Nothing has gone according to plan for the Chicago Bulls this season – their free-agent signings from the offseason have not panned out as they had hoped, they lost their offensive mojo rediscovering their defense, and perhaps most importantly they haven’t gotten and won’t be getting Lonzo Ball back anytime soon.
With an offseason full of question marks ahead of them, there is some belief the Bulls need to get going on a rebuild and trade…for beleaguered Brooklyn Nets star Ben Simmons?
“No, Ben Simmons doesn’t figure to make Chicago a better team next year,” conceded Grant Hughes of Bleacher Report. “He’s simply matching salary in a swap designed to get the Bulls the assets they’ll need to undertake a deliberate rebuild.”
2023 1st Rd Pick
2025 1st Rd Pick (via PHX)
2027 1st Rd Pick (HOU owns swap rights)
2027 1st Rd Pick (via PHI)
“Because his performance and availability have cratered since leaving the Philadelphia 76ers, Simmons may very well have the league’s worst contract,” explains Hughes. “Combined with LaVine’s value as a high-end scorer, which the Nets need on a roster full of three-and-D wings, that’s what earns Chicago four first-rounders and Cam Thomas in the exchange.”
Simmons is in the third year of a five-year, $177 million contract and will carry a $37.8 million cap hit next season and over $40 million in the final year with no early outs.
He has been out since the All-Star break dealing with knee soreness and then back inflammation. The 26-year-old is less than a year removed from having a microdiscectomy performed on the balky back.
A three-time All-Star and two-time All-Defensive selection, he had lost his role pre-injury.
“Those firsts coming from the Nets aren’t all golden tickets,” writes Hughes. “They mostly come from other teams and may not return high-lottery value, though it isn’t the worst idea to bet that the Phoenix Suns will come apart by 2025 or that the Sixers will be done contending in 2027. You might argue that taking on Simmons’ money should earn Chicago more draft capital, but it’s not like LaVine’s deal is some great bargain. He’s due $178.1 million over the next four seasons and comes with real durability concerns due to multiple knee surgeries.”
LaVine, 28, has not missed a game since November 6 – the Bulls’ 11th game of the season – getting off to a slow start to the campaign after undergoing offseason knee surgery.
He has looked every bit the two-time All-Star that he is for some time.
Just over the last six games, LaVine is averaging 33.3 points on 66.2% true shooting while knocking down 47.7% of his triples adding 4.5 rebounds and 3.8 assists for good measure; a stat line far more commensurate with his $215 million max deal over the next five years.
Simmons’ line over his last six – 3.0 points, 4.3 assists, 3.8 rebounds, – looks like a sunk cost.
Bull GM Marc Eversley an X-Factor
There is an undeniable connection to the Bulls front office and general manager Marc Eversley, in particular. Eversley was in the Philadelphia 76ers’ front office as vice president of basketball operations when Simmons was drafted in 2017. But one league source told Heavy Sports NBA insider Sean Deveney that the Bulls wouldn’t have an interest in Simmons last August.
“I don’t think they’d have an interest in Simmons,” the source said. “I know Marc was big in drafting him but I don’t think that means he wants to take on the headache.”
Simmons sat out the entire 2021-22 season with his back injury and mental health issues.
“Don’t overlook Cam Thomas,” Hughes adds. “His per-36 numbers—23.0 points, 3.7 rebounds and 3.2 assists on a 57.3 true shooting percentage—look a lot like LaVine’s did in his age-21 season. Then with the Minnesota Timberwolves, LaVine averaged 18.3 points, 3.3 rebounds and 2.9 assists per 36 minutes with a 57.6 true shooting percentage. Nobody’s arguing that Thomas has multiple All-Star nods in his future, but he’s much more than a throw-in here.”
Thomas has seen his role diminish following the trade deadline like Simmons but for vastly different reasons. Similar to LaVine, Thomas is still largely considered a one-way player at this point in his career.
With the Nets featuring a starting lineup of two-way players, Thomas is behind other, more veteran specialists in the rotation.
Zach LaVine a Centerpiece, Not a Trade Chip
Hughes is of the belief that the Bulls need to tear everything down to the studs and undergo a full rebuild. This front office gambled (and lost) a lot to avoid doing just that so it is unclear if they would want to turn back.
They held out on shutting down Ball until late February and dealing away any pieces at the last two trade deadlines or over the summer.
With as many misses as they have had, they need to be clear winners in their next pivot. A LaVine-for-Simmons swap would not seem to do that even if the latter is younger and more accomplished with higher two-way potential. LaVine’s game is more suited to build around in today’s NBA and his injury concerns have been less of an issue.