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Bulls mailbag: Will management trade Caruso, Big 3?


The Chicago Bulls are scuffling and underachieving. You have questions. We have answers.

From here on out, there's really only one question that needs to be run. When will Arturas Karnisovas act on what we can all see---these three core players just don't work together?

This is the third season of seeing Nikola Vucevic and Zach LaVine together, and I believe we have enough data to assert that pairing a center who likes his touches and struggles mightily at protecting the middle with a shooting guard who likes his touches and struggles mightily with providing backside defense is not a recipe for winning. You spent all your cap and picks to get two players that you're constantly trying to cover for with your role players.

I've seen worse Bulls teams. But this team might be the most depressing---bad, old, no picks, no young players that project ... ouch. --- Alejandro Y.

But what about Lonzo Ball . . . .

Here are the net ratings for the shared minutes for LaVine and Vucevic since the Bulls acquired Vucevic at the 2021 trade deadline: minus-2.1 rating this season, minus-1.6 rating last season, minus-3.7 in a small sample size down the 2020-21 stretch.

For some context, none of the two-man combinations involving any of the “Big Three” have a positive net rating this season. Your point certainly is a worthy discussion.

Management’s rebuttal, which we’ve heard countless times in the form of “continuity,” is that this group hasn’t had much time together. And even less in management’s fully realized vision that includes Ball, who only has played 35 games with the Bulls.

While I probably wouldn’t outright say, as you do, that these three core players don’t work together, I would agree this core has a ceiling. And it’s not a championship-level ceiling. Their offensive rating of 110.9 ranks below the league average.

Where I think this core can work with the right surrounding pieces is you have three offensive-minded players in an offensively-driven league, but all three are willing passers. Throw in the right role players and add more shooting, and the ceiling could be higher. Ball's 3-point shooting and status as an elite connecting piece is sorely missed.

As painful as it could be, and as much of a longshot as I think it is, trading DeRozan might be the most prudent move out of mediocrity. As has been written in this space before, DeRozan is extension eligible this offseason. That doesn't mean the Bulls have to extend him. But trading him to a team intent on doing so would take that decision off the Bulls' hands and net the largest return.

Do you think the Bulls will trade one or more of DeMar DeRozan, Zach LaVine or Nikola Vucevic by the Feb. 9 trade deadline? --- John C.

As of this typing, no. That’s certainly the current impression of the rival executives to whom I have spoken.

Now, there always are qualifiers. First, Karnisovas is known around the league as an executive who keeps business very quiet. And he certainly has shown the ability to make a bold move if one he likes presents itself. But management’s continued public commitment to continuity isn’t merely lip service. That said, this week's troublesome losses to the Indiana Pacers and Charlotte Hornets have to resonate.

The player to watch is Vucevic. While trading him would essentially admit a mistake given the price tag to acquire him, losing him for nothing in unrestricted free agency this offseason would be worse. It’s management’s job to balance short- and long-term planning, and certainly having a read on Vucevic’s offseason intentions has to be a checked box at this point.

Do you think the Bulls make any moves between now and the trade deadline? --- Rich C.

The vultures are circling. Multiple teams have inquired about Alex Caruso, per sources. The Knicks have scouted Caruso of late and own first-round picks that could be dangled with a contract like Obi Toppin if the Bulls show any inclination of trading their defensive ace. The Golden State Warriors also are cited by league sources as a potential suitor.

Veteran NBA scribe Marc Stein reported that the Bulls could move on from Andre Drummond, who has fallen out of Billy Donovan’s rotation. The veteran center, though, also could be a buyout candidate, so it’s unclear what kind of return other than possibly a second-round pick he would command.

If the Bulls did move on from Drummond, it's instructive to remember that Tony Bradley remains on the roster. Donovan also loves playing small-ball lineups with Derrick Jones Jr. at center. At this point, trading Drummond for whatever the Bulls can get might make the most sense, although he has played well in stretches.

As I eat my popcorn awaiting a Dalen Terry sighting, it got me thinking: Why don't our first rounders ever play minutes commensurate with their draft status? I did some hack research and found that Terry is averaging the sixth-fewest minutes per game of 47 rookies, yet he was the No. 18 pick. Further, a few guys averaging fewer minutes than him seem to be injured.  Is this just a Dalen Terry thing, or a trend with our first-round picks? --- Danny B.

Patrick Williams starts. The Bulls made it pretty clear that Terry was an upside pick who they projected to need some time to develop. That said, his lack of shooting is worrisome for a roster that struggles in that department.

I'd love for the Bulls to keep Coby White. How much of a team guy do you need a player to be!? Keep him!! --- Martin S.

The Bulls value White. They’ve rejected offers for him in the past. He’s certainly available for the right move, but it’s clear at this point that the Bulls won’t give him away. For starters, they need his shooting. The team doesn’t have much of it. Secondly, White is a team player who has accepted whatever changing role has been thrown his way. And his defense and ball-handling both are noticeably improved this season. Coach Billy Donovan pointed to White’s improvement in screen navigation before the Pacers’ road game.

My read on White’s restricted free agency is that this managerial regime, like many, work under the “get an offer sheet” philosophy. If matters hadn’t gone as south as they did with Lauri Markkanen, who ultimately requested a trade, this likely would’ve happened as well. The Bulls did offer Markkanen a multi-year extension before the 2020-21 season.

I think the Bulls deserve a shot to go for it in the playoffs rather than trade off. That not only was the original plan, but their play and play against top teams (opposite from last year) is stellar. Also: What does KC stand for?). Was it because of a fan of the Sunshine Band? --- G. Imbo

As to your point, that record against good teams is what fuels the belief within the locker room that this season is salvageable. However, this week’s troubling losses also reveal a flawed team that lacks shooting and execution. The only question is: Which side of the ledger will management believe? To this point, the indications around the league are that the Bulls are leaning towards keeping the core intact. But there certainly is plenty of evidence that management should write off this season and look to better position the team for the future.

K.C. stands for Kenneth Carl, which only my college teammates and Zach LaVine call me. I’ve been K.C. since birth, far before the hit machine of K.C. and the Sunshine Band. My parents knew I’d be a bad speller, or something.

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