More than any other season during executive vice president of basketball operations Artūras Karnišovas’ tenure with the Chicago Bulls, this one has been dominated by breathless expectations of the Feb. 8 trade deadline.
Nine weeks have passed since Zach LaVine first made it clear he’s open to a trade. Yet less than four weeks until this trade window closes, the Bulls appear no closer to a blockbuster deal involving the two-time All-Star guard.
Could that finally change in the upcoming weeks? That’s up to the Bulls — and up to front offices across the league.
ESPN’s Brian Windhorst was the latest to deliver a damning blow to LaVine’s trade prospects, saying on “NBA Today” there is a “zero percent chance” the Los Angeles Lakers would trade for LaVine and his maximum contract.
“If (the Bulls) could trade Zach LaVine in the next five minutes, they would trade him and Zach would happily go to the airport,” Windhorst said. “I don’t think anything has changed there. I think they absolutely want to trade him.”
Here are four key questions that will define the next four weeks for the Bulls.
1. Could Zach LaVine remain a Bull?
It’s a simple question and a simple answer. There’s a very real chance LaVine will remain in Chicago after the trade deadline. Why? There are a few factors.
First, the Bulls can’t trade LaVine if there isn’t a market for him. This has been the hurdle since LaVine made it known in November he wanted out of Chicago. For two months, the Bulls have been unsuccessful in finding a trade partner despite consistent rumblings about interest from the Lakers.
LaVine is too valuable — both in on-court contributions and salary size — for the Bulls to move him if they feel an offer isn’t appropriate. And that means the front office is somewhat stuck until it gets an offer that meets its expectations.
Second, the mood in Chicago never has been as contentious as the facts of the situation might appear. Yes, LaVine has pushed for a trade and, yes, the Bulls have been looking. But LaVine remains attentive to his teammates and willing to work within the system that has been more successful recently.
As that persists, the situation has not become toxic within the Bulls locker room. That combination increases the front office’s willingness to wait until the next trade window.
Not moving LaVine now wouldn’t necessarily be a disaster — and wouldn’t mean he will play out the remaining 3.5 seasons on his contract in Chicago. The offseason offers a more reasonable time for the Bulls to shop LaVine to every team in the league when teams have more flexibility. In-season decision-making is often limited, especially for teams that don’t want to shake up their rosters too much this close to the playoffs.
And with LaVine continuing to find his footing in the Bulls offense, he might make a stronger impression on front offices between February and April (or beyond).
2. Would Nikola Vučević make sense in a trade with the Golden State Warriors?
For context: Reports emerged last week that the Warriors are interested in an offensive-minded 7-footer to help realign the roster around Stephen Curry. Although players such as the Toronto Raptors’ Pascal Siakam have been more prominent in this trade chatter, Vučević's name has consistently come up as a potential target.
Again, a simple answer for the Bulls here: no.
The Bulls can’t last in the long term without Vučević. That became incredibly clear during his short injury absence. Andre Drummond can plug in as a backup and produce a multitude of rebounds, but he isn’t adaptable enough to be a full-time starter.
Vučević isn’t just a consistent scorer who boosts the offense on off nights for LaVine and DeMar DeRozan. He also facilitates the offense in the high-distribution system that has helped the team dig out of its 5-14 start to the season. And the Bulls are too small of a team to get by with only one big man.
If the Bulls want to move on from Vučević, that’s an offseason problem to solve. But both sides appear satisfied with the current situation, giving this trade idea little traction.
3. Should the Bulls pick up the phone on Alex Caruso?
This question will persist as long as Caruso is on the Bulls roster, regardless of how well they are playing.
The bottom line is Caruso is a winning player whom teams always will be interested in adding to prepare for a playoff push. But the Bulls have made it clear they’re not taking any offers for Caruso this season.
That appears unlikely to change. If trade offers for LaVine aren’t emerging, it might make sense for the Bulls to begin floating other tempting pieces such as Caruso to see what value they can find. And the front office might take a more serious look at those offers next season, especially if it’s concerned about re-signing Caruso in the final year of his contract.
For now, picking up the phone is likely the most the Bulls would do with Caruso.
4. What constitutes a successful trade window for the Bulls?
Let’s zoom out and look at the big picture.
This is Karnišovas’ fourth trade deadline in Chicago. He took a major swing in his first window in 2021 to acquire Vučević, then brought in DeRozan, Caruso and Lonzo Ball in the ensuing offseason. Since then the Bulls have been one of the quietest teams on the market, standing pat at the last two trade deadlines.
The Bulls needed time to tell if the combination of players they assembled worked together. And they got an answer: one playoff win and one losing season with another potentially on the way. Even a dramatic course correction this season is unlikely to lift the Bulls out of the play-in tier, a middling position that accurately reflects this group’s ceiling.
All three of the team’s top players — DeRozan, LaVine and Vučević — entered this season aware that if things didn’t change, the core would get broken up. With a 19-22 record at the halfway point of the season, it’s clear this dissolution is impending. And as the Bulls begin to move pieces, the front office will more and more resemble a juggler attempting to keep an array of mismatched objects in the air.
DeRozan is another factor in this balancing act. The Bulls haven’t signed him to an extension. If they don’t sign him to a new deal or trade him while he’s still under contract, they risk letting a valuable veteran walk for free this summer. So this trade deadline needs to address this issue — either move DeRozan or make a move that would help him feel confident in a decision to stay.
Movement is not an automatic indicator of success. But for the first time in three years, inaction at the deadline seems truly untenable for the Bulls front office.