Last season, this trade would’ve been a no-brainer: Philadelphia’s Ben Simmons, with all of his flaws, for Zach LaVine, with all of his flaws.
After all, 6-11 point guards don’t grow on trees, so the Bulls would’ve gladly welcomed Simmons into the mix.
What has changed?
One player has accepted a new coach and been humble enough to make improvements in his game; the other player is Simmons.
It’s a fun little NBA rumor that’s still circulating — LaVine and a contract such as Cristiano Felicio’s for Simmons — but the stakes have changed.
In the last five games, LaVine is scoring as smoothly as he ever has, and he’s actually putting his feet in the ground and trying to be an adequate defender.
His awareness as a playmaker has him emerging as the team’s best point guard, even though the role belongs to fellow starter Coby White.
Late in the last five games, the ball usually has been in LaVine’s hands, with White playing off the ball.
“I feel like it’s just on how we’re playing and how the other team is guarding me vs. how they’re guarding Coby or [Tomas Satoransky], whoever’s in the game at that time,’’ LaVine said. “If I have it going or if they’re doubling me, it’s easy for me to make that read. And then if it’s Coby or somebody else, and they’re playing on the backside, we’re just keeping the ball moving instead of me sometimes going to the corner and sitting here waiting for the ball to come.
‘‘But I think that’s just how it’s been the last couple of games. It might change.’’
Meanwhile, Simmons, in his fourth season, has shown little interest in developing his outside game. He’s easy to neutralize in the playoffs and hasn’t shown the ability to make others around him better under new coach Doc Rivers.
Simmons seems to be shrinking before our eyes as Joel Embiid makes an early-season MVP push and Tobias Harris finally shows some consistency with the 76ers. He has become expendable for the right deal.
A trade for LaVine would be that type of right deal, but not for the Bulls.
If moving LaVine gives the Bulls’ new front office momentum, it would have to fit into its timeline, and it also would have to give the team equal talent in return — or close to it — with the flexibility to add assets.
That’s no easy feat even with LaVine looking for a contract extension for $30 million to $35 million a year.
Then there’s Houston, which is locked into several pricey long-term deals that make a total rebuild almost impossible. But the Rockets do have lots of draft assets after the trade that sent James Harden to the Nets.
LaVine to the Rockets for Victor Oladipo and one of three possible first-round picks in the 2021 draft would be beneficial for both teams.
LaVine would help the Rockets make a push for at least a play-in game in the Western Conference, comes with a favorable contract that can be moved or extended and allows Houston to lighten the load because three picks in the first round of a draft could come up for extensions at the same time.
Oladipo knows coach Billy Donovan well, is a tremendous defender and has an expiring contract that will give the Bulls the flexibility to let him walk or see if common ground can be reached. And don’t overlook that extra pick in a loaded 2021 draft.
It’s a win-win, a scenario that Simmons-for-LaVine no longer provides for the Bulls.