The Chicago Bulls made a lot of noise this offseason and acquired some good and great players, enough that they have hopefully pleased All-Star shooting guard Zach LaVine into re-signing with the team. If there’s one thing we’ve learned over the past few years, it’s that if a star player doesn’t like the amount of wins his team has, he will request a trade or leave by the end of the year. But, despite picking up great assets, not everyone believes the Bulls will be all that they stacked up to be this year. Can the Bulls be a playoff team, and advance past the first round for the first time in LaVine’s young career? Today, we break down the pros and cons of the Bulls’ offseason, and take a look at their roster and what we can realistically expect from them this season.
Just a few minutes into free agency, the Bulls made their first major signing, which was point guard Lonzo Ball, brother of Rookie of the Year LaMelo Ball. Ball signed a four-year $85 million deal, and was acquired by the Bulls in a sign and trade, in which the Pelicans received Tomáš Satoranský, Garrett Temple, and a second round pick. This was a great move considering the low production of Satoranský and Temple, and considering how Ball wanted to be in a bigger market and has All-Star potential. It’s clear to Bulls fans that he will be the starting point guard over the 2019 sixth overall pick, Coby White from UNC. In fact, there have been a lot of questions about whether or not a more ball-dominant point guard like White can coexist in the backcourt with LaVine. Needless to say, this move was heralded and loved by just about everyone.
In addition to adding Ball at point guard, the Bulls signed Alex Caruso in free agency, who became quite a meme during his time with the Lakers (with many fans calling him the GOAT despite his averaging 6 points, 3 rebounds, and 3 assists per game). However, he has made some incredible jaw dropping dunks and is a good three-point shooter (his free throw shooting could use some work). The fact that the Bulls signed him makes me even more sure that White will find his way out of Chicago. Even though Caruso was arrested for weed possession, he is still loved by almost everyone, and I don’t think anyone disagreed that it was a good move for the Bulls to pick up Caruso.
The same thing, unfortunately, cannot be said about DeMar DeRozan. A four-time All-Star and two-time member of the All-NBA Team, DeRozan was an athletic freak in his prime, appearing in the 2010 and 2011 NBA Slam Dunk contests. Unfortunately, DeRozan’s prime was in Toronto, and while he still had a few monster dunks while playing for the San Antonio Spurs, he’s a shell of his former self. As a 6’6″ shooting guard, DeRozan has transitioned to playing small forward and even power forward for the Spurs, where he logged a large percentage of his minutes in 2021. DeRozan can be a great locker room guy and has lots of experience, but he is now 32 years old. Even though he’s averaged 20+ points per game every year since 2013 (his fifth in the league), it’s clear that will change this season.
To get DeRozan, the Bulls had to give up Thaddeus Young, a solid veteran big man who still has a lot of athleticism, Al-Farouq Aminu, a protected first-round pick, and two second-round picks. While that may not seem like a lot, assuming those draft picks all play in the NBA, that’s five players for DeRozan! Even if the Bulls became one of the best teams in the NBA, there’s value in a protected first-round pick, as the Lakers proved with the Nets’ late first-round pick in 2017 by drafting Kyle Kuzma. So, five players for an out of his prime former All-Star? While DeRozan can bring a lot to the table and is very versatile, it’s clear why so many people did not like this move.
It was also very clear from early on in the 2020-21 season that Lauri Markannen, the Bulls power forward ever since the Jimmy Butler trade, was not fitting in well with the team, and that it was time for him to move on. The opportunity finally came around, and Markannen was traded in a three-team deal to the Cleveland Cavaliers. Also in this deal, Larry Nance, Jr, goes from Cleveland to Portland, and the Bulls picked up Slam Dunk Contest champion Derrick Jones, Jr, and some draft capital. Whether or not Jones, Jr, deserved to win the dunk contest is a story for a whole other blog, but he is a very athletic forward nonetheless, and will be a valuable asset to the team. I personally don’t think Markannen will fit in very well with the Cavaliers either, as they have centers Jarrett Allen and Evan Mobley on the roster… and somehow, Kevin Love hasn’t been traded yet! He’s been unhappy for nearly three years, and he’s still not gone?
These are the most notable offseason additions, but we also have to look at what the Bulls already have. We’ve mentioned that they have an All-Star scorer in LaVine who sometimes looks like a clone of Bradley Beal, and White, who the Bulls decided to keep with their fourth-year option on his contract but may be leaving soon. In March of 2021, the Bulls acquired Nikola Vučević from the Magic, giving the All-Star big man a contender and giving the Magic some more assets, which you can read about here. It was wonderful that LaVine got an All-Star partner and the Bulls suddenly had a chance to make the playoffs, but the Bulls finished the year as the 11th seed, one spot out of the play-in tournament. It was during this time when some started to believe that Vučević was one of those great-numbers bad-team players. If you don’t know what I’m talking about, Andre Drummond is a perfect example. On the Detroit Pistons, Drummond put up great numbers, and was an All-Star center. However, as soon as he left Detroit to go to the Cleveland Cavaliers, people realized that his efficiency was horrible, he had almost no offensive game, and his basketball IQ was severely lacking. He went from an All-Star to a shell of his former self on the Lakers, and this upcoming season will be Joel Embiid‘s backup on the 76ers. From an All-Star to a backup in just a few seasons!
It’s not an understatement to say that the Magic were barely a playoff team, and while Vučević is still putting up All-Star double-doubles, his shooting percentage has dropped in every part of his game, save for free throw shooting. If Vučević truly was overrated on a bad team, I’m afraid that’s going to show next year with so many better players around him.
The final key piece of the Chicago Bulls for next year is Patrick Williams, the fourth overall pick in the 2020 NBA Draft. At first, many thought the Bulls were crazy for taking Williams so early in the lottery. However, during the 2021 NBA Summer League, Williams showed how much he improved both defensively and offensively. He averaged 9.2 points and 4.6 rebounds per game his rookie season, although I’m expecting him to take a big leap and become a sophomore stud next year. His performance will end up contributing a lot towards the Bulls’ success.
While the Bulls had one of the more active free agencies this offseason, and have a lot of new talent to be excited for, I simply don’t think they can compete with the powerhouses and All-NBA players in the Eastern Conference, such as NBA titans Giannis Antetokounmpo, Kevin Durant, and Embiid. Even with the new look roster, there’s no way the Bulls are the 1, 2, 3, or 4 seed. The highest I could see them being (and this is assuming everything goes as planned) is the fifth seed. Realistically, I think the Bulls will be in the play-in mix, and win around 35 games in 2022; a slight improvement but not by much. How well they do depends on how much the team gels and how well the younger players develop. However you spin it though, the Bulls are going to be a very fun team to watch during the 2021-22 season.
Where do you think the Bulls will land in the win spectrum? Let me know in the comments below, don’t forget to follow the NBA Blog, and as always, have an awesome day!