Bulls land Lonzo Ball in sign-and-trade, then sign Alex Caruso
The old Bulls regime kicked the tires on Ball when he was a Laker in 2019, but a sign-and-trade with the Pelicans finally got it done on Monday. A few hours later, it was Caruso for four years and $37 million.
On the same day Zach LaVine insisted that he wanted his “respect,’’ the Bulls gave their All-Star guard — and Team USA Olympian — a real point guard to play alongside and a former NBA champion who adds depth to the backcourt.
How’s that for respect?
With the NBA free-agent market opening up in a frenzy late Monday afternoon, Bulls executive vice president of basketball operations Arturas Karnisovas wasted no time in building out his roster. He pulled off a sign-and-trade with the Pelicans that landed Lonzo Ball, whom the organization has been pursuing off and on for two years, at four years and $85 million, then hours later grabbed another guard few saw coming.
The Bulls agreed with former Laker Alex Caruso on a four-year, $37 million deal. In Caruso, they get a combo guard who does the dirty work and can be the ultimate pest on defense.
Ball, the No. 2 pick in the 2017 draft, was traded by the Lakers to the Pelicans after the 2018-19 season and is coming off his fourth year on an uptick, shooting career highs from the field (41.4%) and three-point range (37.8%). But it’s not his shooting that’s the main attraction.
Ball is a playmaker and at 6-6 can also be a triple-double threat, as well as a solid defensive player to take that responsibility off LaVine’s plate.
He plays up-tempo and can also be a pick-and-roll maestro, which goes hand-in-hand with big man Nikola Vucevic, who can play pick-and-roll or pick-and-pop.
In return for Ball, the Bulls sent Tomas Satoransky, Garrett Temple and a second-round pick to New Orleans.
As for Caruso, he can knock down the three — 40.1% last season — but is a blue-collar defender who is all about doing what it takes to win.
What does all this mean for LaVine?
Well, since taking over from the old regime that was spinning in mud, Karnisovas has now given LaVine a respected coach in Billy Donovan, an All-Star center in Vucevic and now Ball and Caruso for the backcourt.
Respect is a two-way street, and LaVine has a chance to show how much money he wants his side paved with.
Speaking to the media via Zoom from Tokyo early Monday morning, LaVine was asked about free agency and how it could affect his pending contract extension.
“I just want my respect,’’ LaVine said. “I think that’s the main thing. I outplayed my [current] contract. I’ve been very loyal to Chicago, I like Chicago. I just want my respect. If it’s now, later, it’s something that we gotta work out internally, and we’ll go from there.’’
The best financial scenario for the Bulls would be LaVine agreeing to a max extension, which would be a raise of 120% over his 2020-21 salary. That means LaVine gets about $105 million over four years, beginning in the 2022-23 season. He wears the title of max player, but leaves the Bulls with flexibility to continue to build around his flaws.
The best financial scenario for LaVine would be playing out the final season of his current deal, then being offered a five-year max at 30% of the salary cap. He would be an unrestricted free agent and could walk, but the Bulls can offer him the most money.
The danger for the Bulls would be if LaVine earns All-NBA honors in 2021-22, making him eligible for the “supermax’’ and a deal in the neighborhood of $235 million over five years.
The third option is to renegotiate LaVine’s contract for next season, which is at $19.5 million, then do an extension off that new number. That seldom happens, however.