What Exactly Are The Chicago Bulls Doing?

The Chicago Bulls figured to be one of the most fascinating teams in the NBA this offseason, as they entered the summer with a pair of big free agents (DeMar DeRozan and Patrick Williams) and some intriguing trade targets for contenders (Zach LaVine and Alex Caruso).

The expectation has been they will try to re-sign DeRozan and continue pushing for playoff contention. It was reported the main reason they didn’t trade Caruso before the deadline last year was a mandate from ownership to make a playoff push, turning down offers including multiple first round picks (with one including a top-10 pick from this year). And then, on Thursday, word broke that the Bulls swapped Caruso straight up for Thunder guard Josh Giddey in a head-scratcher of a trade from Chicago’s perspective (and a home run from OKC’s).

Adrian Wojnarowski painted the Bulls perspective on the trade as seeking out a playmaking guard to fill the void left by Lonzo Ball, who has missed more than two seasons with continued knee problems, very generously calling Giddey a player with “All-Star potential.” The former No. 6 overall pick is, unquestionably, a tremendous passer and playmaker for others. From that perspective, it’s understandable why they’d have interest. However, beyond that individual skillset being a need in Chicago, there’s not much about this trade that makes a lot of sense for the Bulls.

Giddey’s struggles in the playoffs certainly laid bare the areas in which he needs to improve. His defense was a liability, and his offensive skillset was too limited as a scorer to be on the ball as much as he needs to be to impact the game positively as a facilitator — and off the ball, he was too easy to help off of. That’s not to say he’s a terrible player, he was a starter on the West’s top seed all season, but keen observers were pointing to the potential issues with Giddey in the starting lineup long before the postseason arrived. Perhaps he can take the steps needed to fill those holes in his game and fulfill his max potential, but the issues with this trade go far beyond questions of Giddey’s ability to grow into a high-caliber point guard in the NBA.

The process of how this deal got done and what the Bulls got back makes little to no sense. For starters, doing a non-salary dump trade with the Oklahoma City Thunder and not getting a single draft pick in return — even a second rounder — should be impossible. That’s especially true when trading a guy who was garnering offers with multiple firsts four months ago, still holds tremendous value around the league, and is a near-perfect fit for what the Thunder are desperately searching for after a second round exit. While the Bulls have almost no leverage in LaVine trade talks, they should’ve been holding plenty when it came to Caruso given how many contenders need a player of his profile. No matter how highly the Bulls view Giddey, to not get a single pick in return for him seems hard to do, particularly when dealing with a team that has been hoarding draft picks specifically for this moment when they need to cash in on a veteran to raise their playoff ceiling.

On top of the general impossibility of trading a good player to OKC and not getting a pick in return, they didn’t even get a guy the Thunder would consider a strong asset right now. Giddey was played off the floor in the playoffs by the Dallas Mavericks, who targeted him over and over on defense and abandoned him beyond the arc where he was unable to be a shooting threat. His playmaking ability was effectively neutralized with the emergence of Jalen Williams as a secondary creator on the wing, while Shai Gilgeous-Alexander blossomed into an MVP candidate. With just one year left on his rookie deal, Giddey, like Caruso, will be looking to get paid next year, meaning there wasn’t even a real financial component to this trade, which would be the only real bargaining chip I can think of for the Thunder to push back on sending a pick. And yet, here we are with the Bulls giving up a coveted player for a guy everyone pegged as a likely trade candidate this summer, and not even getting some draft assets in return.

It is another example of questionable asset management from Arturas Karnisovas, who certainly is operating under a difficult ownership situation but also hasn’t shown a great deal of tact in terms of recognizing leverage and timing. Caruso figured to be their best chance to get a positive asset this summer, as they’ve waited so long to pull the trigger on a LaVine trade that his value has dipped to the point they’re having to put the hard sell on teams to even move the former All-Star. Instead, they traded Caruso for a young player that has some possible upside but isn’t exactly someone the rest of the league values highly and is going to need a new contract next summer as a restricted free agent.

That brings us to the final head-scratching point of this deal, which is the most charitable read of this trade doesn’t match up with everything we’ve heard about how the Bulls plan to operate next season. Normally, flipping a 30-year-old veteran who was vital to winning for a guy who turns 22 in training camp coming off some playoff struggles is an indicator of a team looking to take some time and rebuild. Giddey might be able to develop into something better than he is currently, but you’ll need to invest time and resources into that, while understanding that the timeline for the team has changed. Perhaps the Bulls have realized it’s time to change course, but if they re-sign DeMar DeRozan to a big money, long-term deal as most anticipate, that wouldn’t line up with a rebuild at all. It’s not often that a team is able to pull off a build through the middle, remaining fairly competitive in the present while resetting their timeline for the future, but I’d bet that’s the prevailing thought with this move for Chicago, which won 39 games last year and didn’t make it out of the Play-In Tournament.

Josh Giddey and Coby White make for an interesting, fairly young backcourt tandem, with White’s shooting covering for Giddey’s deficiencies in that area, while Giddey’s ability to facilitate should help White get even better looks at the basket. That makes sense. What doesn’t make sense, at least to me, is pairing those two with DeRozan on a new deal, Nikola Vucevic (who somehow still has another two years left on his deal), and whatever comes back in return for LaVine (assuming he does, indeed, get moved). The Bulls ranked 29th in the league in 3-point attempt rate last season, and are now adding Giddey to a team that looks like it’ll one again have major issues with spacing.

Perhaps I’ll be surprised, and the Bulls will show signs of a real plan to hit the reset button. Maybe they have a LaVine trade lined up that gets them some positive future assets back that no one around the league is expecting or predicting. Maybe they can sign DeRozan to a shorter term deal to line up with when Vucevic comes off the books, freeing them up financially in the summer of ’26. However, color me skeptical that will happen given, well, everything about the way this team has been run for the past decade-plus. If they stay true to how they’ve operated, they’ll look to build another team to chase a Play-In berth again, and it’s hard to see this deal as anything other than another example of mismanagement by the Bulls, setting them off even further adrift on an aimless voyage to mediocrity.