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Jun 23, 2024  |  
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https://chicago.suntimes.com/authors/joe-cowley


NextImg:Bulls have 15 more games until the trade deadline and decisions to make

The buy-in hasn’t come easy.

That was evident for the Bulls in the preseason when Billy Donovan first introduced the changes he wanted to the offense, and it became crystal clear by the time Boston humiliated Donovan’s crew in late November, dropping them to 5-14 on the season.

Growing pains were on the verge of turning into flat-out dysfunction.

Credit veteran DeMar DeRozan for making sure that didn’t happen, and Donovan for staying the course.

But now comes a very crucial time in the season for this roster. There are 15 games left before the Feb. 8 trade deadline comes and goes, and the part of the schedule that softens up for this team.

Two games with Charlotte in that span, a couple of tussles with Toronto and Memphis, the slumping Lakers, San Antonio, Portland … realistically there could be eight to nine more wins to cash in on before final decisions have to be made on the trade front.

The danger becomes what if the Bulls front office again decides to chase fool’s gold?

Executive vice president of basketball operations Arturas Karnisovas and general manager Marc Eversley have done it before, opting to err on the side of “continuity” both at the trade deadline last year and again over the summer.

Would they jump back into those murky waters for a team that was suddenly 25-27 sitting in a solid play-in spot?

Hopefully lessons have been learned.

This is where it gets tricky, however.

Zach LaVine’s return to the lineup after missing 17 games with a right foot injury couldn’t have gone any better. Sure, the Friday win was over the lowly Hornets, but coming off the bench because of minutes restrictions, LaVine looked bought in on what the Bulls were doing in his absence.

His three-pointer was still off – it’s been off all season (a career-low 33.1%) – but five rebounds, four assists, and effort on defense was much more important than his 15 points. The ball moved when it got in LaVine’s hands, rather than bogging down.

Important for his coach to see, but even better for NBA scouts to witness.

It’s been reported for weeks now by multiple media outlets – including the Sun-Times – that there is currently zero market for LaVine. Even the desperate Lakers are reportedly having reservations with the max deal the Bulls handed the two-time All-Star before last season.

This was just Year 2 of the five-year deal, with LaVine making $40 million this season, $43 million next season, $46 million for the 2025-26 season, and then a player option for $49 million when LaVine will be 31 years old with a lot of tread worn off those tires.

LeBron James will likely be long gone from “The Lake Show” by then, but Anthony Davis is guaranteed $62 million that season, Austin Reaves has a $15-million player option and somehow Jarred Vanderbilt is owed $12.4 million that season.

The idea of owing $111 million for two players in LaVine and Davis, who aren’t the most durable, well, it doesn’t scream roster flexibility for a franchise that often likes to try and reinvent itself on the fly.

So despite the desires of Klutch Sports and LaVine, ending up in Los Angeles isn’t a sure thing. That doesn’t mean the market won’t change over the next month, however.

Keep an eye on Sacramento and Golden State as they battle with inconsistency and tough roster decisions, and then there’s always the unforeseen injury that could happen to a team with deep playoff aspirations. In other words, a quiet market today could become very loud tomorrow or in the upcoming weeks.

The best thing LaVine can do until then is what he displayed against the Hornets.

Buy-in.