Thursday, February 22 2024
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Damian Lillard wants to be traded to the Miami Heat, and, according to multiple recent reports, he would not welcome a trade anywhere else. He’s under contract for the next few years, though, so could another team make a serious push to try to acquire him anyway?

The answer, according to PHLY Sports’ Kyle Neubeck, is yes: The Chicago Bulls, Neubeck said on a podcast recorded on Wednesday, are “the wild card, getting-into-the-mix team” and are exploring the possibility of moving Zach LaVine in order to land Lillard. LaVine, who will turn 29 next March and has a player option worth almost $49 million in the 2026-27 season, does not fit Portland’s timeline in a post-Lillard world, especially given that they already have guards Scoot Henderson, Shaedon Sharpe and Anfernee Simons on the roster, so the idea is to move LaVine to another team in exchange for the kind of players and/or picks that are valuable to the Blazers.

You might have some questions about this, like:

Uh, what else would the Bulls send to Portland? 

Well, Chicago owns the Blazers’ 2024 first-round pick, which is lottery-protected through 2028 and then turns into a second-rounder. The Bulls could send that back, and they could also send two of their own first-round picks (2028, 2030) to Portland. (In theory, they could also send additional picks and swaps, but they’d have to remove the protections on the 2025 first-rounder they owe the San Antonio Spurs.)

Also: Chicago could offer Patrick Williams.

Patrick Williams? Would the Bulls actually include him?

If they really want Lillard, they probably have to. But it’s risky. Williams turned 22 less than a month ago, and he’s the only high-upside player on the roster. Are they comfortable giving him up in order to go all-in on a Big 3 of Lillard, DeMar DeRozan and Nikola Vucevic? This will look extremely shortsighted if it doesn’t work and Williams develops into a star.

It’s unclear whether Chicago is as bullish on Williams now as it was when it drafted him No. 4 overall in 2020. All offseason, he has been eligible to sign a rookie contract extension for up to five years, but the two sides have not come to an agreement. They have until Oct. 23 to do so.

But would Portland see him as a centerpiece of a Lillard trade?

Well, Williams is definitely not a proven star, and, after three years in the league — two healthy years, really, since he missed most of 2021-22 — is still, in the words of Bulls general manager Marc Eversley, showing “flashes” and trying to find his place. After last season’s All-Star break, when Chicago signed Patrick Beverley, it moved Williams from the starting lineup to the bench.

This is why Williams was not in a position to quickly sign the “fun max” at the beginning of the summer. It is also why his name alone is likely not enough for the Blazers to be excited about sending a future Hall of Famer to the Bulls. But players his age, with his physical tools — Williams is 6-foot-7 with long arms and enormous hands — typically aren’t available on the trade market. He is precisely the type of player that should interest a team like Portland, but the front office, just like Chicago’s, has to consider what it would take to sign him to an extension.

The short answer: Williams could potentially be the best player the Blazers acquire in a Lillard trade, provided that they’re getting good enough draft picks to make the move worth their while.

Wouldn’t this be a bit desperate on Chicago’s part?

I mean, I can see the logic: Lillard is better than LaVine, and if the Bulls aren’t that high on Williams anymore — and don’t think there’s a better way to use him on the trade market — then they can justify surrendering him to make this upgrade. Chicago finished last season 24th in offense; with Lillard in the fold, it could expect a jump.

But should they expect a top-10 offense? And what’s the defensive ceiling for a team that starts Lillard and Vucevic? It would be fun to see Lillard play with DeRozan, a longtime friend who is with the same agency, but I’m not sure this is a meaningfully different situation than what he’s had for most of his time in Portland. It’s fair to assume that acquiring Lillard would also mean trying to sign DeRozan to a contract extension, and, given how much Lillard is owed, the front office would have little flexibility when it comes to tweaking the supporting cast. This is far from a Toronto-trading-for-Kawhi situation, in terms of short-term upside.

So: Yes, it seems a little desperate. But the Bulls shifted into win-now mode when they traded for Vucevic at the 2021 trade deadline, and they have not indicated that they are willing to endure another rebuild. I suppose it wouldn’t be that surprising if they doubled down.



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