HoopsHype’s Michael Scotto and NBC Sports Chicago’s KC Johnson preview what’s next for the Chicago Bulls heading into the trade deadline, including the futures of Zach LaVine, Nikola Vucevic, DeMar DeRozan, and much more on the latest HoopsHype podcast episode.
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1:20 Zach LaVine’s relationship with Billy Donovan and trade talk
Scotto: Ever since Billy Donovan benched him that game in Orlando earlier this year, I heard they spoke, and then things were better after that. It seemed like that situation was resolved. They’ve been using him more. He looks healthier, and he’s playing better. What’s the dynamic right now between Zach LaVine and Donovan?
Johnson: I’d answer that in a couple of ways. LaVine is a prideful person and a very confident competitor. That episode (getting benched in Orlando) stung him deeply. As you mentioned, he and Donovan did meet to talk about it. It was respectful in the sense that Zach made his feelings known very clearly to Donovan how much that stung him. He felt that, in his words, a player of his stature has earned the right to play through a bad shooting night. Billy explained it went beyond the shots and him not playing to the standard Donovan and his coaches were desiring. They both were privately and publicly strong-willed about it. They both explained themselves ad nauseam to us.
Zach doesn’t forget things like that. It doesn’t mean he shows up every day angry at Donovan or anything like that, but he had a high-profile incident with the previous head coach, Jim Boylen, where he was also pulled from a game in the first quarter of a home loss to Miami way back when. Those things sting Zach. He feels like he’s being singled out a little bit.
LaVine and Donovan are two of the more professional people I’ve been around. They come to work every day and try to make the team better. I know their relationship is professional. I’d just say Zach has never backed down from the fact that the incident stung him deeply, but as you mentioned, he’s playing better, and I know that there’s probably more optimism with the Bulls than the national picture has of this team.
Scotto: His name has come up in trade speculation, and I’ve reported that there are plenty of teams that, if he’s put on the market – and I preface that with the word “if” – he’s not yet. If he were to be put on the market, the Knicks, Lakers, Dallas, and Miami are certainly monitoring if he’ll become available or not. What’s interesting about that to me and other executives I’ve spoken to around the league is there would also be a bit of a question regarding, in their eyes, the health of his knee because if the Bulls just signed him and look to flip him that quickly, it almost raises your antenna a little bit.
Johnson: Zach and the Bulls have made it pretty clear from the jump that knee management plan was not about an unhealthy knee. It was literally just an acclimation process because he hadn’t played any five-on-five all offseason nor done his normal offseason routine. It was a knee management plan to let him get his legs under him. The numbers have bore that out. His splits in December compared to November are ridiculous. In December, he played like the two-time All-Star he’s been.
The knee is healthy, and the numbers are healthier. He looks more like himself of late, which is why you’re going to have some trade speculation between now and Feb. 9. I’d say, as of now, being around the team every day, having my antenna up, and talking to people around the league, I still believe what Arturas Karnisovas has said multiple times publicly. He wants to see this group have some continuity and grow together. They haven’t had a lot of it and won’t have a lot of it because of the Lonzo Ball situation.
A lot can happen between now and Feb. 9. Obviously, hypothetically speaking, a 10-game losing streak would certainly change some long-term thinking. Right now, I see LaVine drawing interest, so you never say never, but I’d be surprised if the Bulls move off him.
7:55 Will Lonzo Ball return?
Scotto: There appears to be some uncertainty whether he is going to come back this season, if at all. It seems to be the biggest mystery around the team. I’ve heard he’s shot around a little bit. Ultimately, it seems like they’re operating like they don’t know if he’s going to be back.
Johnson: Still no timeline. That tells you all you need to know. I think Donovan took the right approach in preseason and training camp, where he said they have to prepare as if he’s not going to be back this entire season, and that was when he was expected to be back. That shifted as we got that first evaluation from the September surgery.
We see Lonzo from a distance more at home games and the practice facility. He is doing stationary shooting and some light just shooting. He’s done some light running and a lot of stuff on the anti-gravity treadmill. We haven’t gotten any indication that he’s done any on-court cutting or full-speed running. You’re talking about a situation where you may be running out of runway here at some point.
I’ve reported, and many other people have reported, that Lonzo is of the mindset that he hopes to try to play this season. We’re coming up one full calendar year, 365 days, from him not taking the NBA court.
I’m operating under the principle of a beat writer as the next headline is when we get an update that he’s running and cutting full speed without setbacks. That’s always what the roadblock was anytime they tried to ramp him up, even off that initial first surgery back in January of 2022 when they thought he’d be back at the end of last season.
