Presented by Nationwide Insurance Agent Jeff Vukovich
LOS ANGELES --- When Kyle Lowry called close friend DeMar DeRozan to let him know about Lowry’s imminent trade to the Charlotte Hornets before news broke, DeRozan shifted into support mode.
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“For me, it flips to being there for him more so as a friend. Basketball kind of goes out the window,” DeRozan said Wednesday following the Chicago Bulls’ practice at UCLA. “Even last night, I just texted him before I went to sleep and asked him how he was feeling mentally. That’s all I care about first.”
But there’s a basketball element to Lowry’s departure from the Miami Heat, who added scoring punch with the acquisition of Terry Rozier. It follows the New York Knicks’ acquisition of OG Anunoby and the Indiana Pacers’ acquisition of Pascal Siakam, two other teams vying for position in the crowded Eastern Conference playoff race.
DeRozan long has been consistent with his approach that he doesn’t dabble in front-office business.
“I just focus in on trying to play great basketball,” DeRozan said. “I was overly happy how we competed and played vs. Phoenix. It came down to the last big shot. We’ve been playing well. That’s all I can control and worry about. Everything else will take care of itself.”
But what if it doesn’t? What if the still-quiet market for Zach LaVine, who watched Wednesday's practice from the sideline because of his sprained ankle, never materializes before the Feb. 8 trade deadline? What if the Bulls stand pat and, currently in ninth place, chase another low playoff spot or play-in position?
What is this team’s ceiling as currently constructed?
“Man, we can beat anybody. We can compete with anybody,” DeRozan said. “Health is always a major thing for us. As long as we get closer to being healthy and staying healthy, we can beat anybody. I don’t worry about playing against or going against anybody in this league. My confidence is at an all-time high.”
The Bulls, still without LaVine and Torrey Craig, have recovered somewhat from digging a 5-14 hole. The way they’re playing lately, with a 16-10 record since and several competitive losses, they’d have to take a turn for the worse to fall from the play-in picture.
But they also sport merely the 23rd-ranked offense and 15th-ranked defense. In their 16-10 stretch, they still rank only 17th in offense but seventh in defense.
“I think Terry for them adds another scoring element to a team that needs some of that. So for them, I see the move in that respect,” Alex Caruso said of the Heat’s move. “But as far as we go, I think we showed last game that when we’re locked in and we’re good, we’re a really good team. If there is a move, we’ll be ready for it. If not, we’ll put our head down and go to work.”
To this point, management hasn’t shown any indication it will trade Caruso, who always draws interest from teams with championship aspirations. Last season, the Golden State Warriors were one of several teams to be rebuffed when expressing interest in the All-Defense team member.
Coach Billy Donovan talks to management every day. Both Artūras Karnišovas and Marc Eversley attended Wednesday’s practice. But their conversations focus on the team at hand.
Donovan works under the premise that management approaches him to seek his opinion on personnel moves only if there’s an opportunity that makes sense to consider. For instance, last season, management sought his opinion on adding Russell Westbrook and Patrick Beverley, who eventually signed, via the buyout market.
So on a daily basis, Donovan’s focus is on film sessions, practice plans and in-game decisions.
“When we play to the level and standard and identity that we can play to, we’ve been a very competitive team,” Donovan said. “I think the thing that’s hard that I’m not always privy to in the front office is to have a deal, it takes two. So you can sit there and want to do a lot of different things, but maybe the asking price is too much for it. Or there’s just nothing there. Someone may not be interested.
"I think Artūras and Marc are always looking for ways to get better. But you have to have a willing partner. I trust that they’ll come to me when they need to talk to me about this stuff.”
With two weeks remaining until the deadline, other teams have already made moves. Time will tell if the Bulls follow suit or not.
And if not, there’s always the buyout market. The Bulls are perilously close to the luxury tax but do have an open roster spot. If Charlotte isn’t able to flip Lowry by the deadline and buys him out, would he fit with the Bulls?
“Kyle would fit anywhere where I’m at,” DeRozan said, smiling.
If that hypothetical became a reality, would that be one time DeRozan would break his stance of not meddling in front-office business?
“If it was asked of me, whether from him if that was something he wanted to do (or management), for sure. Why not?” DeRozan said. “That’s one of my closest friends, one of the smartest players I’ve played with since I been in the league.”