In what feels like the blink of an eye, the NBA has officially reached the quarter-mark of the shortened 72-game season. It’s been a whirlwind year thus far, keeping in line with the Association’s reputation as the greatest soap opera on television. Did I apply that title myself? Yes. Am I wrong? Coming from a completely impartial viewpoint, one of the most intriguing storylines is the Chicago Bulls (8-11, 9th in the Eastern Conference). Despite having one of the youngest starting lineups in the league, the Bulls have an exciting, fast-paced offense (second-highest pace in the NBA) and score buckets like it’s quite literally their job, putting up the fifth-most team points per game (115.4). Leading Chicago to the brink of a playoff spot is Zach LaVine, the explosive shooting guard carving out his certified star status. LaVine has seen his name appear as a potential All-Star, but also emerge in trade rumors. As Chicago eyes a trip to the postseason, LaVine must remain untouchable should the front office opt to retool the roster.
Since 2011, the Bulls have had five players selected to the All-Star game: Derrick Rose (2011), Joakim Noah (2012-13), Luol Deng (2012-13), Pau Gasol (2015-16), and Jimmy Butler (2015-17). It’s been a drought for the franchise, but LaVine is making a strong case to be chosen this year. Through 19 games, LaVine is averaging 26.6 points (51.0/41.9/88.1), 5.3 rebounds, 5.1 assists, 1.3 steals, and 0.6 blocks in nearly 36 minutes a night. He’s putting up career-highs in every category (except steals) and sits on the brink of the 50-40-90 club. LaVine has shined under head coach Billy Donovan, known for his ability to develop young talent. It’s clear that LaVine is bought-in; it shows in his leadership. LaVine’s smarter playmaking and increased defensive effort have made it clear that he’s not just a volume scorer on a lottery team; he’s a well-rounded bucket machine on a much improved Bulls squad. Try saying LaVine isn’t one of the most fun players to watch right now. I dare you.
This isn’t the first time during his Bulls tenure that LaVine has popped up in trade rumors, but it makes less sense than ever. It honestly never really has. LaVine isn’t a free agent until 2022 and has a team-friendly deal at $20 million per year. Yes, he’ll request max money for his next deal, but he’s playing like a max player. LaVine has established himself as the face of the franchise for the foreseeable feature, and with the upcoming free agent classes looking thin, it makes the most sense to develop the current core and add valuable veterans. If the Bulls were to look into trading LaVine, they’d need to get an All-Star caliber player in return; it’d be nonsensical to receive a bevy of picks and go through the draft. Not that I believe AK and Marc Eversley are actually going to shop LaVine; I just need to fulfill my self-righteousness and scream my opinion into the void.
The reported suitors are the New York Knicks and Brooklyn Nets. Both teams are looking to compete (albeit for different positions) in the Eastern Conference and the acquisition of LaVine would provide a boost to both lineups. What does it do for the Bulls, though? Make them worse and force another rebuild? The Nets cleared house in the James Harden trade, sending Caris LeVert to the Pacers, Jarrett Allen to the Cavs, and seven first-round picks to the Rockets. If KD, Kyrie, or Harden are being offered in a swap, sure, pull the trigger; but there isn’t one realistic package that would entice Chicago to trade LaVine to Brooklyn.
While the Knicks have significantly more young assets and picks at their disposal, there aren’t any combinations that would be enough for LaVine. A trade featuring Lauri Markkanen or Wendell Carter Jr. for Mitchell Robinson is more logical, but even that feels like a stretch. There’s no reason why the Bulls would try to get RJ Barrett, Kevin Knox, and a couple first-rounders, plus the Knicks are also competing for a playoff spot, so post-lottery picks do nothing but get the phone hung up.
The new front office regime has done nothing to imply that they’re anything but the real deal. Rookie forward Patrick Williams has proven to be the perfect addition to the developing core, and Garrett Temple has been a positive veteran presence on both ends of the floor. There’s uncertainty around Lauri Markkanen’s future after a contract extension couldn’t be agreed to, but there remains hope that a deal can get worked out; he’s also a restricted free agent. He’s been hooping lately; I’m in on Lauri. All signs point to LaVine staying with the Bulls past his current contract, as he should. He’s deserving of an All-Star selection and is flourishing as the Bulls' number-one option. LaVine’s explosiveness and ability to become a spark plug in clutch moments has made him a must-watch player as he evolves into one of the greatest bucket-getters in the world’s greatest basketball league. It’s simple: if LaVine is for some god-forsaken reason traded, we riot. See Red.