Bulls at trade deadline: Road to improvement is out there somewhere

Here's an illustration of where the Bulls are at heading into Thursday's NBA trade deadline:

Imagine Arturas Karnisovas and Marc Eversley are in a car, traveling at a good rate of speed down a highway.

Is music playing? Not important.

OK, let's just say they're listening to the Bulls Greatest Hits CD from the late '90s. To get into the championship spirit.

Anyway, Karnisovas is driving along and says to Eversley, "I think we're headed in the wrong direction." Eversley checks his phone. Or maybe he's old-school and pulls out a road atlas, and he quickly agrees.

So what now? There are two choices: Keep driving forward, knowing the next exit isn't for dozens of miles, but there might be a nice convenience store when they get there.

Or Karnisovas could stomp on the brakes, drive across the median, pop a couple of tires, risk getting hit by oncoming traffic, and head back to where they started.

Well, they'd keep going. That's the obvious choice, right?

And that's basically where the Bulls are today. Karnisovas and Eversley picked a lane two years ago when they paid a hefty price to land Nikola Vucevic from Orlando.

Now with a 26-28 record, it's obvious the team is flawed, far from perfect and nowhere near contending for a championship. But believing better results can arrive next year is a much better option than trading key players and starting over. In case you've forgotten, the former Bulls management team chose to rebuild in 2017 and it was a disaster.

And there is reason to think the Bulls could come back strong - or at least stronger - next season. Maybe Lonzo Ball comes back from his knee surgeries and plays 60-plus games. He is under contract for two more years, so the Bulls won't be able to unload him.

DeMar DeRozan should still have a few more good years left. He, Vucevic and Zach LaVine have started to build a better chemistry in the last six weeks or so.

The biggest plus is the young guys will be a year older. Patrick Williams will be in Year 4. Ayo Dosunmu, Year 3. Coby White (if he stays), Year 5. Maybe Dalen Terry contributes more in his second season.

Obviously, there needs to be tweaks. The Bulls could use a defensive-minded power forward who can help protect Vucevic's flaws. They need a better replacement for Ball, but maybe a third-year pro Dosunmu is right for the job. They need better 3-point shooting, and White is not having a great year with his shooting touch, but he has improved in other areas.

Nobody on the roster should be untouchable. Williams' progress has been maddeningly slow, but that's what happens when you draft 19-year-olds. Sometimes they become all-stars after six years and three teams, like Lauri Markkanen.

The centers on the roster, Vucevic and Andre Drummond (and Tony Bradley), can become unrestricted free agents. So there's an opportunity for the Bulls to go in a different direction there, but it's not easy to find good big men. Vucevic is probably still in the top half of players at his position.

When the AKME management team got on this particular highway, there was hope of making the playoffs right away, while still having a young nucleus of LaVine, Ball, Williams, Terry, Alex Caruso, etc., for the future. At the same time, there's a possibility of opening up cap space in 2024 when DeRozan's contract ends.

This next part should go without saying: Another rebuild is a horrible idea, especially since the Bulls don't have control of their first-round draft picks in two of the next three years, and have no second-round picks for three years.

It's understandable for fans to get frustrated with this team's worst performances. John Paxson himself knew from 1999-2004 that a total rebuild was an awful idea and did it anyway, which is a big reason why the Bulls are in this predicament.

The correct move is to keep driving and look for opportunities. Maybe they should add a couple of veterans and try to max out the end of DeRozan's prime years. There are big-payroll teams that will be looking to unload salaries. The Warriors, Clippers, Pelicans are the first that come to mind.

Not much trade interest in Williams, Terry or White? Then get better at player development and figure out why the Heat, Raptors and Warriors are so good at it.

Somewhere down the road, there will be a move that can make the Bulls a better team. Maybe it happens by 2 p.m. Thursday, maybe not. Karnisovas and Eversley need to identify and execute when the time arrives.

This is where the metaphor comes full circle. Keep watching the road signs and the Bulls can decide whether the best move is to stop at Cracker Barrel, Stuckey's, Bob Evans or Texas Roadhouse.

But keep driving. The road to improvement does exist.

Twitter: @McGrawDHSports

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