Days after Thunder star point guard Russell Westbrook hit the trade market, Bulls executive vice president of basketball operations John Paxson on Thursday indicated his organization isn't in the competitive phase yet that justifies adding someone in Westbrook's age range and also warned about the risk of taking on a mega contract.
Westbrook was the MVP in 2017 and will turn 31 in November. He has four years and $170 million left on his contract, and the Thunder are looking to move him and rebuild after trading fellow star Paul George to the Clippers recently.
"Everybody pays attention obviously to what's going on, what the deals around the league are," Paxson said in an interview with Mike Mulligan and Tom Thayer on 670 The Score on Thursday. "But I think every team is at kind of a different stage of development and evolution. There are teams that are going to take a real shot at someone like that. You have to factor in everything. When you look at the financial aspect of a player that's 30 going out four years (on his contract) and the amount of money that's going to be made, those things can tie your hands up and put your organization in a tough position."
After going 22-60 last season, the Bulls want to see what youngsters like Zach LaVine, Lauri Markkanen, Wendell Carter Jr. and Coby White can transform into. To help support them, the Bulls made what they view as key additions in power forward Thaddeus Young and guard Tomas Satoransky this offseason.
"We're looking at things realistically," Paxson said. "We understand where we're at. Honestly, I want our group to be competitive. I want our fan base to look out at our team and say, 'OK, these guys are playing hard. They're showing us they care and there's a real chance that if the young guys develop, this is going to be a real good basketball team.' The league has changed so much. It used to be sometimes you'd sign a guy to a six-year deal, guaranteed deals. And that limited movement. Now in the last CBA, they shortened the deals and maybe one of the unintended effects is all this player movement that you're seeing now, guys moving teams on their own and coming to free agency sooner. We're trying to build this thing given our timeline, and our timeline started two years ago in terms of a rebuild. When you look at the number of changes we made in the past year with the 15-man roster, I think they're significant. I think we've upgraded our talent level while staying young. I think our prospects of being that competitive team are high. I just want to field a team right now that our fan base can get behind, and that's something that I know has been tough in watching our group, especially last year."
Paxson emphasized he understands the Bulls' need to acquire a star, but he believes it must be done at the right time.
"The bottom line is we need to get competitive again," Paxson said. "That's where we have to start. I'm very realistic. We all know this, that you need stars in this league to win at the highest level. Right now, we're trying to develop some young players. We think Markkanen has a real chance to be a special player, but he's got a long way to go. We believe that Zach LaVine also has a chance to be that kind of guy. We understand that it takes time. We're trying to build a team right now to get as competitive as we and hopefully be a good team. I think on paper right now, we're a much better basketball team than we were last year.
"You want the superstars. You want to do what the Clippers are doing and the Lakers are doing, but we're realistic right now. We're not in that position. We hope that in a couple years with the development of these young guys, players around the league view us as a destination point where they can win at the highest level. I believe we'll be there if our young guys perform the way we hope they will."