With less than a week until the NBA Draft, teams have been dialing up the phones and evaluating prospects to improve their teams. The Houston Rockets received a strong message from superstar Russell Westbrook on Wednesday night when he openly requested a trade from the team. Reports have surfaced that James Harden and Russell Westbrook don’t want to play with one another anymore and that they have concerns about the near future.
Once the news broke about Westbrook’s trade demand, the Chicago Bulls reportedly emerged as a team with 'serious' interest in Westbrook and looked primed to potentially trade for him.
The last time the Bulls had a superstar on their team was during the 2016-17 season when Jimmy Butler led them to the playoffs as an eighth seed where they eventually fell to the Boston Celtics in the first round. While the idea of trading for Westbrook is an intriguing one, it is a trade the team should avoid.
To begin, there are some reasons why a trade to Chicago would make sense for Westbrook himself. The Bulls recently hired head coach Billy Donovan who previously spent four seasons with Russell Westbrook. Under Donovan, Westbrook was the floor general and led an offense that played through him with a lot of pace. It is a style that Westbrook is accustomed to as he likes having the ball in his hands and allowing the offense to run through him. With the Bulls having a young team, this style of play fits with Westbrook's preferred style.
Additionally, Chicago is still a major market. While it doesn’t have a history of being able to sign marquee free agents, the marketing of the city and its opportunities present plenty of reasons why Westbrook would want to join the Bulls. One certainty is that winning doesn’t seem to be his main priority currently, so a move to the windy city would be a wise one for his next career move. However, when evaluating this move from the Bulls perspective, a trade for Westbrook wouldn’t make a whole lot of sense.
The first reason relates to the direction the Bulls are heading. The Bulls possess a great deal of young talent in Zach LaVine, Lauri Markkanen, Coby White, and Wendell Carter Jr. In addition, the Bulls hold the fourth overall pick in the upcoming NBA Draft with the chance to add an intriguing prospect to a roster that can grow under Billy Donovan. Adding Russell Westbrook would skew that new direction.
Recently turning 32 years old, Westbrook is exiting his prime. His playing style is heavily dependent on his athleticism and ability to get to the rim. Westbrook hasn’t really adapted his game to the new style of play, which is evident in his shooting percentage. He shot an atrocious 25.8% from the three-point line this past season. At some point, age will catch up with him and he will begin to lose some of his explosiveness. With his limitations, this would give the Bulls a window of about three years to potentially contend for a championship.
Despite this intrigue, the Bulls have to be honest themselves and admit that they haven’t done well in luring big-time free agents to Chicago. Despite the management change, don’t expect the trends to change much until the team can prove they are a legitimate contender. Pair that with Westbrook’s massive contract and it would be difficult to build a strong team around him in the distant future.
Another reason to avoid trading for Westbrook deals with the assets that the Bulls would be required to give up. It is almost certain that the Rockets would demand at least two players out of Zach LaVine, Lauri Markkanen, and Coby White in any trade with future assets as well.
While new EVP Arturas Karnisovas emphasized the goal for the Bulls is to win a championship, he has repeatedly said that he is all in on player development and giving the young guys a chance to grow together. This young core is intriguing and underperformed during their time under Jim Boylen, so giving them time to develop together under Billy Donovan is important for the overall team chemistry.
While AK could make this move, it is almost certain that the Bulls will be plunged into another rebuild in another three years if the Westbrook trade doesn’t pan out. It seems very risky to pull off this type of move. Yes, it could generate a lot of buzz around the city, but Chicago is one of those cities with loyal fans who stick with their teams through the ups and downs, so it seems quite unnecessary to bring Westbrook in. From a team aspect, there does not seem to be a point in trading all assets away for one player where there is no guarantee that an actual contender can be built.
While a trade for Russell Westbrook seems like an interesting idea, it would be a massive risk for new EVP Arturas Karnisovas to take so early on in his time with the Bulls. While Westbrook is sure to be a Hall of Famer down the road, he has passed his prime and is long removed from his MVP season.
Additionally, blowing up a young core with plenty of potential for a few short years of Westbrook isn’t a move that could work out in the long run. Westbrook alone isn't going to carry the Bulls to a championship, especially with Giannis Antetokounmpo and Kevin Durant out east. Therefore, sticking with the youth route and player development is the safer and better bet for the Bulls.