Your Chicago Bulls are heading into an uncertain offseason after a depressing 4-1 flop in the first round of the 2022 playoffs at the hands of defending champion Milwaukee Bucks. After a scorching start and good vibes, the Bulls were plagued by a variety of injuries and illnesses … as well as a lack of reliable backup.
Bulls executive vice president Arturas Karnisovas hinted at some of the big things that Chicago certainly seemed to be missing in his post-release interviews. presser.
“We’ll figure out what additions we need…Is it running?” Is this defense? Is it the size? Athletics ? So we’ll sit down and find a solution with the group.”
During its own media availability session, head coach Billy Donovan was quite suspicious when asked about personnel decisions during the offseason, although he indicated that he would be part of the decision-making process at the alongside Karnisovas and general manager Marc Eversley. Donovan seemed to suggest a desire to add more shots.
“Sometimes this year we shot the ball very well. And then, you know, this series, we didn’t shoot the ball well.
He is right, it is a great need. There are also a few clearer things to do during this offseason:
More shooters (at high volume)
The Bulls finished the 2021-22 NBA regular season at the very bottom of the league in three-point shot attempts per game (28.8, nearly two tries below the 29th-ranked Wizards, and 12.5 tries below the top-ranked Timberwolves). This is partly due to an injury. Lonzo Ball has had more than twice as many triple looks (7.4 per night on 42.3% shooting) as two-point attempts (3.5), missing 47 games this year. Coby White has also missed 21 games this year (5.8 attempts per game at 38.5%), while Zach LaVine has missed 15 (7.1 attempts, 38.9%).
The real problem is that this is not enough. Patrick Williams was sidelined for 65 games and showed promise as a long-range shooter (51.7% this year), but took just 1.7 threes a night this season when he was healthy. Alex Caruso is a 36.6 percent career three-point shooter, though his completion rate has dipped a bit this season (33.3 percent on 3.1 attempts) and his volume is ultimately modest. Ayo Dosunmu shot 37.6% from deep on 2.4 tries. While it seems logical to ship Coby White this offseason and replace him with Ayo, those 3-point attempts by Coby won’t be handed out so easily.
Probably cheap free agent guards include unrestricted veterans Malik Monk, Gary Harris and Patty Mills (has a player option with the Nets), as well as restricted free agents like Kings shooting guard Donte DiVincenzo and winger Cody Martin Hornets.
There are actually 3-and-D wings to potentially have too. Clippers forwards Robert Covington and Nicolas Batum, Warriors guard Gary Payton II aka “The Mitten”, Nets winger Bruce Brown (he’s basically a better Derrick Jones Jr. even smaller with a three-point shot) , Bucks winger Pat Connaughton (he has a $5.7 million player option), and Heat winger Caleb Martin (like his twin brother, a restricted free agent) would all be strong assets.
Front area revision
It was pretty clear that size mattered a lot for Chicago against Milwaukee in the playoffs. The Bucks’ top three players — starters Giannis Antetokounmpo and Brook Lopez, plus no-one’s favorite former Bull Bobby Portis who’s started in the last two games — have totally outclassed Chicago’s frontcourt rotation.
Billy Donovan desperately used a variety of backup options behind starters Vucevic and Williams: the small-ball duo of Javonte Green at the front and DJJ at center, or the totally washed-out Tristan Thompson.
Even if the team really wants to keep Vucevic and Williams next year, they should still consider replacements for everyone beyond that. Javonte is under the control of the team on a lot at a minimum next season, and while he might be a fun adjustment as the 11th man, we should never have to rely on him again in the playoffs. Marko Simonovic is also signed until next season at a very low price, but he looked unplayable. Tony Bradley got the rotation right at the start of the season and will probably (hopefully) elect free agency: he has one player option, but it’s cheaper than he can get as a minimum free agent contract elsewhere. The Bulls can always choose to waive any or all of them, with the only penalty being their still-capped low salary.
