LaVine, Caruso and other Chicago Bulls the Warriors could pursue

LaVine, Caruso and other Chicago Bulls the Warriors could pursue

CHICAGO — Rumors that the Chicago Bulls were open for a trade started early this year. They’re essentially out of the hunt with an opportunity to move a handful of expensive contracts.

The Warriors have a similar record — out of the play-in, looking dreadful — but are in the market for players that can reinvent the roster around Steph Curry in order to prop the championship window open again. Through rotation disarray, injuries and suspensions, it’s become clear is Golden State’s roster doesn’t have the pieces to contend and the front office can begin a search for the next group to make a push.

The Bulls have a few All Star players that can rejuvenate the roster, or at least give Golden State some different options. Here’s a look.

Zach LaVine, 28, 6-foot-5 wing

Lack of a secondary shot creator outside Curry has dogged Golden State since the season began. Wins typically come with a heroic Curry game and the losses pile up when teammates can’t pick up any scoring slack. In recent years, Klay Thompson, Jordan Poole and Andrew Wiggins were among those who could reliably put together a 20-plus point game.

Now Poole is traded, Thompson is averaging 17.1 points per game and Wiggins can’t buy a bucket and has mostly shied away from shooting with 11.7 points per game on 10.7 field goal attempts per game, both career lows.

LaVine, on paper, fills the void. In his prime, the 28-year-old wing is averaging 20.3 points per game shooting 44.6% from the field. Statistically, it’s been one of LaVine’s career worst years, but the two-time All Star could thrive with a change of scenery. Draymond Green praised LaVine as a teammate when the pair won gold together at the Olympics for Team USA in 2021.

“He’s one of those guys that’s extremely talented, extremely confident, but doesn’t really know how good he truly is, what he brings to the table,” Green told The Athletic then. “So it’s just trying to teach him that. You are the face of a franchise, bro. How do you be that? He’s never been on a team where anyone can really, truly teach him that. Or else he would’ve been that.”

There are major downsides. LaVine is a sub-par defender — though, Green seems to think LaVine has potential to improve there in the right environment — and his contract is ugly. LaVine is in the second year of a five-year, $215 contract where he’s earning $40 million this season and $43 million the next. Thompson and Chris Paul have hefty expiring contracts that could facilitate the trade, but will the Warriors want to lock into a gargantuan contract long term for an imperfect player?

Alex Caruso, 29, 6-foot-5 guard

The Warriors’ defense, especially at the point of attack and in transition, has been atrocious with Gary Payton II and Green missing most of the season. Trading for Caruso bolsters a defensive IQ that’s been lacking all year; trading for Caruso can help the Warriors build again the kind of top defensive unit that’s been quintessential to their previous success.

Caruso made the 2022-23 all defensive team and was a defensive player of the year candidate. He has a career 109.1 defensive rating for his ability to read plays and quarterback defenses. A Warriors team struggling with communication on defense could be in search of another savvy voice that can amplify Green’s powers, too.

Often the Warriors’ best defensive lineups make for an anemic, clogged offense, so it helps Caruso can space the floor with a 40.9% pace from 3 this season. His contract doesn’t break the bank on the third year of a four-year, $36.9 million deal with his final $9.8 million partially guaranteed.

The downside: The Warriors are jam-packed in the backcourt with a clear disadvantage against bigger, longer and more athletic opponents. Adding another smaller guard may not be the solve this team needs.

Nikola Vucevic, 33, 6-foot-10 center

Maybe the Warriors just go looking for more size, a big guy that can get some easy buckets up in the paint, a rim protector and another body that can wrangle some rebounds. The Bulls have a simple solution in Vucevic.

The Warriors decision to lean in on veteran experience over size and athleticism has bitten them back more often than not; Braun beat brain in most of the Warriors’ losses. Vucevic doesn’t add much of a dynamic to counter other than stability at the center position with Kevon Looney struggling this season, averaging 16.7 points and 10.4 rebounds per game. Vucevic is in the first year of a three-year, $20 million contract.

DeMar DeRozan, 34, 6-foot-6 wing/forward

Stylistically, DeRozan’s game doesn’t quite fit the Warriors’ style. He’s an on-ball shot creator who excels in the mid-range. But he may be just the right guy for a Warriors team in desperate need of another shot creator alongside Curry.

DeRozan is a six-time All Star and the face of a Bulls franchise that hasn’t gotten its feet under it. He averages 22 points per game shooting 45.8% from 3. DeRozan’s name hasn’t been as prominent in the trade rumor mill, but it’s a name worth monitoring if Chicago starts moving players. His three-year, $27.3 million contract expires after this year.

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Lonzo Ball, 26, 6-foot-6 point guard

Ball is out for the year after undergoing a third knee surgery and his career outlook is bleak considering. Injuries aside, Ball is one of the smartest players at his position as a playmaker, a strong help defender and can shoot the ball a bit.

Director of sports medicine and performance Rick Celebrini is one of the Warriors’ most valuable assets and Ball is a perfect candidate to buy low if the organization felt they could get him healthy and playing again. If the Warriors went that way, they could offer to take Ball’s contract — he’s earning $20 million this year with a $21.4 million player option next year — in order to acquire other assets. It’s a little bit of a gutsy move at a critical point for the Warriors’ dynasty, but not out of the realm.