The Los Angeles Clippers have reportedly paused their pursuit of James Harden. The likeliest team to step up and trade for the Philadelphia 76ers star, at least according to Vegas? The Chicago Bulls, who Bovada lists at +300 odds to be Harden's next team after the February 8th trade deadline if he's not still stranded with the Sixers or doesn't get wish to be moved to the Clippers.
Next up after the Bulls come the Houston Rockets at +350, New York Knicks at +400 and Miami Heat at +500. No other team has better than the Dallas Mavericks' +700 odds to employ Harden after the trade deadline should he playing for anyone other than the Sixers or Clippers.
How would James Harden fit with the Bulls?
Chicago didn't exactly get off the 2023-24 season off to a banner start on opening night, falling to the Oklahoma City Thunder 124-104 at United Center. Even that blowout final score doesn't accurately portray just how sorely the Bulls were out-classed by the upstart Thunder.
Billy Donovan shocked reporters after the game, acknowledging he was barred from the locker room as his veteran team engaged in a players-only meeting not even three hours after the regular season tipped off. Zach LaVine eventually made his way to the postgame podium, calling out Chicago's lack of “heart.” DeMar DeRozan doubled down on that take on Thursday, noting the Bulls effort could've been “a lot better” and it insisting would be when they take the floor again on Friday against the Toronto Raptors.
Would Chicago's shockingly early imbroglio be fixed by adding a player of Harden's persona? That's a rhetorical question, but the Bulls' present and future state of affairs is so dim it wouldn't be totally shocking if the front office made one more win-now move before finally blowing up this team's doomed veteran core.
The issue, of course, is there's no guarantee Chicago would be any better with Harden in tow. As much as the Bulls could use a major dose of dynamic playmaking, there are already diminishing returns to an offense led by LaVine, DeRozan and Nikola Vucevic, all of whom like to operate with the ball in their hands. Harden is an especially questionable fit with DeRozan given the latter's reluctance to shoot threes, not to mention the former's lack of comfort spotting up beyond the arc for catch-and-shoot long balls.
Just as importantly, Harden's acquisition would only further compound problems Chicago's starters have containing the ball defensively—especially if Patrick Williams was sent to Philadelphia as the centerpiece of a potential trade. Harden has been best in a switching scheme since the earliest years of his career, and the Bulls just don't have the personnel to deploy that type of coverage regularly. Don't forget that Williams, Alex Caruso and a bench of defense-first players helped Chicago to basketball's fifth-best defensive rating last season, either.
The Bulls always seemed likely to come back to earth a bit defensively in 2023-24. If they take an even bigger step back on that side of the ball by bringing in Harden, it could only be harder for Donovan's team to manage the type of two-way effectiveness that would vault toward contention for a top-four seed in the Eastern Conference.
It's never been more obvious that Chicago needs serious change. Any notion that upheaval should come in the form of a Harden trade, though, ignores thorny on-court realities for the hollow, surface-level optimism of the Bulls' widespread questions being answered by adding another star.