By Joshua M Hicks (@jhicks042)
In a previous column, I mentioned that Kevin Durant and Kyrie Irving should not dismiss the “second” teams within the big city markets of New York and LA due to their strong front office management, solid young core/veteran mix that is currently playoff bound and how both technically have the cap space to sign two-max level free agents.
It looks like Irving is considering my suggestion, showing a preference to sign with the Brooklyn Nets instead of the New York Knicks, according to recent reports, including a report from We Are Regal Radio alum, and current host of “Scoop B Radio,” Brandon “Scoop B” Robinson stating that Irving’s ties with the Nets may play a role in his free agency decision. If this scenario comes to fruition, the Nets can try to play both Russell and Irving together in the back court since Russell is proven to be a dominant combo-scoring guard.
However, with Russell’s contract expiring after next season, he is due a hefty extension, which may make the Nets pursue a trade to get some valuable assets in return with Irving and another potential superstar coming to town. If the All-Star point guard ends up on the market, the Chicago Bulls should put acquiring Russell on top of their off season priority list.
Since his arrival to the Windy City via the Jimmy Butler trade, Kris Dunn has been an up and down roller coaster and at times shows signs of declination. His inconsistency has not solidified a guaranteed future in a Bulls’ uniform. With assumptions that he may not be a Bull next season, the Bulls’ top focus this offseason is to find the point guard of the future. Ideally, the Bulls should want to get that in the draft, especially if Murray State’s Ja Morant is on the board.
Morant is a player that can change the game on multiple levels. Morant’s overall game is compared to Russell Westbrook. His speed and athleticism is unmatched and his leadership is undeniable, especially after winning the conference title and making it to the Round of 32 in the March Madness tournament.
Only one player in NCAA D-1 history has averaged 20 points and 10 assists while shooting 50 percent from the field and 36 percent from three and that’s Morant. Not to mention he also averaged 2 steals a game — numbers only two-way players such as Paul George, Westbrook, etc. can perform on its highest level. Pairing Morant in the back court with the young nucleus of Zach LaVine and Otto Porter would provide the talent to not only be aggressive offensively but defensively as well, something that is a huge plus in head coach Jim Boylen’s system.
If Morant is not available, the best option is to draft the best player on the board and see what is available via free agency. Another option, which seems more suitable than a big free agent signing, is to trade for a point guard, an idea that the Bulls should really consider regarding Russell’s potential services.
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Russell has improved dramatically since his departure from the Lakers and latest tenure with the Nets. This season, he has had an All-Star level year, averaging 21 points and 7 assists on 50 percent shooting and 36 percent from the three, while also making the All-Star team. His leadership has also grown. With the Nets on the verge of making the playoffs, he is showing that he has what it takes to lead a team to the postseason, something the Bulls are currently lacking. But just as important, the way he plays is a style that can help the Bulls get over the hump in the Eastern Conference.
The Bulls need a point guard that can score the ball, but also efficiently run an offense as a playmaker, creating opportunities for others to succeed while also shooting efficiently from the three-point stripe. Russell has shown that he can do that playing in a backcourt with Most Improved Player candidate Spencer Dinwiddie and rising star Caris LeVert, both having career years in scoring and shooting percentages behind Russell’s leadership. Pairing that style of play with LaVine and Porter may be the ideal situation the Bulls can be looking for, especially since Russell’s youth fits in with the already young Bulls core.
We also cannot overlook the fact that the Bulls most likely will not have to give up a lot to obtain Russell in a trade. Russell is still on his rookie deal, only earning $9 million next season, he also has the restricted title in free agency. By trading for him in the off season, it allows the Bulls to get him in an affordable deal and increase your chances of extending him long-term, allowing them to match whatever deal he accepts from other suitors, similarly to how the Bulls handled Zach LaVine’s contract situation in 2018.
Given Russell’s breakthrough season, he is going to get at least $20 million per year extension, similar to LaVine’s current contract. There are a lot of assumptions and a lot of dominos that have to fall into place on both sides in order for this to happen, but this ideal situation becomes a reality, the Bulls’ front office needs to break the historical chain of being reactive and be aggressively proactive in the Russell pursuit to improve their rebuild.
Joshua M. Hicks is the lead columnist of WARR