The Chicago Bulls are off to a poor start this season with a 4-6 record. They rank 20th in net rating with the 18th-best offensive rating and 20th-best defensive rating. ESPN’s Basketball Power Index (BPI) doesn’t seem to think they will get better as it projects the Bulls to finish with a 35-47 record, which would be the 24th-best in the league. It also projects the Bulls to be among the five teams in the Eastern Conference to miss the Play-In Tournament.
There’s still plenty of time for the Bulls to right the ship. But what is a realistic goal to keep this group together? They could break above the lower Play-In group of teams like the Magic, Nets, and Raptors, but that would only represent a repeat of last season’s result. If they remain headed in that direction again, they could be one of the most monitored teams ahead of the February 8 trade deadline.
The Bulls appear headed toward a Wizards-type trajectory: a roster built around a fringe All-Star that barely raised its floor. They are teams that didn’t necessarily strive to be a title contender, but at least consistently in the playoffs and failed to accomplish that. The Wizards finally hit the reset button after two years in a row out of the postseason, and now the Bulls risk the same fate.
Like the Wizards, the Bulls are out a future first-round pick, complicating a potential rebuild. However, it is Top 10 protected in 2025 to the Spurs, followed by Top 8 protection in 2026 and 2027. After completing their obligation from the Nikola Vucevic trade by conveying their 2023 first-round pick to the Magic, it makes more sense to bottom out now. They could have a high lottery pick in 2024 while keeping their first-round pick for multiple years.
If the Wizards’ respective returns for Bradley Beal and Kristaps Porzingis mean anything for the Bulls, it could be to not expect hauls for any of their top players. They ranked last in HoopsHype’s team asset rankings in September, partly due to their lack of a draft pick surplus and premium prospects, but mostly because of the lack of value their starters hold.
Below is a list of the most important Bulls players, their progress so far, and their potential trade candidacy.
Remaining Contract: Four years, $178.1 million
Trade Value: Medium
Zach LaVine’s efficiency is down after a couple of bad shooting games to begin the year but is mostly on par statistically with his previous two seasons. What may limit his trade value is that he may top out as a Top 40 player in this league while earning a maximum contract (roughly 29 percent of the cap). While top-tier contenders may have enough assets to acquire him, luxury tax and second-apron concerns in the new CBA might not make the juice worth the squeeze. If made available, he might make more sense to teams with a clean long-term cap outlook that are looking to make a playoff push and need the offensive firepower, such as the Magic and Pistons.
Remaining Contract: one year, $28.6 million
Trade Value: Medium
The acquisition of DeMar DeRozan has worked much better than perhaps they expected after making the All-NBA 3rd Team in 2021-22. He is still playing at a higher level than many expected him to at this point in his career and should still hold positive trade value. DeRozan is currently extension-eligible with the Bulls but both sides are reportedly far apart in negotiations. At 34 years old, it might be time for the Bulls to trade him and get something for him, even if they don’t plan on tearing the team down.
Remaining Contract: three years, $60 million
Trade Value: Low
Trade-eligible: Starting December 29, 2023
In fairness to Nikola Vucevic, he has been a productive starting center for the Bulls. It’s just the amount of assets they gave up to trade for him that clouds perception. He is now earning an annual salary comparable to other average starting centers like Clint Capela, Jakob Poeltl, and Jarrett Allen. However, he may not have positive trade value with the three years, $60 million remaining through his age 36 season. A Vucevic trade could result in a simple salary dump, especially since his reasonable contract could allow him to come off the bench for several good teams.
Remaining Contract: one year, $9.8 million
Trade Value: Low
The Bulls’ belief in Patrick Williams’ potential played a major role in their decision to trade multiple future draft picks to form the group they put together. Unfortunately, progress has been slow and so far he’s taken a major step back to start the season. After relatively modest efficiency in his first three seasons, his field goal percentage has plummeted. This has led to him being relegated to the bench and averaging a career-low in minutes per game. If Williams developed closer to the player the Bulls hoped for when they selected him 4th overall, they could be in a much different place right now.
With no positive trade value, the Bulls might be better off keeping him past the trade deadline and re-signing him to a team-friendly deal next offseason. Assuming they blow the rest of the roster up, allowing him to develop in a low-pressure rebuilding situation could help him.
Remaining Contract: two years, $19.4 million
Trade Value: High
Alex Caruso may be the most intriguing player of the bunch in terms of his value and outlook. His counting stats don’t show it but he is one of the Bulls’ most impactful players this season. According to data compiled by ForTheWin’s Bryan Kalbrosky, Caruso ranks high in the league in steal and block percentage, forcing turnovers, and deflections. Per Kalbrosky, he currently leads the league in defensive estimate plus-minus and is one of the most impactful players in the last five minutes of close games.
He may have the most trade value of the group thanks to his elite defense at his position and his relatively small annual salary. If Marcus Smart could go for two first-round picks projected in the twenties, then so should Caruso. While his $9.5 million salary is an easy match for any team, he is due for a substantial raise after next season. What players like Derrick White and De’Anthony Melton get on their next contracts could set the floor for Caruso.