THE VULTURE WARS
TEAMS ARE SNIFFING AROUND IN CASE BULLS WANT TO DEAL LAVINE, MARKKANEN, CARTER
The Bulls’ failing rebuild isn’t even cold yet, but the vultures have begun to circle. SNY reported last week that the Knicks and Nets were doing background work on Zach LaVine, assuming he could be dealt by the new regime.
An NBA scout told the Chicago SunTimes that there were some teams actively zeroing in on several Bulls, including Lauri Markkanen and Wendell Carter Jr.
Is it your normal due diligence or a lot more smoke than usual?
In this case, it’s likely both.
First, sources have indicated the organization hasn’t even crossed the trade bridge. Executive vice president of basketball operations Arturas Karnisovas hasn’t even rounded up the entire roster at the Advocate Center for a full workout.
This is more about other teams waiting to pounce after the Bulls make a decision on the coaching staff.
There were at least a handful of players — several key ones — unhappy with coach Jim Boylen as well as the scheme the analytics department had imposed on the offense.
The midrange shot was frowned upon even though LaVine and Markkanen consider it a key part of their games. The Bulls lived and mostly died from three-point range.
Before the restart began in Orlando on Thursday, the Bulls finished the regular season ninth in three-point attempts with 35.1 per game but 24th in three-point percentage at 34.8.
It was a square peg trying to be jammed into a round hole, and Boylen was accepting whatever the analytics department was feeding him.
LaVine did have one of his better offensive seasons, but he still felt somewhat handcuffed and could have done more. The same can’t be said for Markkanen, who privately ridiculed the offense most of the season.
As for Carter, he basically became an afterthought in the offense. His touches seemed to disappear after being pushed into the garbage-man role, and his points had to come off offensive rebounds.
That offensive philosophy already is being picked apart by the new regime, according to a source, so expect Boylen to have to teach a new look again if he is retained.
But many of the defensive schemes Boylen implemented — minus the constant blitzes on pick-and-roll — have been applauded by the front office, so there’s that.
So why has the Bulls’ roster drawn attention?
Well, Markkanen, Carter and LaVine have had their issues with Boylen.
Markkanen didn’t like his role, Carter wanted to play more power forward and less center, and the cameras revealed LaVine’s frustration at the end of some games last season after Boylen called what he perceived as meaningless timeouts.
There are scenarios in which all three could be dealt, especially if the Bulls stumble across a true center in the draft — James Wiseman — and want to break up a logjam that has formed at power forward with Carter and Markkanen. Yes, it’s unlikely, but it exists.
And what if Boylen being retained leads to a second coup attempt by the players? There was a weak two-man coup attempt during Boylen’s first week on the job, but what if his return triggers a bunch of trade demands?
Then there’s LaVine, who’s tired of missing out on the playoffs and being overlooked for All-Star recognition. He’s signed for the next two seasons at $19.5 million each, but after that, all bets are off. If the Bulls want to be in the best financial position for the highly touted 2021 free-agent class, maybe they’ll act now and get LaVine off the books by acquiring an expiring contract and draft picks.
By freeing up $20 million from LaVine, then the $28.4 million Otto Porter Jr. will make this season when he opts in, the Bulls could be in great shape to potentially add two max deals in ’21.
Those are a lot of what-ifs, however, while the vultures keep circling. ✶
Several NBA teams have shown interest in Lauri Markkanen (left) and Wendell Carter Jr.
Bulls guard Zach LaVine and coach Jim Boylen have not always seen eye to eye.