Nov 5, 2016; Indianapolis, IN, USA; Indiana Pacers forward Paul George (13) is guarded by Chicago Bulls forward Taj Gibson (22) and forward Doug McDermott (11) at Bankers Life Fieldhouse. Indiana defeated Chicago 111-94. Mandatory Credit: Brian Spurlock-USA TODAY Sports
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The Chicago Bulls parted ways with both Taj Gibson and Doug McDermott prior to Thursday’s trade deadline. Was this the right move?
Unless you have been sleeping under a rock over the last day and a half, you are more than likely aware of the fact that your team sent Taj Gibson, Doug McDermott and a 2018 second-round draft pick to the Oklahoma City Thunder in exchange for point guard Cameron Payne, wingman Anthony Morrow, and backup center Joffrey Lauvergne.
While Gibson has been the subject of trade rumors during the past few seasons, it seemed somewhat surprising that the Bulls were willing to part ways with their longest-tenured player and the lone remaining piece from a group that went to the Eastern Conference Finals back in 2011.
Meanwhile, McDermott was having the best season of his career (more on that later) and for a team that is ranked near the bottom of the league in three-point shooting, this move falls into the category of questionable to say the least.
Having said that, here are the main takeaways from this trade. We will first begin by taking a look at what the Bulls gave up.
Jan 24, 2017; Orlando, FL, USA; Chicago Bulls forward Taj Gibson (22) drives to the basket against the Orlando Magic during the second half at Amway Center. Chicago Bulls defeated the Orlando Magic 100-92. Mandatory Credit: Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports
There aren’t enough adjectives one can use to describe how valuable Gibson was to the Bulls.
For starters, he was the consummate professional through good times and bad. Although he could have started for most teams during the years when the Bulls felt he was best suited coming off the bench, Gibson always remained positive and consistently thrived as both a starter and as a member of the second unit.
When he was finally inserted into the starting lineup prior to this season — and rightfully so — he didn’t miss a beat, as his averages included 11.6 points (the second-highest scoring average of his career) and a career-best 7.0 rebounds per contest on an efficient 52 percent from the field.
Even after hearing about the trade, Gibson’s attitude was again, nothing short of professional.
“The moment I got my jersey and I had my draft cap it was hell because nobody knew who I was or what I was capable of doing. But as the years went on, just playing hard and playing competitive and leaving it on the court each and every night, the fans became my family. It sucks to have to depart, but I’m going into a great situation and I’m looking forward to competing and doing my job.”
A class act to say the least.
With Gibson now playing for another team, the question becomes: who will get the minutes at the starting power forward position?
Nikola Mirotic is having the worst season of his career in a Bulls uniform. Not only is his scoring (9.2 PPG) down from his average of 11.8 points from a year ago, the third-year forward has also struggled with shooting the ball at an efficient clip. In fact, he is converting just 38 percent of his attempts overall and just 30.7 percent of his attempts from three-point range.
The other option is Bobby Portis, who had a solid rookie season with averages of 7.0 points and 5.4 rebounds per contest. In year two, though, he has been in out and of rotation and is playing just 12 minutes per contest. As you can imagine, his production has fallen off a bit in the process as the second-year forward is averaging 4.8 points 3.5 rebounds per contest.
While there will be more minutes available for both players, neither option instills much confidence at this point in time.
Jan 24, 2017; Orlando, FL, USA; Chicago Bulls forward Doug McDermott (11) shoots a three pointer over Orlando Magic guard Mario Hezonja (8) during the second quarter at Amway Center. Mandatory Credit: Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports
It has been well documented that the Bulls gave up two first round picks in order to nab McDermott with the No. 11 pick in the 2014 NBA Draft (via a trade with the Denver Nuggets).
Initially, there was cause for concern as McDermott had a less than memorable rookie season, with averages of 3.0 points and 1.2 rebounds per contest in just 36 appearances. However, McDermott has improved his scoring since then and was averaging a career-best 10.2 points per contest.
Furthermore, McDermott was Chicago’s best long-range shooter, having converted 37.3 percent of his attempts from beyond the arc. Sure, McDermott is not considered a great defender by any stretch of the imagination, but he was the lone legitimate floor spacer on a Bulls team that is ranked dead last in three-point shooting (31.6 percent).
