How the 2023 NBA Playoffs should impact the Bulls offseason plan

Coby White, LeBron James, Patrick Williams, Chicago Bulls (Credit: Gary A. Vasquez-USA TODAY Sports)
Coby White, LeBron James, Patrick Williams, Chicago Bulls (Credit: Gary A. Vasquez-USA TODAY Sports) /

It’s no secret that the Bulls are facing a Robert Frost-level fork in the road this offseason. Obviously disappointed after being knocked out in the play-in tournament, there at least seem to be a few insights to gleam as Arturas Karnisovas is forced to watch the postseason play out from the comfort of his own couch.

Any of the more subtle teachings from this first round are overshadowed by the most obvious fact – capital-S Superstars are the difference between contenders and pretenders, regardless of seeding.

Healthy Lebron and Anthony Davis have manhandled the two-seeded Memphis Grizzlies despite their, um, seniority. Kevin Durant and the Phoenix Suns squashed a similarly seeded Clippers team. A combination of Giannis Antetokounmpo’s injury and Jimmy Butler’s historical kick-assery put the Milwaukee Bucks on the brink of elimination. If you can get one of these guys, you get them – unfortunately, the Bulls’ options are limited to an 8.5% chance of keeping their first-round pick in this year’s draft, and pie-in-sky hopes of a disgruntled star.

So, back in the realm of reality, what has the postseason told the Bulls to do (assuming they won’t face the blaring symphony telling them to rebuild)?

Despite being forced to watch the playoffs from their couch, the Bulls can learn a thing or two from the teams competing on the NBA’s biggest stage.

Priority number one is restricted free agents – in-house and beyond. Coby White is an impending RFA, and despite lower averages across lower minutes, he noticeably improved his efficiency and shored up his defense enough to justify a place on the Next Great Bulls Roster (trademark denied).

In this postseason, a number of upcoming RFAs have warranted an offer sheet. Austin Reaves and Rui Hachimura have given the Lakers real postseason minutes, with the former assuming Alex Caruso’s vacated role as LeBron’s one good white teammate. PJ Washington and Cam Johnson could provide valuable spacing. Matisse Thybulle jumper resembles your wobbliest deck chair – but remains a lockdown defender. Offer on them all if you must, even one could be a significant boost.

By the same token, target perimeter defense in the draft and free agency. Players like (shudders) Dillon Brooks, Draymond Green, Jerami Grant, and others are available in free agency. Green and Brooks have drawn headlines for a litany of bad reasons, but also have played key roles in their teams’ defensive successes (when they don’t poke the bear). Even a Torrey Craig or Josh Hart – should he decline his player option – would offer valuable wing depth and the non-box score plays that decide postseason games.

Most importantly, elevate your young players. Keegan Murray, Tyrese Maxey, Reaves, and others are all under-25 players making a difference on playoff teams. All White praise established, the Bulls have players that if nurtured could preserve the current core, or be a part of the next one.

Patrick Williams is the master of the two-point, two-rebound game, but should have more shots available with the likely departure of Nikola Vucevic in free agency. Consistent on-ball reps combined with his apparent defensive capabilities could unlock a cornerstone player. Despite playing only 214 minutes this year, Dalen Terry has justified a bit more run as a two-way wing, Ayo Dosunmu has lost playing time but seemed to be a revelation during his rookie season.

Watching the postseason from home is never the goal (unless you’re Houston, San Antonio, Detroit, or…). The best the Bulls can do is a little oppo-reporting. Take note of what everyone else is doing to make it to the sport’s biggest stage. Maybe you’ll learn a thing or two.

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