To trade or not to trade? That could be the big question for Bulls

The Bulls’ front office is hoping that its “Big Three” of DeMar DeRozan, Zach LaVine and Nikola Vucevic will be good enough to carry the day to the postseason. The track record says otherwise. So how valuable could each be on the trade market?

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DeMar DeRozan

DeMar DeRozan has been the most influential leader the Bulls have had in the locker room the past two seasons. Now, he could be their best trade asset when it comes to their core three.

Nam Y. Huh/AP

Arturas Karnisovas, the Bulls’ executive vice president of basketball operations, isn’t thinking glass half-empty as he prioritizes “team continuity” next season with the same Big Three of guard Zach LaVine, guard/forward DeMar DeRozan and center Nikola Vucevic. But if he’s running the front office correctly, there should be a backup plan, just in case.

LaVine, DeRozan and Vucevic have won just one playoff game in two seasons together. At least there isn’t a James Harden in the group, rocking the boat and trying to get out.

Vucevic was always committed to returning, which is why he re-signed on a three-year, $60 million deal in July. LaVine, a go-with-the-flow personality, was also all in as long as he received the maximum contract the Bulls gave him last summer. And DeRozan, going into his 15th NBA season, may be one of the most loyal veterans in the league.

“If I sign up for anything, my goal is to finish whatever I sign up for,” he said last season in response to rumors he might ask for a trade this offseason. “That’s with anything in life. I signed up to be a father, not just a part-time father. I treat everything I do that way. I mean, 14 years in my career, I’ve never talked about a trade, asked for a trade, anything.”

His commitment isn’t just in words. Despite being in the final year of his contract — he’s set to make $28.6 million this upcoming season — DeRozan has brought younger Bulls players to Los Angeles for rigorous workouts and popped in to see their Summer League games in Las Vegas.

Unfortunately, that dedication also happens to make DeRozan the Bulls’ most attractive trade piece if they do stay stuck in mediocrity. As the NBA and its players prepare for a new collective-bargaining agreement and the restrictions it’s expected to bring, DeRozan — a teaching veteran with a contract that comes off the books — could be a hot property for a team with championship aspirations.

Where would that leave the Bulls? Destined for at least a semi-rebuild. DeRozan’s importance both on and off the court has been immeasurable, even if it hasn’t led them to a better place in the standings. He has made LaVine a better player, he has been the locker room leader, and he has been a proven closer in tight games.

Here’s how the Bulls’ three core players rank as trade assets:

1. DeRozan

Expiring contracts used to be the NBA’s best trade currency, and then suddenly they weren’t. But expect that to change as teams ready themselves for a new CBA and a changing mentality around how rosters are constructed.

2. Vucevic

Because he just signed a new contract, Vucevic realistically can’t be shopped until trade talks heat up in January ahead of the February deadline. What’s nice is that his contract is affordable. The concern, however, is that middle-tier salaries — those in the $20 million to $30 million range — might be frowned upon by teams already carrying multiple maximum-contract players. And the new CBA could very well be a killer when it comes to trades for those in the middle range.

3. LaVine

There’s no doubt he’s the Bulls’ most talented scorer, and he seemingly would bring the biggest trade return. But adding max contracts beyond this season won’t be easy — and it won’t be for everyone. That means fewer teams for the Bulls to negotiate with, and possibly less offered up.

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