General Manager, waiving Jordan Crawford is a terrific start. I congratulate you on this achievement.
Your second great move as a GM would be drafting Bobby Portis, something I know you would have done if in that position. Amidst my anguish of seeing both Jerian Grant and Delon Wright being chosen right before pick #22, I hadn't even realised Portis was still on the board. I knew you were a fan of him, and frankly, you've convinced me as well. I'm not sure if he will be ready for 20 minutes a night from the get go, but by seasons end? Sure, it's possible. This is great, but obviously further compounds the forward rotation.
This is why I like a deal centered around Gibson and Tucker. Both are of similar age. Both bring intensity and a defensive identity, obviously from different positions. It shuffles the decks and eases the burden on coach Hoiberg. Those are positives. The obvious downside is that this type of deal doesn't really shift the needle, does it?
Do any reasonable deals make the Bulls a contender, or is internal growth and development of guys like Portis, Snell & McDermott our only true way of taking the next step past LeBron & Co?
Morten: I knew you'd like the Crawford cut.
I'm glad you brought up Bobby Portis, because I have a severe case of man love going on for him. I also run a podcast in Danish, and I spoke my co-host's ear off in the months leading up to the draft about Portis and how I think he's a hidden gem. Seeing him fall into the Bulls' lap at #22 was absolutely mind-blowing, and I wouldn't hate starting that project a year sooner. His intensity, skill set, ability to play both ends.. I honestly do think he's capable of playing 20-24 minutes right off the bat. I'm quite excited to see what he can do on the next level, especially since his game really has no clear weakness. He's not elite at anything yet either, but I'll take that trade-off for a 20-year old who seems to have ironed out his mistakes and is generally problem-free on the court. The fact that he can shoot a bit, post up a bit, defend a bit, rebound a bit, dribble a bit, pass a bit, and set pretty good screens convinces me that he actually is ready for a fairly big minute amount already.
You're right that Taj for P.J. doesn't move the needle much, but at this point I'm all up for giving Niko and Portis development minutes. With Tucker on board this will be achieved. You also avoid another year of Dunleavy averaging 30+ minutes, and you can bring McDermott along nice and slowly in whatever speed suits him, and coach Hoiberg.
You asked a very sad question, because the answer to both parts of that question is no. There is no deal that would make the Bulls surpass the Cavs, nor is the young talent on the roster good enough to get past them. Quite simply, the Bulls need another star, and preferably one they pick up via free agency or in the draft. They can't afford to give up multiple assets at this point for marginal talent. The two-parted question we should be asking here is: Can Derrick Rose at least return to a similar level as before, and can Jimmy Butler take the step from being a star, to becoming a superstar?
I personally don't think either scenario is plausible, but if they were to happen, then the Bulls would suddenly look really, really good. Contender good.
Mark: The more we delve into this, the more apparent it becomes that a great solution via trade is not really plausible, even if it's the quickest way to potentially improve in-season. Sadly, I agree about our young talent as well. They're not ready right now. They're not known commodities at this point, but is anyone really betting on Snell or McDermott becoming quality, borderline All-Stars?
So, we need another star. Acquiring one through free agency is going to be extremely difficult. That said, is it too early to employ a marketing production company to fire up some banners and artwork for Kevin Durant?
Yeah, I went there. I shouldn't have. I'm sorry.
Realistically, the next star-level player the Bulls will get their hands on is one they already have - Nikola Mirotic. Banking on him becoming an All-Star talent is more likely than acquiring one through free agency, particularly with the cap exploding and incumbent teams having the extra year and millions to spend.
If that doesn't happen, then holding out hope for Derrick Rose is the alternative, which frankly, is running out of time.
Could we have an unexpected trade, similar to the Deng trade in 2013-14?
The obvious candidate is Joakim Noah. Like Deng, he will be a free agent who will want to lock up one last deal. The front office will look for a team-friendly extension during the season, though I'm not sure if that makes sense for the player. If a stalemate occurs, could he be moved for expiring contracts that open up cap space?
Morten: If McDermott or Snell become an All-Star, most of the Bulls' problems go away, but betting on the likelihood of that happening is like me going to a random Ohio bar and walking out with both Jessica Alba and Salma Hayek an hour later. What's extra concerning is that after this upcoming season, Snell is eligible for an extension. If he has another one of those now-you-se-me-now-you-don't seasons, what the hell is his price tag? You'd even feel somewhat concerned if he followed that up with a stronger year four, given that it'd reek of contract year syndrome. His inconsistency is extremely worrying.
As for Doug, well he at least has the potential to become a decent scoring starter down the road, which I won't complain about, but All-Star? I think I speak for both of us when I say not bloody likely. I'd be satisfied with him becoming a borderline starter who can score the ball effectively. If he tops out as a 15 points on good efficiency in 28 minutes per night type of guy, I'm all right with that. But even that, right now at least, seems like quite the challenge.
I'm glad you went there instead of me. We had a standoff here on not mentioning Durant, and you blinked. But at least I understand the blink. Because hell, it's Kevin freaking Durant. He'd instantly solve everything, and given the very open spot at the three, he fits like a glove. Oh sweet ghost of Jordan, could you imagine him in Fred Hoiberg's fast-paced schemes that relies on quick cuts and slipped screens?
... But it's not happening. While it makes all the sense in the world for the Bulls, Durant could actually go to the Golden State Warriors (let that thought sit with you for a while), and when you have that alternative, why would you even consider the Bulls? What can they offer that Golden State cannot? Being in an easier conference? That's about it really.
We both hope Niko breaks out big time. We discussed him the other day, and his on/off tendencies are slightly worrying, but that doesn't take away from his potential, which is frankly enormous. A 6'10 power forward who can drain three's, take people off the dribble, get to the line, and even make the occasional post hoop? That's honestly some elite scoring potential that lies in that young man. If he puts it all together, he could be a 20+ point scorer, and possibly even a mid-20's scorer. But again, it's asking a lot.
"The Derrick Rose Alternative". At this point it should be a title and not an argument.
Solid point on Joakim, and yes I could easily see him being dealt, especially if he has another weak season. Now, should he on the other hand regain some of his touch and look 70% of the player he used to be, then it comes down to finding a deal that makes sense for both parties, like $9 million annually for three years, with the third year non-guaranteed. But if he's dealt, it needn't be for expiring deals, as he is one himself. Trading Noah should be for whatever scraps you could get, and here I'm of course saying that under the premise that he flames out entirely, which I honestly don't think will happen.
Mark: I'm sorry, I didn't read much of that. I got hung up on the thought of Jessica Alba and Salma Hayek.
From what I did pick up, it's clear that improving this team for contention this season seems like a difficult task. Realigning the roster via a quick fix trade is not going to happen. You can't rush the process. Try explaining that to the fan base, though. They remain restless and uneasy, tired of consistently being the Jester to the East's self anointed King.
If a trade were to transpire, be it Gasol for a pick, Gibson for a defensive wing, or something more lateral, like moving Noah ahead of schedule, the shift will ultimately not fix 'the now'. This stark reality needs to be expected.
We must bank on internal growth and redemption of fallen stars. That in itself is a scary thought given the limited control the team can possibly have on these outcomes, but that is our best chance at this point.
Let's see how this thing plays out, but here is to another year of praying the old Derrick Rose returns to save us all.