Bulls: Divine On West Coast Trip, LaVine Looks More Like Top Talent Than Ever

By Drew Stevens (@lookwhatdrewdid)

It’s as simple as this, Aaron Rodgers.

If you no longer want any part of an organization whose general manager has begun to dig your grave even as you continue to withstand the rigors of professional quarterbacking with flying colors, then you should most certainly look for a change of scenery. You see how well things are working out for Tom Brady after he ended his longterm relationship with New England, right?

He found greener — and far warmer — pastures in Tampa Bay. Now while it may be tempting to move across country where friendlier climates and your childhood favorite 49ers play, remember, that team blew its chance with you years ago. Besides, the coldest dish of revenge you could serve that bay green and cheese gold-colored front office would be aligning yourself with its sworn enemy, the Chicago Bears.

That’s how you retaliate against Brian Gutekunst, who had the audacity to trade up to select Jordan Love in last year’s NFL Draft, and head coach Matt LaFleur, who was a little too eager to co-sign that move and chose Mason Crosby’s leg, not your invaluable arm, when it mattered most. After all, when you have a chance to really stick it to your ex you don’t date a stranger. You round the bases with the best friend.

Think about it.

Not only would you move from the hallowed ground at Lambeau Field to that at Soldier Field, but you’d also go from being one of the city’s most hated visitors to one of its most beloved residents a la Dennis Rodman.

Plus, you love it here. Or at least that’s what I took from how you talked about the chills you feel before game time listening to both Jim Cornelison belt out the national anthem and Bears fans equally resounding reaction. “Those tingles over the years have made that place a really special environment,” you said in December. “And I do have a lot of respect for the organization, the fan base, their team.”

And we for you, albeit begrudgingly.

But you can’t really blame us for that though, can you? I mean, you did author a 35-16 beat down with your 240 yards and four touchdowns just a few days after speaking so highly of practically all things Chicago. Not to mention that was the 10th victory of your career in the Windy City in the 13 times you’ve played here. Hard feelings are even harder to shake when they’re mixed with the envy of watching your arch-rival swap one hall-of-fame signal caller for another while our carousel of mediocrity at that position continues to turn nonstop.

You can change that. You can rip that ride from its lousy rails. It’ll take some convincing, maybe even a little acting on your part. You’re pretty believable in those State Farm commercials. How good are you at faking or threatening retirement?

As far as compensation goes, tell Gutekunst we can offer the 20th overall pick in this year’s draft and future first-round picks in each of the next two as well. There figures to be a nice crop of blue chip offensive lineman this summer. Something for him to keep in mind given his franchise left tackle, David Bakhtiari, will be playing the rest of his career on a surgically-repaired knee. Also, considering how Kevin King had two touchdowns scored on him and drew a crippling defensive pass interference penalty that essentially robbed you of the chance to play in your second Super Bowl, it seems an upgrade at cornerback is in order. We’ve got a promising one in Jaylon Johnson he might be interested in, too.

If that package doesn’t move him, perhaps we can throw in the tag-and-trade of Allen Robinson. We’d much rather have the two of you here, but if we must sacrifice our most lethal offensive threat then so be it. You’re that special to us. Even today, just a handful of months from beginning your 17th year in the NFL.

Look. Breaking up is hard. There’s no two ways about it. But once you finish sopping up the best comfort food our city has to offer, you’ll adjust. You’ll see that while the sum of the Bears’ current weapons don’t yet compare to that of Davante Adams, Aaron Jones and Robert Tonyan, you’ve had far less to work with in your career than David Montgomery, Cole Kmet and Darnell Mooney.

None of this is to say you’d find the type of immediate success that Brady’s found with the Buccaneers. What it does mean is your arrival would, quite frankly, send an already rabid fanbase over the moon; push our mockery of a front office into credible standing; and our overworked defense into more favorable situations.

If nothing else, how satisfying would it be to flip the league’s oldest rivalry on its head, to force Gutekunst and LaFleur to forever rue the day they chose Love?