Not exactly sure what the Bulls brass was thinking about here, but what is a certainty is that the second unit will have a difficult time manufacturing points in light of McDermott’s departure.
Now, let’s take a look at what the Bulls received in return.
Feb 1, 2017; Oklahoma City, OK, USA; Oklahoma City Thunder guard Cameron Payne (22) shoots the ball over Chicago Bulls forward Cristiano Felicio (6) during the second quarter at Chesapeake Energy Arena. Mandatory Credit: Mark D. Smith-USA TODAY Sports
The Thunder selected Payne out of Murray State with the 14th overall pick in the 2015 NBA Draft. During his sophomore season, he averaged 20.2 points and 6.0 assists per outing on shooting splits of .456/.377/.787 and was selected as the Ohio Valley Conference Player of the Year.
Fast forward to the present, and it is obvious that the success Payne enjoyed at Murray State has not exactly translated to the next level. In 20 appearances for the Thunder this season, Payne averaged an underwhelming 5.3 points and 2.0 assists in 16 minutes of action per contest. Additionally, he has an overall shooting percentage of 33 percent, including a 31 percent conversion rate from distance.
For the optimists out there, some of you may be tempted to say that he just needs more playing time in order to turn things around. After all, it is difficult to break into the rotation if you’re playing behind Russell Westbrook, right?
On the flip side of the coin, if you are a realist, you understand that the Bulls front office has added yet another point guard to the mix who struggles with hitting the outside shot.
Dec 5, 2016; Atlanta, GA, USA; Atlanta Hawks guard Kyle Korver (26) attempts a three point basket against Oklahoma City Thunder center Joffrey Lauvergne (77) and guard Anthony Morrow (2) in the third quarter of their game at Philips Arena. The Thunder won 102-99. Mandatory Credit: Jason Getz-USA TODAY Sports
Anthony Morrow And Joffrey Lauvergne
For Bulls fans that had a difficult time digesting the tale of the tape on Payne, I hate to inform you that the narrative doesn’t improve all that much with regards to the other two players that were acquired in this trade.
Morrow — who is regarded as the three-point specialist with a career shooting percentage of 41.7 from deep — is converting just 29 percent of those attempts this season. This is just what the Bulls needed: another guard on the roster who has a difficult time putting the ball in the basket.
What about Lauvergne?
Well, in his third NBA season, the backup center averaged 5.7 points and 3.7 boards per outing on slash lines of .455/.346/.638 in 50 appearances for OKC. At best, Lauvergne will more than likely compete for minutes behind the likes of Robin Lopez and Cristiano Felicio.
But given the fact that Hoiberg hasn’t been able to put together a consistent rotation, even that assessment may be a stretch at this point in time.
Dec 12, 2015; Chicago, IL, USA; Chicago Bulls vice president of basketball perations John Paxson (left) and general manager Gar Forman (center) talk with sports writer Sam Smith (right) prior to a game against the New Orleans Pelicans at the United Center. Mandatory Credit: Dennis Wierzbicki-USA TODAY Sports
So to recap, the Bulls essentially traded away their best front-court player in Gibson and the team’s best three-point shooter in McDermott in exchange for what exactly?
Wait for it…a point guard with less-than-impressive shooting percentages who has sustained two separate foot injuries (Payne); a player at the 2-guard spot who has a lower three-point shooting percentage than Nikola Mirotic (Morrow) and a backup center who will more than likely not see as much playing time as he did with the Thunder.
As one would expect, vice president of basketball operations John Paxson doesn’t necessarily agree with this perspective.
“We’re taking steps to get better, and we’re trying to do it in a way that’s, maybe it’s methodical, but we’re not going to try to reinvent things,” Paxson said, via the Chicago Sun-Times. “We’ve got a plan in place, we talked about it last year.
“And now we’re going to get some of our young guys minutes to play and see if they can grow as a team. And we’ll see if they can make significant impacts and become a better basketball team.”
Despite the comments offered by Paxson, it has become clear that the organization does not have a clear direction in what it wants to do moving forward.
And if he thinks that the Bulls will somehow become a better basketball team as a result of this trade, then maybe it’s time to discuss making changes within the organization that go beyond the players in the locker room.