With The Trade Deadline Passed, Paxson Feels Good About Where The Bulls Are Heading

The Bulls got Noah; no, not that one.

The Bulls closed NBA trading season Thursday with two minor deals, sending Jameer Nelson to the Detroit Pistons for Willie Reed and the possibility of exchanging 2022 second round picks. Reed, on suspension for a previous domestic violence incident, was released. The Bulls also acquired former lottery pick from Indiana U. Noah Vonleh from the Portland Trailblazers for Milovan Rakovic, who doesn’t play in the NBA, and a $3.5 million traded player exception. Portland made the trade to save Vonleh’s $3.5 million salary and avoid the luxury tax.

The Bulls were below the minimum salary level, so they had to spend more money. Plus, acquiring former lottery picks and giving them a chance in a new environment has become a common part of rebuilding projects without much risk. Vonleh is a restricted free agent after this season.

Vonleh was a starter for Portland the last two seasons after being acquired from Charlotte in the Nicholas Batum deal. Portland’s hope at the time was Vonleh would replace departed free agent LaMarcus Aldridge. But the 6-9 Vonleh averaged about four points and five rebounds the last two seasons. He fell out of the Portland rotation this season behind rookie Zach Collins. Rakovic plays in Europe after being the 60th pick in 2007 and part of a deal to the Bulls in 2014.

Though the big story of trading deadline day was the rebirth of the recently staggering Cleveland Cavaliers.

The Cavaliers virtually remade their roster in trading Isaiah Thomas from the Kyrie Irving deal, Dwyane Wade, Channing Frye, Iman Shumpert and Derrick Rose. There are now just five players left from the Cavs 2017 Finals team.

Thomas and Frye with a first round draft pick went to the Lakers for Jordan Clarkson and Larry Nance Jr. The Lakers made the trade for salary cap space, the rumors being to try to, ironically, lure James this summer. Though the additions of athletic Clarkson and Nance Jr. give the Cavaliers the athletic, young players they lacked for a return run to the Finals. And perhaps more reason for James to resign in Cleveland. The Cavs then did Wade a favor by sending him back to Miami for a second round pick they probably never will get. Jae Crowder and Rose went to Utah for shooter Rodney Hood and Shumpert to Sacramento for George Hill. Rumors are Rose could be bought out and join Tom Thibodeau in Minnesota.

The trades reinstall the Cavaliers as the favorite in the Eastern Conference with youth, athleticism, a strong bench and better chemistry after a precipitous fall since Christmas.

Though the Bulls were minor players Thursday, by avoiding the conventional wisdom and not waiting to the last day for perhaps a better deal, the Bulls secured arguably the most valuable first round pick in these latest transactions in last week’s trade of Nikola Mirotic.

Several teams, like Memphis with Tyreke Evans and Marc Gasol, the Clippers with DeAndre Jordan and Charlotte with Kemba Walker were unable to acquire valuable first round picks and thus kept their players. By moving last week when the market wasn’t as active, the Bulls were able to obtain the Pelicans’ first round pick, probably for this season and possibly in the lottery, in the Mirotic deal.

In that trade, the Bulls acquired for Mirotic Omer Asik, Nelson, Tony Allen and the protected No. 1 pick. The Bulls will get it this year unless it’s top five. It is top eight protected in 2019 and then unprotected. It seems by moving early, the Bulls benefitted and acquired the kind of first round picks that were unavailable Thursday. Allen probably will be released or bought out.

"The only thing I’ll say is obviously the deal we did last week was the deal that we felt we wanted to do," Bulls Executive Vice-president for Basketball Operations John Paxson told reporters at the Advocate Center Thursday afternoon. "Everything is consistent with the direction we want to go and being patient in that process is what it’s really about."

"Draft picks, especially first rounders, are becoming like gold to a lot of franchises because in these markets where cost certainty for young players is something you can have, it’s a big thing," said Paxson. "We look at it this way: We got the three young guys (in) the [Jimmy Butler] trade, we’re going to have two picks most likely in this draft, and we’ve got Bobby (Portis) and Denzel (Valentine) as young guys. That’s seven young pieces, and we just need to continue develop them, grow, and make the smart decisions, not get in a rush."

"The draft night deal was a big one and then moving Niko was a big one because we got a draft asset we really like," said Paxson. "For us, when you determine your direction, I think your decisions become more clear. We could have (made trades for veterans). But if it doesn’t make complete sense to us, I think there will be things down the road that if we want to go that direction that will be better than what we could’ve gotten now."

Thus the plan remains to effectively audition these players and some to come, like Cameron Payne, recovering from foot surgery.

"We have four games before the All-Star break, we have 25 games after, and there will come a point after the All-Star break where we more clearly get an evaluation on some of the young guys that are currently on our roster," said Paxson. "They’re going to have to play more significant minutes. That’s the whole process. The news was last week for us. We feel good about where we’re at and where we’re headed, and the young guys that we have on this roster."

There had been rumors about trades regarding veterans like Robin Lopez and Justin Holiday, but Paxson said those never were seriously considered.

"We value Robin and Justin in terms of who they are as people in part of this culture," said Paxson. "Our young guys love them. And they’re both under contract through next year. If we get to that point ever there will be opportunities moving forward. It’s not being in a rush to make a deal just to make a deal for something we didn’t like. So did we have conversations? Sure, they’re valuable guys around the league; teams like them. But at the end of the day we didn’t feel now is the right time. And again, part of the development of our young guys is them enjoying the experience of who they’re playing with and that type of thing, and again we’ve got a good group. We didn’t want to tinker too much with that."

"We’re not overselling anything," Paxson reiterated. "We know that this is a long road. But that’s why we’re going to be patient with it. And hopefully there will be some opportunities coming up in the next six months at the draft and going forward that we’re ready to jump (on). This direction that we’re headed and the pieces we have in place now, we’re really happy with and we know that we’re going to add to that as we go on. If we end up with two picks in this draft, that would be great for us. It’s a draft asset that you can use in a variety of ways."