It’s admittedly difficult to be a critic of your favorite team. Everyone wants to believe their team is headed in the right direction, which often blinds us fans to the cruel reality that there’s only room for a handful of teams to become genuine contenders every summer. That’s why I’ve tried to be as honest and objective in my assessment of the Chicago Bulls this offseason, arguably almost to a fault.
Working yourself up over a promising draft prospect (like I did with Tari Eason) or an available free agent (looking at you, Jalen Smith) can be frustrating when you inevitably watch the Bulls go in a different direction. This manifested itself in my harsh reaction to the signing of Goran Dragic, which was more directed towards the opportunity cost of not signing another forward, rather than an indictment of Dragic himself.
Still, I think Chicago’s front office hasn’t been mindless in their decision-making and is clearly trying to keep this team in contention, as witnessed by Zach LaVine’s massive $215 million maximum contract extension. Though it’s worth noting it’s been odd to see ownership pony up to pay Zach, just to begin pinching pennies at the last moment by not utilizing their Mid-Level Exception (MLE) in free agency.
This has left many fans anxiously awaiting news of a trade, largely because the reality of the Bulls being done adding pieces is a little difficult to accept. I do believe Chicago entering next season as currently constructed is the most likely scenario at the moment, but there’s still the chance they use the soon-to-expire trade exception or waive someone to open up a roster spot.
Although the Chicago Bulls made several high-profile moves last summer, they’ve confused fans with the quiet nature of their 2022 offseason plans.
If we are to assume the Bulls are done making moves for now, let’s review the additions they actually have made thus far:
- Drafted Dalen Terry with the 18th pick
- Signed undrafted rookie Justin Lewis
- Re-signed Zach LaVine
- Re-signed Derrick Jones Jr.
- Signed Andre Drummond
- Signed Goran Dragic
On the surface, these don’t feel like radical franchise-altering moves. Drummond looks to be the only player who will clearly assume a backup role, as both Terry and Dragic will have competition for their spots in the rotation. But I’d like to take the opportunity to put all of this in perspective.
First of all, the Bulls have added a lot of depth to a roster that struggled with injuries and a COVID-19 outbreak last season. Chicago was exposed during this period and it ultimately ended up encouraging a lot of iso-heavy play that was just never going to work in the playoffs. If the Bulls do make a big impactful trade now, they should still have a quality bench even if they give up a few valuable pieces. It’s also worth noting that since they have not used their full MLE, the Bulls could be a top destination for free agents during the midseason buyout market.
Now, we must look at who Chicago’s new additions are actually supplanting in the rotation. Drummond looks to be a vast improvement over Tristan Thompson, Terry will almost certainly be more effective than Troy Brown Jr. from day one, and despite his many faults, Dragic has far more redeeming qualities than Matt Thomas.
Thompson, Brown Jr., and Thomas combined for an average of 43.8 minutes played per game last season; that’s now 43.8 minutes per game the Bulls have clearly upgraded. By adding experienced talent to the end of the roster, Chicago can also hopefully avoid the clear signs of exhaustion that affected DeMar DeRozan, Nikola Vucevic, and Ayo Dosunmu’s games as the season neared its end.
We also shouldn’t ignore the natural development of Patrick Williams, Dosunmu, and Marko Simonovic as ways the team could be better next season. This is especially true for Williams, who has spent the summer working out with DeRozan and clearly putting in the effort necessary to elevate his game to the next level.
The Bulls will need to see that growth from the young core as DeRozan and Vucevic near the end of their athletic primes. With a more well-rounded roster and a few players managing to further develop their games, I believe the sky’s the limit for these Chicago Bulls.
So to answer the question at hand: yes, the Chicago Bulls have gotten better. But so has the rest of the Eastern Conference, so better may not be good enough. Since they’ve kept their options open and remained flexible, our best bet now may just be to see how this group plays together next year, and then implement any necessary changes as the season progresses.