By Joshua M Hicks (@jhicks042)
In the NBA, it’s hard to catch a break unless you’re a dynasty or trying to be one.
An outlier in that way of thinking, the once-humble Toronto Raptors are still riding the high of taking down the Golden State Warriors’ dynasty to win its first championship while making history as the first international championship in league history.
You’d think that’d be enough to keep a team atop NBA news feeds, but you’d be wrong — there’s much more important business to be had now for a league that feeds so much energy off the pondering of where top talents want to go and where they end up.
A story line that did so much to define the past NBA season, way before anyone thought Toronto to be a real title contender, came to its natural conclusion just 48 hours later after Toronto clinched its spot atop the basketball world. Superstar Anthony Davis finally got the trade he (and Rich Paul and LeBron James to a lesser, but still significant degree) wanted since disrupting the whole trajectory of the league with a leaked trade demand back in late January.
Saturday saw the news break that the Los Angeles Lakers agreed on terms with the New Orleans Pelicans to send Lonzo Ball, Brandon Ingram, Josh Hart and three first-round draft picks (including this year’s No. 4 pick) to Davis’s now former team in order to have control of the latter’s 2020-ending contract, pairing him with LeBron James in the meantime for a Big 2 that begs for a third and has every intention on overthrowing the Western Conference while the Warriors recover from injury and its most embarrassing Finals loss.
This blockbuster trade brings much needed relevance back to the historical Laker franchise, excitement via loss within New Orleans and its fanbase and shifts the future of the league while also giving teams across the league — particularly the Chicago Bulls — more clarity in the potential directions they can take regarding needed improvements this off-season.
The Unibrow’s prime-time talent aids an aging King James and sets the Lakers up for instant success and future success. Many critics already have the Lakers going to the Finals and even winning the championship next year, especially with Kevin Durant and Klay Thompson being out with injuries all next season, and KD not returning to the Warriors this summer, but those odds can improve even more now that the Lakers have increased chances to add a potential max-player.
If they can get the salary cap space needed to absorb a $30 million dollar hit, L.A. could go after players like Jimmy Butler, Klay Thompson, Kemba Walker and Kawhi Leonard to join the renewed Lakeshow. We also cannot forget about the idea of Kyrie Irving reconsidering his assumed set decision to join the Nets to reunite with James and play alongside AD long-term (both current and post-LeBron), an idea Irving has always wanted to come to fruition.
The New Orleans Pelicans have become an exciting young team to watch for possibly years to come after getting Ball paired with Ingram, veteran player Jrue Holiday, improving young big man Jahlil Okafor and this year’s prohibitive No. 1 pick, Zion Williamson, not to mention the extra cap space they have available and could use to bring back Julius Randle. That is a strong lineup that can turn heads in the NBA within the coming years. But most importantly, this trade could actually benefit the Bulls in both the draft and free agency to solve their point guard problems.
Reportedly a part of the Davis trade discussion as a third team, the Bulls failed to talk their way into the deal, leading to the current Davis demands New Orleans got away with. However, the Davis trade could potentially enhance their chances of filling their void at point guard in the draft, depending on who/what is available. As part of the three-team negotiations, Ball was speculated to be the Laker going to the third-team involved, which meant the Bulls. The Bulls really like Ball, and potentially can still get him.
The Pelicans are currently shopping the No. 4 pick they received from the Lakers for more assets. The point guard spot is tight and competitive in the NO currently with Ball in the mix, Jrue Holiday as a capable ball-handler/play-maker and capable backup Elfrid Payton still in a Pelicans uniform. Adding Ball to a potential deal with the 4th overall allows them to move out of the top 5 and use the Bulls’ No. 7 pick to help get a wing player/the best player available, while allowing the Bulls a chance at the top line point guard they covet in the draft.
If the Pelicans keep the pick, they very much could draft Jarrett Culver or DeAndre Hunter, leaving potentially Vanderbilt point guard Darius Garland availabl , an option that was suppose be off the board due to the Lakers initial interest wit the No. 4 pick. The Bulls could also draft North Carolina point guard Coby White, but it is not guaranteed that he would be available due the Phoenix Suns’ own need of a starting point guard at the No. 6 pick. If the Bulls miss out on a point guard in the draft, they can draft Duke wing player Cam Reddish and focus on free agency to draft a point guard.
In free agency, two options standout for the Bulls as key opportunities to improve its point guard position: Patrick Beverley and D’Angelo Russell. Beverley, a West Side Native, bleeds Chicago, he stated as much to K.C. Johnson of the Chicago Tribune. And as a Chicago guy, Bev made it clear that he’s interested the idea of playing for the Bulls if they call.
Beverley playing the Bulls brings an effective knock down shooter and a tenacious defensive player, someone that head coach Jim Boylen and management has preached about all of this past season. Beverley would thrive under Boylen’s system, and with the addition of former Houston Rockets assistant coach Roy White, he brings relations for Beverley that he respected during his tenure with the Rockets from 2013-2016.
In a previous column, I mentioned that in the light of rumors of Kyrie Irving choosing the Nets in free agency and Kevin Durant or Jimmy Butler possibly going with him to create a new Eastern contender, the Nets might make Russell available. If that becomes a reality, the Bulls should be first in line to sign the star player and it is now more relevant now than ever that they should.
With recent reports confirming Irving’s seriousness in joining the franchise and supporting the narrative of a potential early exit for Russell, the Bulls may be able to shoot their shot, and it is a good shot to take. Pairing a young, improving All-Star point guard in Russell in a backcourt with a rising star in Zach LaVine can be explosive for the long-term.
Russell’s shooting and scoring abilities paired brings needed offense that point guard Kris Dunn could not provide, drastically accelerating the Bulls offense. Not to mention, Russell has a working relationship with new Bulls lead assistant Chris Fleming from their time n Brooklyn. Adding Russell to the Bulls is an automatic upgrade, and would be improving the chances of the current rebuild.
Many would say that this is impossible due to salary cap issues. Russell has grown into a max-player after becoming an All-Star and taking the Brooklyn Nets to the playoffs, making him for a max contract starting at $27 million. The Bulls only have $20 million after taking on Otto Porter’s big contract at the trade deadline, but they can still make some moves that include trading Denzel Valentine, Chandler Hutchinson and Dunn for picks, and potentially stretch and waive Cristiano Felício, as written this week by NBC Sports Chicago’s Kevin Anderson.
Although Russell will receive lots of interest this off-season, especially from teams like the Phoenix Suns and division rival Indiana Pacers, the Bulls can put themselves in a prime position to hire an elite point guard for the long term, and that can be the missing piece that can potentially gets Chicago to the playoffs next season.
Joshua M. Hicks is a Senior Writer for WARR Media