Chicago Bulls: Reboot or tweak?

Last Friday, at the game of playin before him Miami Heat, Zach Lavine he missed the opportunity to play a playoffs for the second time in his career. In his ninth year as a professional, and his sixth in Chicago, one of the biggest stars in the NBA has recorded just one postseason win.achieved last year against the Bucks, in the first round, which only served to decorate an overwhelming 1-4.

Lavine’s story is, of course, closely tied to that of the Chicago Bulls. It’s the story of one of the most beloved and popular franchises in the league, but one that has largely fallen into insignificance since Derrick Rose’s torn ACL in 2012. Since then, Barring a few fleeting playoff appearances, the Bulls haven’t managed to get into the conversation with the big boys.even though they have had some opportunities.

After a rather irregular 22-23 season, in which he managed to get into the play in clinching the final Eastern conference qualifying spot, Chicago surprised by eliminating Toronto, but fell to Miamiabsolute favourite, and thus closed a forgettable year, and that forces the franchise to make a momentous decision: rebuild from the ground up a roster that never quite worked or tweak it minimally in the hope that it can compete with the heavyweights?

A squad stuck with slime

After losing to Miami, Artūras KarnišovasGeneral Manager of the Bulls, who usually operates behind the scenes and in silence, had to answer questions from the press. Asked if he will rebuild or retouchpointed out, in an admittedly concise way, that I would look at the scenery. “It’s about who’s available, I’m not committing to anything”indicated.

The truth is that you will have to commit to something: either blow up a failed project or continue to trust the pillars that make it up. read: Zach Lavine, DeMar DeRozan and Nikola Vucevic. The situation of lonzoballthe fourth highest paid player and possibly the most complete of those mentioned, is very complex, and the Lithuanian made it clear when he mentioned that it is unknown when he will play again.

Ball signed a four-year, $80 million contract in 2021, but has only played in 35 games. In June 2022 he tore his menisci against the Warriors and he hasn’t been back on the court since. His injury is particularly complicated, it will require a new operation and could keep him away from elite basketball foreveraccording to some specialists.

Let’s go back to Lavine, DeRozan and Vucevic. That was the trio that Karnišovas opted for when, to everyone’s surprise, signed the Montenegrin, giving the Orlando Magic Wendell Carter Jr., Otto Porter and two first-rounders before the market closed, in March 2021. The Bulls suddenly formed a unusual big threewith very talented players in offense but many doubts remained in defense.

The bet worked halfway: the Bulls had a good regular season in 21-22, with a stellar DeRozan, but they failed in the playoffs against a Milwaukee too superior. For this season, Billy Donovan managed to put together a defensively solid team –was the fifth best defense this regular season– with the presence of Alex Caruso from the beginning and Patrick Beverley since February, but it did not manage to fully materialize, as was made clear in Miami. It has already been proven that these Bulls, with a 33-year-old DeRozan and a 32-year-old Vucevic, have reached their ceiling.

Vucevic and DeRozan could leave the team this summer.
Vucevic and DeRozan could leave the team this summer. jeff haynesGetty

Without picks or a promising free agency, to juggle

This is the part where we return to Karnišovas. The Lithuanian will have to spin very, very finely to get back to the Bulls the competitive gene they deserve. At the beginning of the 2022 season, Lavine signed a maximum contract of just over 215 million dollars for 5 years, even with his injury history and defensive inconsistencies. He will be, in principle, the face of the franchise in the coming seasons, something that does not sound too bad considering that he has managed to recover well from his ailments and that he has just closed one of his best years.

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The problems come more from the balance of assets and liabilities of the Bulls. Its first rounds until 2026 belongalthough with protections, to other teams -largely due to the trade of Vucevic and that of DeRozan-, and They will only be able to keep this year’s if they are among the first four places in the lottery. of the draft. There’s a 1.7% chance for that to happen.

Without first rounds and with difficult contracts to move, such as those of Ball (injured, 40 million more for the next two seasons) and DeRozan (28.6 million next season), and Vucevic remaining as an unrestricted free agent at the end of this course, the Bulls have almost no chance to improve this team with a big transfer.

The problem is that it is not clear that restarting everything from scratch can go further. Maybe if they had tanked, they could use that first round in an absolutely talented draft, but that train is about to pull up to the next station. As if that were not enough, fishing in la la free agencya resource more from the past than from these times, doesn’t look too tempting: they can attract attention Kyrie Irving -although it seems that he will sign with the Mavericks- or Fred VanVleetnot to mention the Chris Middleton, James Harden either Draymond Greenthat seem wishes more impossible than improbable. Nothing that could drastically change the course of the ship.

Put everything on the table, one conclusion is undeniable: the Bulls are between a rock and a hard place. Karnišovas knows it, who also does not have a guaranteed position for next season, and also that big three which never came to be. With the playoffs already on the line and transfer season just around the corner, it’s a very, very hot summer in Chicago.

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