Lack of action highlights another dull deadline day for Bulls

To the surprise of no one, the Bulls did nothing before the NBA's trade deadline arrived Thursday afternoon.

It's a unique scenario in pro sports, when fans and reporters get to complain about a lack of trades, without knowing what opportunities were actually on the table.

Bulls vice president of basketball operations Arturas Karnisovas spoke with reporters on a Zoom call and didn't offer any behind-the-scenes details.

“The biggest thing for me is you look at every option out there to improve our team and we didn't see anything that was going to make us better,” Karnisovas said. “We would take a step back, which we don't want. We want to stay competitive.”

He called this a “buyer's market,” which made it tough to pull off any deals that would have put the Bulls closer to a playoff spot. He pointed out they're not far behind now, but flubbed the math a bit.

“We're three wins away from sixth place (actually 4½), so you still have 30 games to go,” Karnisovas said. “Obviously, this group is playing better the last two months. I put faith in this group to make a push for the playoffs.”

In order to stay optimistic about the Bulls, one needs to consider the drastic shift that happened on Nov. 30.

For two weeks prior, starting when a report surfaced about Zach LaVine and the Bulls being agreeable to a trade, the Bulls were flat-out awful. Lopsided losses were filled with bad body language and dismal effort.

When LaVine was sidelined by a foot injury, everything flipped and the Bulls have gone 19-13 since. It was suddenly Coby White's team, and the fifth-year guard has been playing at an all-star level.

So this team already began a new era. The best course now is try to continue the current improvement and be ready for opportunities to improve the roster. If younger players like Patrick Williams, Ayo Dosunmu, Julian Phillips and Dalen Terry can blossom, the Bulls might have the pieces to trade for an all-star. Or just keep the group together if it's showing progress.

Karnisovas was asked about being aggressive, taking a step back to move forward, and not making a trade for the third straight year at the deadline.

“What we did in 2021 the summer when we turned our roster around, I think we showed that we can be aggressive,” he said. “In this particular moment … we didn't have those options available.”

The current state of the Bulls contains a few preexisting conditions that make trades difficult:

Giving LaVine a full maximum-salary contract was a colossal mistake and will haunt the Bulls for years, just like Lonzo Ball's two-year absence with a knee injury has. One of those was management's fault, the other wasn't.

LaVine had surgery on his right foot Thursday and is out for the year. In an ideal world, the Bulls will trade him as soon as possible to create payroll flexibility, but teams will be reluctant to take on the $130 million left on his contract.

Karnisovas was illogically positive when asked if LaVine wants to be here, and he insisted he has a great relationship with both LaVine and his agent Rich Paul.

“I don't have any concerns,” Karnisovas said. “I think Zach wants to win. Bottom line, we're a better team with Zach on the team. It's as simple as that.”

Trades are also a challenge because the Bulls gave up so much in 2021 to acquire Ball, DeMar DeRozan and Nikola Vucevic. They sent two first-rounders to Orlando for Vucevic and their 2025 pick is destined for San Antonio in the DeRozan deal. The Bulls can't trade a first-round pick until 2027 and don't have any second-rounders until '28.

The Bulls did get a first-round pick from Portland in the Lauri Markkanen sign-and-trade, but that one is top-14 protected. The Bulls won't get it until the Blazers make the playoffs, which isn't happening this year.

Karnisovas also expressed a desire to re-sign DeRozan when he reaches free agency this summer. That move makes sense, because it's great for a young player like White to have a veteran mentor as a teammate.

DeRozan had an entertaining exchange with reporters in Memphis when asked about his future with the Bulls.

“It's kind of like with your spouse,” he said with a laugh. “It's a relationship. It's like, 'What do we need to do to work on this, baby? All right, let's figure this thing out. You want me and I want you.' The love is there.”

FILE - Chicago Bulls' Zach LaVine starts a fast break during the first half of an NBA basketball game against the Atlanta Hawks Thursday, Feb. 24, 2022, in Chicago. The Chicago Bulls remain hopeful All-Star guard Zach LaVine will choose to re-sign with them rather than join another team as an unrestricted free agent, executive vice president of basketball operations Arturas Karnisovas said Monday, June 27, 2022. (AP Photo/Charles Rex Arbogast, File) AP

And the Bulls wouldn't trade it for anything.

Twitter: @McGrawDHSports

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