Bulls Insider

NBA trade deadline: Bulls quiet for now, but help coming


CHARLOTTE, N.C. — Patrick Williams, Derrick Jones Jr. and Alex Caruso traveled on this one-game trip despite being weeks away from returning from their various injuries.

And the only reason Lonzo Ball and Ayo Dosunmu didn’t is because the former is in the early stages of his rehab from arthroscopic knee surgery and his day was best spent focusing on that at the Advocate Center, and the latter is in the league’s concussion protocol.

What does that have to do with Thursday’s NBA trade deadline?

As the main spokesperson for the franchise, the one who meets the media almost daily, Chicago Bulls head coach Billy Donovan has been hammering two themes consistently.

He likes this group. And while the team hasn’t been whole much, he believes it will be.

This is all a metaphorical way of saying as of Wednesday night, things are quiet on the Bulls’ trade front.

“I think the feeling by the both of us is we really, really like this group,” Donovan said of he and executive vice president Artūras Karnišovas. “The hard part is you get through COVID and the perception is, ‘Oh once we get through this thing, we got hit early, we’re going to be fine. We’ll be whole.’ We haven’t been whole the entire year.

“Obviously, we feel good about Ayo coming back relatively soon. I think we’re optimistic about Patrick. We have some target windows for Lonzo and Caruso. But I think Artūras would be looking at what comes across his plate that he feels would be good for the team? And I think the other piece of it too is what potentially happens in the buyout market?

“I think he’s just keeping his options open right now. But there’s not anything that I’ve heard from him where he’s said, ‘Hey listen, this is kind of the direction we want to go and here’s somebody that’s maybe available. I got a phone call on this.’ That has not taken place. But the communication has been there.’’

In fact, the two men met after Wednesday’s morning shootaround, the one in which the injured players interacted and stayed connected with their teammates.

Karnišovas and his staff have repeatedly proven they will be aggressive when they see the right opportunity, so things could change between now and Thursday at 2 p.m. Heck, last season’s three-team trade that netted the Bulls Troy Brown Jr., Daniel Theis and Javonte Green occurred in a final flurry of calls just before last season’s deadline.

But between Karnišovas’ presence on this one-game trip and the injured players’ traveling, this group is close-knit. And at full strength, that chemistry and connectivity has produced an internal belief that they’ll be a tough postseason out.

“The one thing we’re trying to do organizationally that has been a hot topic has been with Alex, with Lonzo, with Derrick, with Patrick, as we’re hopeful these guys come back, we just can’t have them be disconnected to the team,” Donovan said. “There’s a balance between, ‘OK, here’s a road trip. What makes more sense? Keeping a guy back behind and letting him get his work in or bringing him with us?’ This being a one-day trip, we really felt it would be good to have those guys here with the team and interacting.”

The core of Caruso, Ball, Nikola Vučević, Zach LaVine and DeMar DeRozan has logged just 16 games and 95 minutes together, posting a gaudy net rating of plus-12.5 in that time.

This isn’t to say the Bulls merely are focused on the returning players as the sole reinforcements, even if all signs point to Williams being ready by next month. As Donovan said, if no trade opportunity presents between now and Thursday’s deadline, the buyout market will be scoured.

Paul Millsap and Tristan Thompson are two players who potentially could be available. And league sources indicated the Bulls’ focus has been on frontcourt help, not backcourt. In fact, two sources said the Bulls’ reported interest in Dennis Schröder is overblown, if not completely inaccurate.

At some point, whether the Bulls add help or not, the core is projected to be whole. And Donovan has made it clear: He and management like this group.

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