The Los Angeles Lakers and Chicago Bulls have been linked together for over a month.
On November 14, The athlete reported that there is “increasing openness” from the Bulls and Zach LaVine about exploring a trade with the Lakers among the expected suitors. And in a follow-up piece, The athlete It was reported that the Lakers have more interest in acquiring DeMar DeRozan and Alex Caruso if either player becomes available.
With the Lakers and Bulls playing Wednesday night at the United Center, the Lakers teamed up on beat writer Jovan Buha and the Bulls teamed up on beat writer Darnell Mayberry for a back-and-forth discussion about the situation.
Here’s what they heard, what the package could look like and what they think will happen.
Jovan Buha: Hey Darnell, thanks for doing this. What’s the latest you’ve heard from Chicago regarding a potential trade with the Lakers?
Darnell Mayberry: All signs point to these teams eventually finding common ground on a deal that suits both sides. The compatibility as trading partners was clear before. But as the season progresses, it seems imperative that they get together in a trade.
On the bulls side, the biggest hurdle is the asking price for LaVine or, as I mentioned, DeRozan or Caruso. LaVine would be their first choice for a move. He has a massive contract that will be impossible for him to live up to as long as the Bulls are losing, and with LaVine, the Bulls have been stuck in the mud for the better part of seven seasons.
Now that it’s public knowledge that LaVine and the franchise are open to ending their partnership, Chicago doesn’t seem to have much leverage. LaVine’s contract alone — he is in the second season of a five-year, $215 million deal — will be difficult for most teams to absorb and is expected to limit the trade offers available to the Bulls.
The problem with that is that Chicago’s front office has quickly gained a reputation for overestimating his value in trade discussions. This could be the biggest obstacle to the Bulls and Lakers’ success. Up to this point, Chicago has demanded a higher value for suboptimal parts. But after three failed seasons, time has run out on the Bulls’ belief in continuity. Trade is imminent. It’s just a matter of how great a deal the Lakers can offer.
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There are a lot of fans like Austin Reeves in Chicago, Govan. How much do the Lakers want LaVine?
Booha: Not much has changed on the Lakers front. They are remaining patient and using the next few weeks to identify holes in their roster and how much upgrades they will need.
My understanding is that the Lakers continue to favor DeRozan and/or Caruso given their contracts, as previously reported. The Lakers have favored year-to-year flexibility over long-term payroll since the championship’s launch in 2020, especially after the disastrous Russell Westbrook trade. DeRozan is on an expiring $28 million deal. Caruso is making $9.5 million this season and $9.9 million next season, both team-friendly numbers considering he is one of the best defensive guards in the league. At the same time, LaVine represents a significant commitment for a player who has been a superstar at best.
Of course, LaVine is a Klutch Sports client, and that factor cannot be overlooked. The partnership between the Lakers and Clutch, the powerhouse agency headed by LeBron James’ childhood friend Rich Paul, has been mutually beneficial over the past five years. The Lakers understandably had an affinity for Klutch’s players during James’ tenure, and currently have four on their roster (James, Anthony Davis, Cam Reddish, and Jared Vanderbilt. James has also been a longtime fan of LaVine, as is DeRozan, for what he deserves.
For LaVine specifically, I think the Lakers would consider a deal centered around D’Angelo Russell, but I don’t think they would offer more than a combination of salary fillers (Rui Hachimura and/or Gabe Vincent), a young player. A prospect (Max Christie or Jalen Hood-Schivino) and a protected pick (2029 or 2030 first-rounder). To be clear, the Lakers will fight to keep Hachimura and Christie. But I see this offer as the highest they would be willing to give up.
However, I don’t think they want to outbid themselves and would need another suitor to raise their offer to more than the minimum package. They feel they would be doing the Bulls a favor by taking LaVine’s salary off their books and starting a rebuild if the Bulls eventually go in that direction.
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Los Angeles is not interested in trading Austin Reeves for LaVine, as reported. After a rough start by his standards, which included a move to the bench, Reeves has regained his production from last season, scoring 20 or more points in five of the past seven games (including the intraseason tournament championship).
I could see an offer or framework similar to a DeRozan deal, or a DeRozan-Caruso combo package as well, with the players involved adjusted to match the salary. The Lakers have just one pick moving in the first round.
What do you think Chicago wants from Los Angeles? Does something like what you’ve asked sound realistic?
Mayberry: The league-wide lack of interest in LaVine poses as a rare example of a team incurring a major contract extension, only to be unable to trade said contract in the future. Most people agree that LaVine earned the maximum amount of his contract and that it was smart for the Bulls to retain him two summers ago. But that came with the realization that a trade would always be available if things didn’t work out. If the Lakers don’t want to acquire LaVine, the Bulls could be left to figure it out with their frustrated star.
