The Chicago Bulls are in New Orleans, home of every NBA team’s dream trade target, Chicago native Anthony Davis.
The Pelicans will have some tough decisions to make this summer, but trading Davis probably won’t be one of them. The No. 1 overall pick in 2012 is under contract for at least two more years. The earliest he could be a free agent is 2020.
Teammate DeMarcus Cousins will be a free agent this summer. Davis’ first five years in New Orleans featured just one playoff appearance, but the Pelicans are in position to make the postseason this year.
This is all food for thought as the Bulls decide on their next step in rebuilding.
As mentioned plenty of times before, the initial plan of a top-five draft pick has become unlikely thanks to the Bulls going 15-8 since Dec. 8.
The Bulls could free up plenty of cap space by trading Nikola Mirotic or Robin Lopez and taking expiring contracts in return. But there may not be a great fit for the Bulls in free agency this summer.
They could unload players now in the hope of landing a higher draft pick, but there’s no guarantee it would even work. That’s because the Bulls have no plans to trade Kris Dunn or Lauri Markkanen, who have been important to the turnaround, while Zach LaVine figures to get better in his return from knee surgery.
The best option, one that fits the personality of the Bulls’ front office, is to keep all options open.
They still could land a good player in the 2018 draft. As of Sunday, the Bulls would be in line to get the No. 9 draft pick. The best player right now in the 2017 draft class is Utah guard Donovan Mitchell, who was chosen 13th.
By keeping Mirotic, Lopez and other pieces, the Bulls could set themselves up to make a major trade down the road.
Next year, both Mirotic and Lopez would be on expiring contracts, which could make them more desirable trade targets for a team looking to clear cap space.
Mirotic is on a two-year deal with the second season a team option, but he also can veto any trade this season, so it’s likely he wouldn’t agree to be moved unless a team picks up next year’s option.
The Bulls also could let those contracts expire and have money to spend on free agents in 2019, before they’ll need to re-sign Dunn or Markkanen to an extension.
Management’s goal is to add a significant piece to the Dunn-Markkanen-LaVine nucleus, one that would make the Bulls a championship contender.
They might decide they don’t need Mirotic, but patience appears to be the Bulls’ best path to a major addition.
LaVine slows down:
Zach LaVine’s first two games coming back from ACL surgery were better than anyone could have hoped. He hit 12 of 21 shots, 5 of 8 from 3-point range and averaged 16 points.
The next two games didn’t go as well. Against Golden State and Atlanta, LaVine hit just 4 of 21 shots and 1 of 9 from 3-point range.
The good news from the Bulls’ perspective is they’ve won three of four games with LaVine in the lineup, so he’s not throwing off the chemistry. His minutes limit was supposed to increase to 24 on Saturday, but coach Fred Hoiberg used LaVine for just 18 minutes against the Hawks since the game wasn’t close in the fourth quarter.
Long-range game plan:
The role of the 3-point shot has reached unprecedented levels for the Bulls. Saturday’s win in Atlanta was the Bulls’ 10th straight game with at least 10 made 3-pointers.
The four longest such streaks in team history have all happened in the past 12 months. The Bulls had streaks of seven and four games with 10 3-pointers late last season, then did it four in a row in November.
Since Dec. 8, when the turnaround began, the Bulls rank second in the league in 3-point percentage (.385) and sixth in made 3-pointers per game (11.3).
• Twitter: @McGrawDHBulls.