The Chicago Bulls are in an interesting position heading into the 2021 offseason. They made a trade deadline deal for Nikola Vucevic, showing the intent to build around Zach LaVine instead of moving on from him. Still, the Bulls have multiple holes to fill if they want to be playoff contenders. Defense, both on the interior and perimeter, and point guard are at the top of the list of needs for Chicago.
If the Bulls want to make the playoffs for the first time since 2017, they need upgrades and soon. Zach LaVine is an unrestricted free agent after this upcoming season, and the man wants to win. One move the Bulls could try to make this offseason is capitalize on Lauri Markkanen’s desire to play for the Mavericks and try to nab point guard Jalen Brunson in the deal.
The Sign and Trade
This trade makes sense on multiple levels for both teams. As you may already know, a third of Dallas’s roster is made up of European players. While Markkanen went to Arizona for college, he was born and raised in Finland. As such, he fits the mold that Mark Cuban seems to love. Furthermore, while Kristaps Porziņģis and Markkanen would make for a porous frontcourt defensively, having two big men who can hit the three consistently is an appealing concept.
Also, as recently as last season, Porziņģis was good for 2.6 Defensive Win Shares. That is more than Markkanen and Nikola Vučević put up combined in the 2020-2021 season. The potential is there for the Mavericks to be at least average defensively. Plus, a healthy Markkanen with consistent minutes and Luka Dončić directing things on the court has a lot of offensive potential.
For the Bulls, Jalen Brunson (Stevenson High School product) returns to his home state. He slots in as the starting point guard ready to contribute more than his career-high 25 MPG this season. Brunson does not give the Bulls a lockdown perimeter guard, nor does he give Chicago size at the position (6’1, 190). However, the 24-year-old does give the Bulls a point guard capable of running an offense and playing off the ball. In the 2020-2021 season, Brunson averaged 12.6 PPG and 3.5 APG in 25 MPG off the bench.
Brunson did so while shooting 52.3% from the field and 40.5% from deep on a modest 2.9 attempts per game. All of this was good for a 17.1 PER and 5.1 Win Shares. For comparison’s sake, Coby White had a 12.0 PER and 2.4 Win Shares this past season. Brunson slots in as the starting point guard which lets White stick to the spark plug, 6th-man role for which he seems to be best suited.
Why Would Dallas Do This Trade?
So, the question for Bulls fans is probably this: why the Mavericks would give up a rock solid point guard for a defensively-challenged power forward who has some difficulties staying healthy? Well, it comes down to a few key factors. For one, Jalen Brunson fell out of favor with Mavs head coach Rick Carlisle in the playoffs.
In the final three games of the Mavericks’ series loss to the Los Angeles Clippers, Brunson played 10, 15, and 10 minutes respectively. He scored 11 points total in those three games. He also had a total of one assist in those games. Mark Cuban has already said Rick Carlisle is coming back, so Brunson’s role will be something the Mavericks would have to consider leading into next season. Plus, Brunson is going into the last year of his contract.
The point guard will be looking for a substantial raise from the $1.8 million he is set to make, and there is no guarantee he wants to stay in Dallas when starting opportunities could be out there for him. Getting Markkanen in a sign-and-trade on a multi-year deal gives the Mavs good security moving forward.
What Would it Need to Look Like?
Brunson is only making $1.8 million next season, and Markkanen will be getting a deal worth substantially more. As such, they cannot be the only two figures in the trade. Depending on the final dollar amount for Markkanen’s deal, the Mavericks could add a player like Maxi Kleber to the deal. Kleber’s playing time would be substantially depleted by Markkanen’s arrival anyway. Plus, that clears another $8.7 million off the Mavericks’ books to make room for Markkanen.
For the Bulls, they would get a starting-caliber point guard on a trial. They’d also get a decent big man who can hit the three consistently (36.8% career). All this for a player who the Bulls most likely won’t seek to retain anyway due to the makeup of their roster. Brunson and Kleber would only be guaranteed one season with the Bulls. Still, they fill needs and give the Bulls a return for losing their former 7th overall pick.