The Chicago Bulls’ rebuild continues to limp along despite a bevy of talented youngsters like Zach LaVine present. In all likelihood, the grouping of LaVine, Coby White, Patrick Williams, Wendell Carter Jr., and Lauri Markkanen aren’t all going to be together next season given their respective contract situations and the organization looking to take the next step.
LaVine is a free agent after the 2021-22 NBA season and is one of the most productive guards in the sport; he’s averaging an astounding 27.4 points per game this season. He’s a legitimate candidate to be dealt if the Bulls don’t turn a corner.
In the scenario that he’s made available before the NBA trade deadline, which teams could trade for Zach LaVine?
3. Denver Nuggets
Nuggets receive: Zach LaVine
Bulls receive: Gary Harris, Zeke Nnaji, Nuggets’ 2021 first-round draft pick, and Nuggets’ 2024 first-round draft pick
It has become a frequent occurrence in the NBA to see a contender push for a third star or alpha-dog player (the Brooklyn Nets recently acquired James Harden to team up with Kevin Durant and Kyrie Irving). LaVine would be the Nuggets’ third prolific player.
Now, LaVine would have the ball in his hands a little less with the Nuggets offense revolving around Nikola Jokic and Jamal Murray. However, such a role change could make LaVine even more dangerous. He would play off the ball more, have more open looks from distance (LaVine is a career 37.6 percent shooter from beyond the arc), and would serve as the Nuggets’ third source of offense. Heck, he could come off the bench and provide a scoring jolt.
You can’t have enough star power and depth in the Western Conference. Even though the Nuggets are already a contender to win the NBA Finals, LaVine would make their offense more dynamic. You wouldn’t be able to squarely focus on any one player because there would be four legitimate scorers both off the dribble and from distance (Jokic, Murray, LaVine, and Michael Porter Jr.).
From Chicago’s perspective, Coby White would get the keys to their offense, Patrick Williams becomes a larger part of said operation, and Gary Harris would have the chance to get his career back on track in a substantial role (Harris has been hit by injuries recently and fell down the offensive totem pole). In doing so, they corral a talented young big man in Nnaji and a pair of first rounders.
2. Houston Rockets
Rockets receive: Zach LaVine
Bulls receive: Victor Oladipo, Rockets’ 2021 second-round draft pick, and Milwaukee Bucks’ 2022 first-round draft pick
There are reports that Oladipo wants out of Houston after landing there in the complex four-team trade that sent Harden to Brooklyn. The Rockets and Bulls guard-swapping could be worthwhile for both sides.
The Rockets are in a state of flux. Rebuild, retool, or contend? It’s a loaded question. The fact is the Rockets are 4-9. They also have a grouping of veterans who may be moved in the near future (P.J. Tucker and Eric Gordon). LaVine would be a player they can attempt to go forward within either of the three aforementioned road courses.
The UCLA product can do it all with the ball in his hands. He sticks outside jump shots at a high rate, gets to the rim off the dribble with ease, and plays with infectious energy. It’s not fully known if John Wall is a permanent piece to the puzzle for the Rockets or if he was just supposed to play alongside Harden had the latter not been traded. Who’s to say that LaVine wouldn’t be head coach Stephen Silas’ opening night floor general next season?
Meanwhile, the Bulls can experiment with a White-Oladipo backcourt. A healthy Oladipo, which he has been this season, is a borderline elite player. He’s a capable go-to scorer and a superb defender. The Bulls can experiment with Oladipo as a rotation mainstay for the rest of the season. If they like what they see, Chicago can re-sign him at the season’s end. If matters go south, the two sides can go their separate ways.
1. Indiana Pacers
Pacers receive: Zach LaVine
Bulls receive: Malcolm Brogdon and Pacers’ 2022 first-round draft pick
There was optimism in Indiana a month ago. Now everything is in shambles. T.J. Warren is out indefinitely with a foot injury, Myles Turner is nursing a hand injury, and Oladipo was traded for Caris LeVert, who has an unfortunate kidney issue. In short: it’s a competitive but murky road forward for the Pacers, and LaVine would be a compelling addition to their backcourt.
Head coach Nate Bjorkgren has transformed the Pacers, a team with continuity, from a defensive-minded, halfcourt team to an upbeat scoring team. Indiana went into Wednesday averaging 112.9 points on 90.0 shot attempts per game. Last season, they averaged 109.4 points on 88.5 shot attempts per game. LaVine is an ideal fit for a vibrant offense.
At full strength, a LaVine-LeVert backcourt with Warren, Domantas Sabonis, and Turner starting on the frontcourt is a well-rounded, starting five that complements itself well and is under contract through at least next season. In making this trade they open up payroll flexibility as LaVine is a free agent after next season, whereas Brogdon hits the open market after the 2022-23 NBA season.
The Bulls would get a versatile player in Brogdon. He’s a career 39.0 percent shooter from beyond the arc, can create his shot, and is a respectable defender. Brogdon can play off the ball while White runs the show and everyone plays to their strengths. The Bulls get a player who fits their rotation and allows others to grow into more productive contributors while boosting their draft capital.