11:20 Nikola Vucevic’s long-term future
Scotto: When I talk to executives around the league, they think – barring a trade – that he (Nikola Vucevic) would remain with Chicago because it almost feels like they have to keep him long-term, given all the assets they gave up for him. In theory, could a team like the Lakers use him? He played at USC in college. There are some other potential storylines and teams that would have interest in a guy like him, but you’d think all the ducks would line up where he’d return.
Johnson: The outside perception is given what they expended to acquire him, you almost feel like they’d have to almost overpay him to maintain him in the fold to save face and to not lose an asset for nothing. As you know, he’s an unrestricted free agent. It’s his choice. I talked to him earlier in the season about how they didn’t have serious talks about an extension last offseason. He wasn’t disappointed by it. He said it’s part of the business, and he understood it. It actually happened the last time he was headed into free agency when he signed that big deal with Orlando.
The logic he pulled from them not entertaining extension talks last offseason is that management wanted to keep their options open as they moved to the deadline. But then, like you, I come to the deadline and say, “What team is going to give significant assets for a guy they can get with just cap space or a sign-and-trade this summer?” It’s a difficult future to predict.
A lot of other teams, as you know, are eying the Bulls between now and Feb. 9. There’s no doubt about that.
15:25 DeMar DeRozan’s future
Scotto: He’s been their most consistent player and elevated his game with Chicago. Given his age and contract, he’s been outstanding for the Bulls. I don’t see them moving him.
Johnson: As of this talk, I’d be surprised if they move any of their big three. If you do decide to break up this core, I ranked him as their most significant trade asset by far. Here’s the other thing about DeMar, he’s extension eligible this summer. You don’t have to extend him since he’s guaranteed through next year, but you can bet that he’s going to look to be extended this summer. He’s playing out of this world and headed almost certainly towards another All-Star selection. He’s in the conversation for another All-NBA selection. You’re going to be balancing that this summer, and what’s the ceiling for this core?
17:55 Patrick Williams and Alex Caruso
Scotto: From what I’ve heard from executives, Patrick Williams and Alex Caruso are not for sale right now in Chicago. I thought one thing was interesting about Williams that I heard from an executive who told HoopsHype, “In my opinion, they’ve held onto Pat Williams too long and devalued him. If they want to shake up their team, they can get a decent return on Caruso.”
Johnson: I’d probably agree with that assessment. It’s not even like they devalued Pat because I would probably question how much value he had. I know there was some buzz about him being in some Gobert talks. That was never the case, at least to my understanding. They value him highly now. I think, this season, he’s definitely shown signs of growth, but I think it’s been a little underwhelming to this point. From a Bulls perspective, there are some cautionary tales out there. So much about this league is about fit and opportunity. The Bulls gave up on Lauri Markkanen, who now on his third team is headed towards a potential first All-Star selection and is playing other worldly basketball. Players develop at different paces. Pat is still a very young player.
I agree that Caruso would bring back a nice haul. To me, he fits any roster. That’s the kind of player he is. A team like Golden State, the Knicks, those are some teams I can see calling.
We haven’t even talked about the Bulls maybe trying to add at the deadline. That, to me, is probably a little bit more likely than selling off. I think they can potentially be buyers more than sellers. We’ll see how these next few weeks play out.
Caruso would be tradeable to virtually any team and get you, I’d certainly, think, at least a first-round pick and a player.
23:10 Ayo Dosunmu’s free agency
Scotto: Another guy I wanted to touch on was Ayo Dosunmu… I spoke to a couple of executives about him being a free agent this summer. One NBA executive told me, “Nobody will put a big offer sheet on him. His situation reminds me of Josh Hart. He could get that type of contract or bet on himself and take the qualifying offer.”
Another executive I spoke to had a hilarious analogy. The executive said, “Unless you think Chicago won’t match, why bother making an offer sheet? You have to think like Indiana did. It’s like lusting after someone’s wife, and she’s not leaving the guy.”
Johnson: I feel like they stumbled into found money there with him dropping to the second round. My working assumption is they’re going to do everything they can to re-sign him. They have matching rights. I expect Ayo to be a Bull long term. I think that Hart contract you mentioned is pretty close in the neighborhood to what I speculated in a mailbag recently on the website. I said a three or four-year deal in the $10-12 million range annually. That’s probably something that would get it done for both sides. I know Ayo loves playing in his hometown.
26:00 Coby White’s future
Scotto: There’s another guard on the roster who seems expendable, and his name has come up as a potential trade chip, Coby White.
Johnson: He’s been available and been in a lot of talks. To be frank about the Bulls, it illustrates they won’t just give him away. They were offered direct packages (for him). One team I reported for sure was Memphis last summer… When I talk about them potentially being buyers at the deadline, he’d be one of those pieces where you try and get him in a package. I think individually, his trade return is not that significant, but in the right package with that lottery-protected Portland pick… if they’re buyers, I think he’d be in whatever package they send out.