When Arturas Karnisovas became the Vice President of Basketball Operations for the Chicago Bulls, the storied franchise was not in a good spot. Inheriting a roster with failed lottery picks, overpaid role players, and a plus scorer Zach Lavine, the Bulls were not competitive enough to make the playoffs but not bad enough to completely rebuild.
Karnisovas didn’t want to rebuild. With the Bulls hanging around the playoffs last season, he attempted to make a playoff push by trading former No. 8 pick Wendell Carter Jr. and the team’s 2021 first-round pick for Nikola Vucevic.
The trade appeared to be a failure at first as the Bulls missed the playoffs. Karnisovas needed to add ready-now players with the current group, and he has done just that this offseason.
Free Agency Additions
The Bulls had been linked to Lonzo Ball a few days prior to the start of free agency and quickly agreed upon a four-year, $85 million dollar deal in the opening minutes. They added more backcourt depth by signing Alex Caruso to a four-year, $38 million dollar year. Those two additions alone could have made the Bulls a low-end playoff team, but Karnisovas wanted the big fish.
The Bulls won the DeMar DeRozan sweepstakes, signing their biggest free agent since a post-prime Dwayne in 2016.
The Bulls entered free agency with a handful of score-first guards but no playmaker to create for them. Ball is a seamless fit with the current roster. He’s a willing ball-mover, mindful of getting his teammates involved. Ball is also a plus perimeter defender and should be able to guard the opposing team’s best player on a nightly basis, something the team lacked last season.
His formerly unorthodox jumper was reformed in New Orleans, leading to career-highs in three-point percentage (37.8%) and attempts (8.3 per game). Ball will have to continue to shoot to maximize his role. This might have been a bit of an overpay for Ball, but he’s still just 23 years old and has continued to improve.
In Caruso, the Bulls snagged a veteran rotational guard who’s played in plenty of big games. He will bolster the perimeter defense and should be able to space the floor next to Derozan and Zach Lavine.
DeRozan is the most complex piece of the puzzle. He’s got an old-school game, preferring to operate out of the mid-range. He took just 1.2 threes per game last season and shot barely over 25%. But DeRozan is still a 20 point per game scorer. He adds a level of rim pressure and gets to the free throw-line easily. When he has shooters around him, he’s a capable passer.
The Bulls will need at least two of Derozan, Ball, and Patrick Williams to be threats from deep to make the spacing work. After spending his rookie season primarily playing small forward, Williams will spend a lot of time at the four. But he’s got the size and strength to play there and can offer some help as a rim protector. DeRozan could also slide to the four if the Bulls want to play really small.
What does this mean for the franchise?
The Bulls were tired of being in no man’s land and want to return to the playoffs. In a vacuum, they likely overpaid for the aging Derozan, but having extra cap space does not win games. The Bulls want to compete now, and these moves help them in that regard.
Are they a legitimate title threat? Not as of right now. The Bucks and Nets have significantly better rosters, and there’s a cluster of Eastern Conference teams that have similarly talented rosters.
But after offseasons of not doing much, the new front office decided to spend money and compete. For Bulls fans, that’s a positive outcome, and there is now a serious basketball team in Chicago.