Reports indicate that the relationship between Utah Jazz All-Stars Donovan Mitchell and Rudy Gobert “doesn’t appear to be salvageable,” opening the door for new Chicago Bulls VP of Basketball Operations Arturas Karnisovas to make his first major acquisition.
In March, Gobert became the first high-profile athlete to be diagnosed with the novel coronavirus COVID-19, prompting NBA officials to suspend the league’s regular season. Days later, Mitchell also tested positive for the virus.
Gobert’s cavalier attitude toward the then-burgeoning virus reportedly angered teammates.
Following the Jazz’ March 9 loss to the Toronto Raptors, the two-time NBA Defensive Player of the Year infamously touched everything within arms’ length–including communal microphones–in an attempt to mock the severity of the disease. It was later reported that Gobert habitually touched both his teammates and their possessions, which many attribute to Mitchell’s diagnoses.
If Utah can’t mend the fissure between its two top players, Chicago would be wise to inquire about a trade.
At the moment, the Bulls carry a litany of young assets with dormant potential. With the emergence of 2019 first-round pick Coby White as a legitimate scoring threat and reports that Markkanen is unhappy in Chicago, the latter’s days in the Windy City appear to be numbered, barring a quick reconciliation.
Reports surfaced earlier this week that Markkanen hopes to depart Chicago absent of significant changes at the management level. While the Bulls front office is already undergoing a facelift, the report casts doubt over Markkanen’s commitment to staying in Chicago, subsequently making him an attractive trade piece for teams in need of a floor-spacing big man.
Markkanen’s struggles in 2019-2020 are well-documented. Playing in only 50 of the Bulls’ 65 regular-season games, the former No. 7 overall pick in the 2017 NBA Draft averaged a career-low 14.7 points per game (ppg), down from the career-high 18.7 ppg he posted last season.
His play appeared to be uninspired as “The Finnisher” found himself relegated to a three-point specialist role, either unable or unwilling to create space off the dribble.
Karnisovas, who enjoys a history of using centers as focal points to build his offenses around, may elect to repurpose Markkanen as a trade asset to acquire either Gobert or Mitchell. If not, perhaps the new Bulls VP of basketball operations attempts to entice Denver with former top-ten pick Wendell Carter Jr.
Like Markkanen, Carter Jr.’s potential remains unrealized under the leadership of embattled head coach Jim Boylen. A capable defender and underrated passer with quick feet and educated positioning, injuries and a premature ending to the 2019-2020 regular season have thus far stunted Carter Jr.’s maturation, costing the Duke product 57 games over his first two seasons.
Nonetheless, the leadership, intangibles and basketball IQ are readily apparent when watching Carter Jr., who’s expected to improve upon his 11.3 ppg, 9.2 rpg output last season.
However, unless the Bulls are willing to part with both Markkanen and Carter Jr., the Bulls would likely need to pair Carter Jr. with a first-round draft pick to lure either Mitchell or Gobert from the Jazz.
Acquiring either of the Jazz’ two star players would represent a turning point for a Bulls franchise toiling in mediocrity. Under the leadership of former VP of Basketball Operations John Paxson and soon-to-be former general manager Gar Forman, the Bulls devolved into a caricature of the one-time dynasty and sliced its way through the NBA en route to six NBA Championships during the 1990s.
Not only would acquiring Mitchell or Gobert pay immediate dividends on the court, but carrying either on the roster makes the Bulls an attractive destination for the premier free-agent talent that has evaded the franchise since Michael Jordan’s second retirement 22 years ago.