After finishing the 2022-23 season with a 40-42 record and missing the NBA Playoffs for the fifth time in the last six seasons, things have been pretty bleak for the Chicago Bulls. That’s why when the front office stressed the importance of committing to this core and seeing things through, many fans were understandably shocked.
Although you count me among the many who entered this offseason as a pessimist, I do truly believe the Bulls have managed to navigate these rough waters as well as they possibly could. They brought Nikola Vucevic and Coby White on very reasonable deals while picking up two very good role players in Jevon Carter and Torrey Craig for only a minuscule percentage of their available cap room.
The Bulls infamously went 14-9 with Patrick Beverley running the point last season, and Carter does everything Pat did but even better. We saw this Bulls team lead the Eastern Conference through the first half of the 2021-22 season, and there’s a chance they could get back to that level again if luck is on their side. To do that, Chicago will first need to put a few teams that finished ahead of them in the standings last year in the rear-view mirror.
The Bulls will need to surpass these vulnerable Eastern Conference rivals to earn a strong seed in the playoffs.
1. Toronto Raptors (41-41, play-in tournament)
You shouldn’t be surprised to see Toronto here on this list, as the Bulls and Raptors very recently squared off in a single-elimination duel to the death in the play-in tournament just a few short months ago. Although the Raptors finished one win ahead of the Bulls in the standings, Chicago got the last laugh in a 109-105 victory. Now that they’ve lost Fred VanVleet to Houston and seem to be teetering on the edge of a full-blown rebuild, I’m taking the Bulls over Toronto in 2023-24.
2. Brooklyn Nets (45-37, 6th seed)
Despite being the only team on this list to avoid the play-in tournament and qualify for the playoffs outright, the Brooklyn Nets are undoubtedly one of the biggest candidates to take a tumble down the standings next season. Following their midseason implosion that saw Kyrie Irving and Kevin Durant sent packing, the Nets looked like a completely different team.
Brooklyn posted a 13-15 record to close out the year following the Durant trade, which is better than I expected but would still not be enough to go the distance in a hyper-competitive Eastern Conference. Look for the Nets to prioritize talent development and long-term planning over competing for the 2024 Larry O’Brien Trophy.
3. Atlanta Hawks (41-41, 7th seed)
On paper, the Hawks are a team that’s built to win now and should be better than they are. After all, they recently qualified for the Eastern Conference Finals in 2021 and should have been able to build on that success moving forward. Unfortunately, this roster just hasn’t come together the way they expected it to and the puzzle pieces just aren’t fitting quite right.
As good as he is, Trae Young’s defense has been a near-impossible obstacle to overcome. It’s been so daunting, that they just committed another $120 million in Dejounte Murray to help support Atlanta’s defense on the perimeter. These two ball-dominant guards just haven’t quite figured out how to share just yet, however, so the Hawks have failed to take that next step. Losing John Collins for practically nothing this summer certainly isn’t helping their case either. Now that they have a point guard to run the show, I’m banking on a team like the Bulls to surpass Atlanta next season.