One of the most notable in-season trades during the 2016-2017 season involved the Chicago Bulls and the Oklahoma City Thunder. Chicago sent forwards Doug McDermott and Taj Gibson to OKC in exchange for veteran sharpshooter Anthony Morrow, big man Joffrey Lauvergne and young point guard Cameron Payne.
Payne, at just 22 years old at the time of the trade, was initially regarded as the prized return for Chicago in the deal. The 14th overall pick in the 2015 draft out of Murray State put up just 5.0 points and 1.9 assists in 12.2 minutes for the Thunder in 57 appearances during his rookie season and was similarly ineffective in 20 games for Oklahoma City before he was traded, averaging 5.3 points and 2.0 assists over 16.0 minutes per contest in a reserve role behind Russell Westbrook. He shot an abysmal 33.1 percent from the floor in those 20 games.
Nonetheless, the Bulls tabbed him as their point guard of the future. However, in Chicago, he fell out of the graces of the coaching staff fairly quickly, as he played just 11 games with the club, averaging 4.9 points and 1.4 assists in 12.9 minutes per contest while shooting an embarrassing 33.3 percent from the field. He didn’t step foot on the floor during the team’s playoff run and fell completely out of the rotation with roughly a month and a half left in the regular season.
Payne’s struggles were obvious, but a shocking recent report alleges that the Bulls were aware that he would not pan out to be an impactful player shortly after the deal was finalized.
“We knew the second practice [after he was acquired] that he couldn’t play at [an NBA] level,’’ a source told Joe Cowley of the Chicago Sun-Times. “The only reason it took two practices was because we thought maybe it was nerves in the first one.”
“Any [Bulls] coach who says differently is lying. . . . We got ‘Garred’ on that one,” the source continued. “The source was referring to general manager Gar Forman, who sent Taj Gibson and Doug McDermott to the Thunder for a package that supposedly was highlighted by Payne. The front office even called Payne ‘the point guard of the future’,” explained Cowley.
In an effort to get him on the right track, Chicago had Payne take the court in two Summer League games (after which he left due to a personal matter). In those games, his struggles continued as he shot just 9-for-26 with seven turnovers.
To add fuel to the fire, he just underwent surgery to fix a stress fracture in his foot, which will be the second time he fractured that exact bone in his short playing career, per K.C. Johnson of the Chicago Tribune. He will miss an extended period of time as he recovers.
Based on his lack of production and injury concerns, the Bulls will have a hard time finding a trade suitor for Payne. The silver lining: his $2.2 million salary for the upcoming season is guaranteed, but he holds a $3.2 million team option for 2018-2019. At this point, it seems like it’s more probable than not that the Bulls decline that and release him to the open market.