Meanwhile, the Bulls’ recent strong play has shown team management (and anyone interested) just how much better Chicago is without LaVine. The Bulls are 6-3 in their past nine games, own a plus-3.1 net rating and have outscored opponents by 31 points over that span. Whispers are growing about whether the Bulls need LaVine.
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As for your potential deal framework, bulls won’t like it, but it’s the kind they might have to accept. Teams aren’t tripping over each other in a race to trade for LaVine. DeRozan, who continues to perform at a high level, will turn 35 next summer and is seeking a major extension. Once again, bulls cannot be selective. Their options are to retool now and collect some assets, even if they are imperfect, while they can, or stick with the status quo and let important players walk for next to nothing – while the team remains out of contention.
This dilemma should force the Bulls to be flexible about the players they get in the deal, although Coby White’s stellar performance may make the Bulls think twice about including Russell. The most important issue is the long-distance draft pick. Up to this point, bulls have not been interested in long-term (or short-term, for that matter) capital. The Bulls’ front office has not shown much appetite for long-term planning. It’s a profitable management team now. The Lakers’ lack of immediate capital could be a deal breaker. But the bulls don’t have many better options.
With a potential exchange of this size, do you imagine that the two teams would need a third or even a fourth team to satisfy all parties? I have a feeling we will see some complexity until this deal is completed.
Booha: We agree. I think that’s where this would likely go if it happened: a three- or even four-team deal.
Naturally, the more teams involved, the more moving pieces there are and the greater the challenge in satisfying all parties. But I could see Russell being redirected to a third team willing to upgrade the starting backcourt in exchange for more immediate draft capital. Although Russell has been in a slump lately, he is still averaging 15.8 points and 6.3 assists to go along with 39.3 percent from 3-point range. His shooting and playmaking could help a rookie offense that needs a boost.
I don’t see a clear team that fits the bill right now, but there’s plenty of time — roughly six weeks — between now and the February 8 trade deadline. Teams will suffer injuries, slide and drop in the standings. There are more buyers than sellers at the moment, but at least a number of sellers will emerge.
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Where are the bulls with Caruso? I’m not sure NBA Twitter can handle Caruso-Reaves’ backcourt, but I’m sure the Lakers would love to reunite him with their former point guard. It has been reported The asking price is as high as several first-round picks (to your point about the Bulls demanding the moon and overvaluing the value of their players). I’m not entirely sure they’ll get that — certainly not from the Lakers. But are they open to trading him? And could this turn into a short sale if they trade LaVine first?
Mayberry: The Bulls love everything about Caruso, and rightly so. He is untouchable. But he represents a vital link to a team determined to win now.
Trading Caruso would go against everything the bulls say they are trying to build as an organization. He’s the type of player who helps a franchise establish and maintain its culture. Chicago should start selling short the moment Caruso is traded, not LaVine.
The Bulls’ asking price for Caruso seems steep, but that says everything you need to know about what he means to the franchise. There’s not a lot of Alex Carousos walking around. Add to that the team-friendly contract I mentioned, and Caruso easily ranks as the Bulls’ best acquisition since the arrival of his new management team in 2020. Suddenly, it becomes easier to understand their infatuation and why the Bulls are hesitant to let him go.
Two counterarguments worth mentioning are Caruso’s injury history and the Bulls’ mediocrity. Caruso appeared in only 130 of a possible 193 games with the Bulls. It stands to reason that the Bulls will get what they can at some point if they are losing consistently and Caruso can’t stay healthy.
Booha: The counterargument underscores the core issue in the Lakers-Bulls deal: The Bulls don’t have a clear direction yet, and the Lakers have relatively limited assets to entice Chicago’s top brass to pull the trigger. Whether the Bulls want a win-now package to restart their season or a rebuild package to help tear it down, the Lakers could be outbid by a rival contender.
There’s also the question of whether the Lakers need LaVine. The league’s 24th-ranked offense could use LaVine’s offensive dynamism, but the LaVine-Reaves backcourt would present many of the same issues that have prevented the Lakers from using the Russell-Reaves backcourt more together. The Lakers’ identity is built on size and defense, and they need players who fit that mold.
Ultimately, I think a deal is less likely than the recent hype suggests. Unless the Lakers are LaVine’s only suitor, there will be better offers on the table. I also don’t think the Lakers would match the high price the Bulls paid for Caruso – if the Bulls enjoy trading for him. DeRozan is the most realistic target, but the LaVine domino will likely fall first before the Bulls consider moving DeRozan. I believe compromising on Reeves, picking protections and young assets could prevent the two sides from finding common ground.
I’m skeptical a deal can be reached between these two franchises. I think LaVine ends up staying put or going somewhere else.
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(Top photo: Gary A. Vasquez/USA Today)
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