In Green Bay you had to escape the shadow of Brett Farve — who, against conventional wisdom, was cast out to the Jets of all teams after reaching near-deity status as a Cheeshead, his association with the Packers being the only one that can rival yours post-Bart Starr. Here, in Chicago, you’d cast a shadow as far as our franchise’s list of starting quarterbacks is long before you even threw your first pass in dark navy and orange.

The offseason is long. Our patience for a player your caliber has been woefully longer.

Just give it some thought.

Ok?

Zach LaVine’s hands are still smoldering from the fires he set inside the Staples Center last weekend, and yet that’s the guy some people say the Chicago Bulls should trade?

The same guy who hung 45 points with 10 treys on Kawhi Leonard, Paul George and the Los Angeles Clippers two nights after lighting up LeBron James and the defending champion Lakers for 38 points?

The steadily improving 25-year-old who is currently the third-leading scorer in the NBA, behind only Bradley Beal and Steph Curry? 

That’s the guy who some people suggest should start vetting local moving companies?

No…that guy is a diamond in the rough. You don’t trade those. In fact, you don’t touch them at all. You build around them and keep doing so until you find a style that best accentuates their brilliance. 

It’s a process and it’s one the Bulls have made more tedious than it needed to be since acquiring LaVine (in a trade with Chicago’s previous franchise talent, Jimmy Butler).

Thanks to clumsy coaching, injuries to core players Otto Porter Jr., Wendell Carter Jr. and Lauri Markkanen, and the underwhelming play of the latter two when they were healthy enough take the court last year, many think the Bulls are destined to only go so far. But considering how competitive the Bulls have been of late even with Porter Jr. (back spasms) and Markkanen (left calf contusion, health and safety protocol) again missing time, those people should clearly recognize the value in keeping LaVine around while team president Arturas Karnisovas attempts to restore this once proud franchise.

Look, it’s not like elite scorers who can draw defenders out past the three-point line, knock down mid-range jumpers and finish an elbow’s length above the rim — even on a surgically repaired left knee — are a dime a dozen. Or that the list of Bulls who’ve tallied the most first-half points and recorded a season’s highest scoring average since Michael Jordan is long. Or that any other Bull has ever once made 10 or more shots from beyond the arc. Much less twice.

Simply put, LaVine is special. He is as polished an offensive threat as any of the best scorers — Ben Gordon, Derrick Rose and Jimmy Butler — that have occupied the Bulls’ roster in the time after Jordan’s second retirement. He needs only for the talent around him to improve, to apply his off-season defensive drill work more consistently in games, tighten his ball security, and figure out how to weaponize his own strengths for the betterment of his teammates in order to finally shed his label as an empty-calorie scorer. 

So far in playing for a proven coach in Billy Donovan and with teammates who are playing like they’ve got everything to lose, LaVine has settled into career-highs in points, rebounds, assists, and field-goal percentage. Those numbers have helped propel the Bulls in some vital ways, such as the team’s 15th-ranked offensive efficiency rating in the league, a clear improvement on their 27th ranking from last season. Neither has translated into the win-loss column yet, but do you remember the last time the Bulls caused this amount of stir from a four-game stretch in which they went 1-3? Without two of their top six players? During a West Coast swing?

Had it not been for flimsy defense, weak ball handling and mental lapses LaVine may not have even had to take that last-second shot that would’ve beaten the Lakers or the one that would’ve pushed the Clippers into overtime.

The results of their trip out West speak to both the progress they’ve made and the room the Bulls have left to grow. They will likely continue to toggle between growth and growing pains this season with a roster not quite equal in talent to that of even their own central division foes, let alone the Brooklyn’s, Boston’s and Philadelphia’s in the rest of the Eastern Conference. 

Those squads have decorated dynamic duos — in the Nets’ case, now half a murderer’s row in Kevin Durant, Kyrie Irving and the newly acquired James Harden — at the ready.

Trading LaVine — that guy who is the closest thing the Bulls have to those superstars — isn’t the answer. Finding another real star to pair with him is. 

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