The Chicago Bulls’ top players still hold value around the league.
With the ongoing saga between James Harden, the Philadelphia 76ers, and the Los Angeles Clippers appearing no closer to a resolution, one analyst has suggested Bulls star DeMar DeRozan replace the mercurial guard for LA in a potential trade.
“For the Clippers … is James Harden worth two first-round picks,” said ESPN analyst Bobby Marks on “The Lowe Post Podcast” on September 5. “And I think for them, who else out there? Who’s going to be another disgruntled guy out there? … What happens in Chicago with DeMar DeRozan, for example?
“If you’re looking at that situation does DeMar DeRozan fit better than James Harden with this group here, at maybe a little bit less of a cost?
Marks – a former assistant general manager, among other roles, with the Brooklyn Nets – put DeRozan’s extension at four years for $170 million.
DeRozan, 34, is heading into the final year of a three-year, $81.9 million contract.
The Bulls acquired DeRozan in 2021 after he believed he would end up with his hometown Los Angeles Lakers. Chicago’s winning offer was nearly 14 times more than what was thought to be on the table elsewhere, per Jake Fischer for Bleacher Report in August of 2021.
DeRozan has surpassed the expectations for him in Chicago with back-to-back All-Star appearances while averaging 26.2 points on 59.1% true shooting and appearing in 150 of a possible 164 games over the last two seasons. Chicago is also 10 games above .500 at 80-70 with DeRozan in the lineup.
He has been a clutch performer with multiple game-winning shots to his credit, and he has taken his younger teammates under his wing.
“DeMar’s been great,” Bulls general manager Marc Eversley said, per Darnell Mayberry of The Athletic on August 21. “He’s been terrific for this group, not only on the court but off the court. He’s been a leader. I would love DeMar to be part of this program long term.”
DeRozan’s future has been a subject of some debate.
Two Sides to Future With DeMar DeRozan
“I mean truthfully, if I was the Bulls, I’d be trying to trade DeMar DeRozan,” said ESPN reporter Tim Bontemps on “Brian Windhorst & The Hoop Collective” on July 31. “As great as he has been for them this is, I think they’re in a no-win situation here.”
For all of the success DeRozan has had with the Bulls in the regular season, they have just one playoff win to show for it. And they missed the postseason entirely this past season after executive vice president of basketball operations Arturas Karnisovas said that he expected improvement from the 2021-22 season.
But there are myriad reasons the Bulls did not make the playoffs last year and for their struggles in 2021-22.
DeRozan’s impact cannot be overlooked, though, argues NBC Sports Chicago’s K.C. Johnson.
“You have to extend them because of what you’ve done to this point,” Johnson said on the “Bulls Talk Podcast” on September 6. “If you were gonna make changes, you needed to pivot last February at the trade deadline when they did not, and they chased that play in spot.”
Chicago finished the regular season 40-42 but went on a 14-9 run to end the campaign and had a lead over the Miami Heat last in the fourth quarter of the Play-In Tournament. Karnisovas has leaned on the strong finish and showing against the Eastern Conference champions in explaining his decision to stick with this core.
“Then you double down on continuity – triple down, whatever you want to say – and you re-sign [Nikola Vucevic]. You’re in now. because this is your path now.”
Karnisovas’ decision to Vucevic a three-year, $60 million contract has been criticized.
“There’s not many starting centers in the NBA,” Eversley said on the “Bulls Talk Podcast” on August 20. So if Vooch were to go away, how would you replace him? Those options were just not appealing to us. So retaining him became the No. 1 goal.”
There was uncertainty about Vucevic’s future in Chicago with the big man saying he planned on exploring his options in free agency.
The cost of losing him (after the cost to acquire him) outweighed the results for Chicago.
“At some point [this core is] going to have to be dismantled,” Johnson said. “But next summer or this season is not that time in terms of the extension [for DeRozan]. Because it’s not like if you let him walk next summer you become a cap team. You’re over the cap whether this guy’s on the team or not. So it’s not like all of a sudden you come flushed with cap space.”
Bulls Could Slow-Play DeMar DeRozan Contract Talks
Just like with Vucevic, the Bulls have the luxury of time to decide on DeRozan’s future beyond next season.
And it could very much go in any number of ways.
“The only thing I can see happening in terms of a pivot is them stringing the extension talks along, seeing how they’re doing,” Johnson said. ”And if they’re not doing well, next February make some changes to the roster.”
DeRozan has spoken highly of his time in Chicago and has said he no longer feels the need to play for one of his hometown teams. His comments – and those from the team – would suggest that another deal is eventually reached with the Bulls, even if it means waiting until the last minute to get it done.
Josh Buckhalter covers the NBA for Heavy.com with a focus on the Bulls and Lakers. He’s based in Villa Park, Illinois. Follow Josh on Twitter/Instagram: @JoshGBuck and reach him via email at [email protected]. More about Josh Buckhalter