Bulls trade targets: Would Kemba Walker solve point guard issues?

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Pros and cons of Bulls pursuing trade for Kemba Walker originally appeared on NBC Sports Chicago

Kemba Walker and the Celtics appear poised to part ways.

After signing with the team to initial acclaim in the summer of 2019, nagging knee issues that flared up late in the 2019-20 season exacerbated in 2020-21, contributing to a down year and rumors of a breakup emerging.

With the Chicago Bulls in the market for a point guard, it’s natural to ponder a potential fit. NBC Sports Boston, in fact, listed the Bulls as one of five potential trade suitors, floating a deal that would send Thad Young, Al-Farouq Aminu and Tomáš Satoranský to Boston in exchange for Walker and the Celtics’ 2022 (lottery protected) and 2025 (top-five protected) first-round picks.

That package underscores a crucial factor in any potential deal for Walker: Boston will need to attach significant draft assets to move him. Not only is Walker 31 years old, coming off his worst statistical season in a half-decade and burdened by the baggage of his knee trouble (he missed 29 games in 2020-21 and was inconsistent when he played), he’s owed $36 million next season and has a $37.7 million player option for the following year.

That means his contract, which expires just after his 33rd birthday, will pay out $73.7 million over the next two seasons.

Those set of circumstances should make the Bulls wary. While Walker addresses an area of need — especially in light of the news Coby White will miss four-to-six months rehabbing a torn labrum — and comes with All-Star pedigree, there’s no guarantee he’ll ever get back to the player he was. Small, once-explosive guards on the wrong side of 30 plagued by lower-body injuries typically don’t age well, and even the best version of Walker would be a dubious defensive fit.

The financial particulars only add to the gamble. A deal for Walker would significantly restrict the Bulls’ cap flexibility for the next two offseasons, so you’d have to be sure a trade for him would be the final cure to all the team’s ails.

And all of this is before mentioning the sting that would come with parting from Young, the Bulls’ second-best player before Nikola Vučević’s arrival, and Satoranský, who could be a key depth piece with White’s status for the start of the season uncertain.

Now, there is upside to exploring the possibility, especially if negotiations played out as posited above. If a full offseason of recovery time allows Walker to re-find his prior form (he did start the 2020 All-Star game), he, Zach LaVine and Vučević would form a potent offensive trio ready to make a step up in the Eastern Conference. And those two first-round picks could be of intrigue to the Bulls, given they parted with two of their own in 2021 and 2023 (both top-four protected) in the trade for Vučević; restocking the asset chest would not only allow them more bites at the prospect apple, but also additional trade ammunition to work with moving forward.

But it’s ultimately a considerable amount of risk for a team in the Bulls that has already seen a chip-push move fail to produce immediate results. Walker is certainly a name to monitor as the team pursues an upgrade at the point guard position in the coming months, but Bulls fans should treat any linkage with caution.

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