After a nine-game win streak that spanned the end of December and the beginning of January, the Bulls stood at 26-10 and held the No. 1 seed in the East. But a swarm of injuries has made things immensely difficult. Chicago has won just seven of its last 18 games. The Bulls are now tied for third in the East and are only 4.0 games in front of the No. 8 seed.
With one day until the deadline, how will Chicago proceed? Will backcourt injuries force their hand, or will they look for defensive-minded wings and frontcourt assets?
Let’s take a closer look at the Bulls’ roster needs. But first, we must assess their cap situation
Do the Bulls have financial flexibility at the NBA trade deadline?
For most NBA teams, the capacity to make trades at the deadline directly relates to cap space and the luxury-tax threshold. It’s also about the tradable contracts on the roster.
The Bulls face some of these same issues.
According to Spotrac, Chicago is just under $3 million below the tax ceiling. It can’t take on big salaries without matching or attempting to match.
Other considerations exist. Star wing Zach LaVine hits unrestricted free agency this summer. The Bulls are likely to throw a max his way, and LaVine hinted during the offseason that he preferred to stay in the Windy City. But it could cost Chicago a pretty penny.
LaVine is eligible for a $235 supermax extension with the Bulls if he makes an All-NBA team. That’s not out of the realm of possibility, considering he is averaging close to a 25-5-5 line on terrific efficiency.
Regardless, LaVine’s upcoming free agency and the limited space Chicago has means the Bulls likely have to negotiate the margins. They have some expiring contracts in Derrick Jones Jr., Troy Brown Jr., and Matt Thomas, but none of those guys are likely to net anything substantial.
Injuries to Lonzo Ball and Alex Caruso leave the backcourt depleted
Bulls head coach Billy Donovan’s tendency to run small-ball lineups and Chicago’s lack of size has often resulted in LaVine playing small forward and DeMar DeRozan starting at power forward.
Thus, the injuries to Ball and Caruso shrink the team’s backcourt depth.
Ball remains sidelined with a meniscus injury, while Caruso is recovering from a fractured wrist sustained after a controversial foul by Milwaukee Bucks guard Grayson Allen. Their absences have had significant ramifications for the Bulls.
Without its top defensive stoppers, Chicago ranks last in defensive rating in the last 15 games. Ayo Dosunmu and Coby White have had to play significant minutes in their stead. Dosunmu has shown flashes as a playmaker and on-ball defender and is arguably the steal of the 2021 NBA Draft, but he’s still been prone to rookie errors. White gives the Bulls scoring off the bench, but he’s a lackluster defender and inconsistent volume scorer.
Will Chicago choose to bolster the backcourt before the NBA trade deadline? Matt Moore of the Action Network reported the Bulls made an offer for Boston Celtics guard Dennis Schroder. However, while Schroder could provide bench scoring, he does nothing to fix the team’s defensive issues.
Although guard depth is a concern, it’s more likely the Bulls pursue defensive-minded wings or frontcourt players.
Chicago needs size and defense
The Bulls have minimal size on the roster. Moreover, the size they do have presents flaws.
Nikola Vucevic has defensive limitations, especially in pick-and-roll. Tony Bradley gives Chicago a different defensive look, but he has no offensive game. Neither can fully compensate for the rebounding woes, as the Bulls rank 27th in the NBA in that category.
Additionally, injuries to Patrick Williams — who might return before the end of the season — and Derrick Jones Jr. leave Chicago feeling hurt in the frontcourt, as well. Thus, the Bulls could add depth at the forward or center spots before the NBA trade deadline.
The front office has been busy on this front, as well. Marc Stein (h/t Substack) reported that Chicago made an offer for San Antonio Spurs big man Jakob Poeltl, an excellent interior defender and rim-roller who perfectly suits the Bulls’ roster on both ends. However, the Spurs rejected Chicago’s offer.
There are still options for the Bulls. They could make a run at Sacramento Kings big man Richaun Holmes. Chicago might also try to acquire wing players who can remedy defensive issues while playing either forward spot. Robert Covington comes to mind, if the Los Angeles Clippers felt inclined to trade his expiring contract after they acquired him from the Portland Trail Blazers last week.
In any event, acquiring a versatile wing or big is probably priority No. 1 for the Bulls at the NBA trade deadline. That said, it’s unlikely Chicago does anything splashy.
Stats courtesy of Basketball Reference unless otherwise noted.