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Bulls: The Return of Zach LaVine, Latest on the Niko Trade Talks

It's the "Return of the Zach" for the Bulls as Zack LaVine gets set to make his Chicago debut this weekend, plus the latest on the Niko trade conversations.

Right now, the Chicago Bulls are in an odd place. They are in the hunt for a top draft pick, but are also improving and should get better when Zach LaVine returns on Saturday night when the Pistons visit the United Center.

That said, with the front office looking to trade veterans for draft picks or young and controllable players, the team will likely get worse in the coming weeks. In the end, it’s tough to see how the next month will impact the Bulls’ place in the standings. For now, let’s dive into the immediate effects of LaVine’s return and two possible trades on the horizon.

He’s Back!

Zach LaVine, the crown jewel (for now) of the Jimmy Butler trade, has been given approval to play with the Bulls. He’ll make his debut Saturday against the Detroit Pistons, and will start his campaign on a 20-minute playing time limit.

This is a huge change for the 2017-18 Bulls. Despite this season not mattering in terms of success with the rebuild, it does matter for the future. Mainly, LaVine will hopefully start to develop chemistry with his young teammates, as they set the foundation for a later Bulls championship run.

Pertaining to the next few months, LaVine entering the starting lineup at shooting guard drastically alters the minutes of other players.

First, Justin Holiday will almost certainly be bounced from the starting lineup. Right now, he leads the team in minutes per game, so get used to a lot less of Holiday’s .380 field goal percentage.

I can’t see Fred Hoiberg inserting Holiday into the starting five in place of Denzel Valentine. Clearly, with Valentine’s youth and superior numbers, he is the right option at small forward.

More LaVine also means less David Nwaba and less Paul Zipser. Personally, I hope Nwaba doesn’t see a minutes reduction, though. Nwaba shoots efficiently and doesn’t turn the ball over, while Zipser doesn’t do either of those particularly well.

Once LaVine plays long enough to end his 20-minute limit, expect the 22 year-old to share more touches in the clutch. Recently, Kris Dunn has made a concerted effort to take over late in the fourth quarter, but that’s pre-LaVine.

It’s been nice to see Dunn make progress in that part of his game, but I’d much rather see LaVine work on his late-game touches. While Dunn has demonstrated a lot of potential the last two months, the player who’s more of a star right now, LaVine, deserves more chances in the clutch. This is especially true because LaVine is coming off of a year-long injury, and he needs to get into the swing of things as soon as possible.

Lastly, expect the Bulls to be as cautious as possible with Zach LaVine. Derrick Rose hurt his meniscus eleven games back from his initial ACL injury, and Bulls management is almost surely fearful of a repeat of that.

I can’t be too sure when they will lift the 20-minute restriction, but in all likelihood it won’t come until the end of January, or later.

Until then, patience is key with the recovering LaVine. Bulls fans still have to wait a while for a full-force LaVine, but when he is unleashed, the NBA better watch out.

Niko Mirotic, Robin Lopez Trades

On January 9, Marc Stein tweeted out that the Utah Jazz and the Detroit Pistons are both interested in Nikola Mirotic. Additionally, K.C. Johnson reported that the Portland Trail Blazers “could join the mix” for Mirotic. 

Mirotic on December 17- Source: Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images North America

After the punching ordeal with Bobby Portis, the chances that Mirotic would be traded before this year’s February 8 trade deadline skyrocketed.

Furthermore, Mirotic has played great since returning from that punch-induced nose injury. Through 17 games, the 26 year-old sports a 17.4 points per game mark on 46.5 percent three-point shooting, to go along with 7.0 rebounds per game. 

A power forward that can rebound and shoot, Mirotic is an older, more inconsistent version of Lauri Markkanen. This year, he’s been great, but that’s a tough sell because he has been up-and-down his entire career.

Still, Utah and Detroit would love a stretch-4 to complement Rudy Gobert and  Andre Drummond respectively. Portland, more serious playoff contenders than those two teams, could use a boost in the form of Mirotic as well. 

Johnson and Stein expressed belief that Gar Forman and the Bulls were looking to get a first-round pick out of Mirotic. Most likely, I think they will accomplish that feat. First-round draft picks are still highly volatile, and the teams interested won’t be in a lottery spot.

The Utah Jazz have reportedly talked about offering shooting guard Derrick Favors into the mix in return for Mirotic, and talks have “become serious” as of Wednesday morning.

However, losing Mirotic has little long-term drawbacks for the Bulls. He has just one option year left on his contract, and the Bulls’ already possess two promising big men in Lauri Markkanen and Bobby Portis. Portis has made significant strides this year, leading the team in rebounds per 36 minutes and coming in fifth with a .484 FG%. 

All in all, a Mirotic deal makes too much sense for it not to happen.

As for Robin Lopez, no teams have been linked to him, but there’s still one month to go. Like Mirotic, Lopez is a great trade asset for Chicago. 

Of Bulls players with at least 30 games under their belt, Lopez leads the team in FG%, while being super consistent. The center has scored less than ten points just four times this season. 

Yes, he doesn’t grab a lot of rebounds, but no playoff contender needs Lopez to be their go-to guy down low. Instead, Lopez’s veteran presence and consistency makes him a useful player to have in the rotation.

One team that immediately comes to mind is the Boston Celtics. Behind Al Horford and Marcus Morris, the Celtics don’t get much production from the 4/5 spots. Though general manager Danny Ainge is unlikely to surrender one of their five 2018/2019 first-round picks (from Lakers, Clippers, Grizzlies, and two of their own) straight-up, Lopez could be packaged. Perhaps Chicago could send Lopez and a second-round pick for a first-round selection.

We’ll see if Boston is interested. But like I said, I think almost any team could use a guy like Lopez.

The next month projects to be a whirlwind for the Chicago Bulls, with trades, returns, and oh yeah, lots more games testing the youngster’s progress. Buckle up.


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