The Eastern Conference picture is getting sharper as the NBA trade deadline approaches.
The Cleveland Cavaliers got the ball rolling on Sunday. They traded for Caris Levert from the Indiana Pacers in exchange for Ricky Rubio, a 2022 first-round pick and two second-round picks, according to Woj.
The Cavs got a clear improvement in the backcourt, which is already diminished with Rubio’s torn ACL and Colin Sexton’s torn meniscus, which has left both players out for the season.
This is a “win-now” type of move with long-term implications for Levert, who will finish his three-year $52 million contract next season. His return to Cleveland is possible in the future considering the team’s likelihood of causing chaos in the playoffs and their opportunity to pay him.
Nonetheless, this move is tough to gauge from the eye of a Bulls fan.
The Cavs are sending a package to the Pacers that includes Ricky Rubio’s expiring contract and a lottery-protected 2022 and first-round pick and two second round picks, sources tell ESPN. https://t.co/CxLM9S5wvr
— Adrian Wojnarowski (@wojespn) February 6, 2022
Caris Levert vs. Bulls
The Bulls and the Cavs are tied in the season series, 1-1.
They last met in Chicago at the United Center, where the Bulls defeated the Cavs 117-104. The first time they met, the Cavs routed them with a 115-92 win at home.
The size of the Cavaliers is undeniably difficult for the Bulls to contain. Jarret Allen, rookie Evan Mobley, and former-Bull Lauri Markkanen create a tall task (no pun intended) for the Bulls to handle as a small-ball team.
They sport the best defense in the league, keeping opponents to 102 points per game and representing the third-best defensive efficiency in the league. Their opponents average 44 percent from the field — the fourth-worst opponent shooting percentage in the NBA.
While their defense is sublime, their offense could use assistance. They rank 23rd in total offense in the NBA, scoring just 106 points per game. Yet, their defense is so outstanding that they have a top-five scoring margin in the league.
Levert is one of the best shot-creating, play-making guards in the league. He plays at a mature pace and can score the basketball with ease. His ability to play in isolation while simultaneously seeing the floor is palpable to Cleveland’s struggling offense.
How do I know all this?
Check out Levert’s last game, which was versus the Bulls. He dropped 42 points on 19-of-26 shooting, adding eight assists and five rebounds to an unbelievable night. Shorthanded, Levert kept the suffering, 13th-place Pacers in a game against the best team in the Eastern Conference.
This evidence is a bit loaded, considering the Bulls’ best defenders — Lonzo Ball and Alex Caruso — were unavailable for the game due to injuries. Nevertheless, Levert’s performance is still eye-opening.
It’s safe to say the Bulls will have their hands full in the competitive Eastern Conference Playoffs, starting with the Cavs. They currently have the third spot in the East with a 33-21 record — half-a-win behind the Bulls and one win behind the Miami Heat.
Not only were the Cavaliers a worrisome team, to begin with, considering their size and the Bulls’ lack thereof, but now with the offensive firepower they gained with Levert they become a much larger threat.
Other happenings in the East, Nets and Sixers
To make matters more stressful, other Eastern Conference teams are rumored to make moves before the trade deadline.
According to Shams of the Athletic, the 76ers and the Nets are open to a Ben Simmons-for-James Harden deal before the deadline.
Even though Steve Nash begs to differ saying, “Yes. That is correct,” when asked if the Nets plan to keep Harden past the trade deadline, the possibility is still feasible.
The Bulls should keep an eye out on their competitors, seeing as the trade would likely benefit both sides of the deal.
The 76ers would gain a former MVP and superstar in Harden, immediately increasing their offensive ceiling and accessing the superstar-level play they currently miss in Simmons. It would give Joel Embiid a crutch, instead of having to carry the team’s weight.
The Bulls have yet to beat the 76ers this season. The Bulls lost to them all three times they’ve played them this season, including a home loss on Sunday, 119-108 without Zach LaVine and Coby White.
The Nets, on the other hand, could rejuvenate Simmons, who took time off to better his mental health and remain consistent with his demand to be traded elsewhere. Simmons is one of the most versatile players in the league at 6-foot-11 with superior defensive, passing and full-court abilities.
Paired with Irving and soon-to-return Kevin Durant, Simmons could be a perfect fit for the Nets. Seeing as Brooklyn is reportedly unhappy with the way Harden takes up the offense, Simmons could allow Durant and Irving to lead that end while he handles the defensive and facilitating aspects of the system.
Seeing as the East is undoubtedly getting stronger, the Bulls might need to act on it.
Will the Bulls be active at the trade deadline?
The rumor mill dictates the Bulls could be in the running for Spurs’ center Jakob Poetl and potentially Celtics point guard Dennis Schroeder.
The Bulls are in dire need of two things.
- A rim protector
- A healthy roster
Bulls Injuries – Timetable to Return
Zach Lavine – TBD
Coby White – TBD
Lonzo Ball – 4-7 Weeks
Alex Caruso – 5-7 Weeks
Derrick Jones Jr – 3-8 Weeks
Patrick Williams – Possibly March
The statistical odds of seeing a 100% healthy Bulls roster is about the same as seeing bigfoot.
— Chicago Bulls Talk (@BullsSource) February 6, 2022
The latter will come in time. The first, however, could be here by Feb. 10 before the trade deadline ends. It’s on AKME to respond to the East’s situation.