As for potential replacements: My favorite backup center JaVale McGee (no, seriously) will be a free agent who will most likely win his fourth NBA title this summer. He remains incredibly effective at what he does and would be exactly what we need in a reserve five. Portis (ugh, seriously) has a $4.6 million player option that he could probably double every year if he were to hit free agency this summer, thanks to his excellent rebounding and three-point shooting . Often injured, Patrick Williams’ Knicks center Mitchell Robinson is an unrestricted free agent. Montrezl Harrell is available, but his limitations on defense are still pretty glaring come playoff time and I would avoid him. Even more undersized (but much better defender), PJ Tucker has a player option but might want to beat him in free agency at 36. Thad Young could reprise his role as “Thadgic” here. Then some potentially cheaper names include Chris Boucher, Isaiah Hartenstein and, yes, even Hassan Whiteside. He would still be a massive improvement over Tristan Thompson.
Two restricted free agent backup centers remain very intriguing. Mo Bamba, the rim-rolling Magic center, quietly had an impressive 3rd season at 23 with 10.6 points on 48% shooting (over 38% from deep), 8.1 rebounds and 1.7 blocks per game. The Magic are committed to ex-Bull Wendell Carter, so Bamba could potentially be had. Likewise, the Nets may be feeling the financial crisis and fail to retain 23-year-old athletic center Nic Claxton.
Now, we should know by now that AKME isn’t necessarily locking in on who’s under contract, having absolute cap space, or locking in starters. If there’s a summer scenario where they offload Vucevic or Paw, there’s a slightly bigger game. Jusuf Nurkic could in theory be a slightly cheaper, younger and more defense-oriented replacement for Vucevic. Although Nurkic can’t shoot from three, he is a very good passer (he averaged 2.8 assists last year!) and a mid-range shooter.
If they took a more massive swing, the two most intriguing players would be in restricted free agency, with Hornets forward Miles Bridges and Suns center DeAndre Ayton. The two had public negotiations for an early extension with their teams ending without a new deal, and while the Bulls are unlikely to position themselves for an offer sheet, there is still a sign-and-trade acquisition. .
Deandre Ayton vs. Pels (6 Games): 20.5 PTS, 9.8 REBS, 2.5 AST, 1.2 TOV in 35.1 MIN while shooting 71.1% from 2. During the playoffs , he is the 2nd most effective mid-range shooter behind only CP3. Opponents also posted a 43.2% eFG when he was the closest defender. Always just 23 pic.twitter.com/4ZLHosGiCO
— Mike Schmitz (@Mike_Schmitz) April 29, 2022
Beleaguered jazz center Rudy Gobert, a perennial DPOY contender, could be available this summer in a possible fire sale in Utah. But the assets and salary required to trade for Stifle Tower’s $38.2 million salary next season, as a player who has yet to overcome his known limitations in the playoffs, makes me doubt that this be a good idea.
Retaining Zach LaVine
The Bulls’ top priority this season, of course, will be to re-sign 27-year-old All-Star shooting guard Zach LaVine. LaVine will be an unrestricted free agent, but Chicago can offer $50M+ and an extra year more than any contender. Although, as we’ve seen over the last decade of free agency, these factors don’t always influence a player’s decision-making.
Having recently switched agencies to become a client of Klutch, and probably the hottest free agent this summer, Zach must think he’s getting the most out of it somewhere. Although it’s not a team currently with maximum cap space.
And, at least publiclyhe treats the Bulls as another option and not as a leader of the club:
“Obviously I’m going to take my time and watch everything, talk to my agent [Rich Paul]. I go into everything with an open mind, but understand that my time here has been great. We’ll see what the future holds… I intend to enjoy free will with what it is as a whole. I think you’re going to have to experience AZ without making any quick decisions.
Maybe not quite the language Bulls fans probably wanted to hear, but maybe still short of securing his own Hamptons weekend.
Arturas Karnisovas, meanwhile, expressed a desire to keep LaVine “for a long time”:
“He knows exactly what to expect here, and, you know, we have a very good relationship with him… The last two years have been the best years of his career, so we’ll see what happens.”
There is, of course, the factor of long-term health. LaVine is currently struggling with a troublesome left knee that has hampered his production for much of the season as well as his playoff debut. It is set to to consult with a specialist about his knee options for the second time this year, and it looks like surgery is a distinct possibility. The same knee already went under the knife for his ACL repair in 2017. That could be one reason why the Bulls aren’t aggressively offering Zach all they can and getting him locked up ASAP this summer. . But as we’ve seen from what AKME did last year, players opt for teams chasing them regardless of cap space, and it might not be wise to slow down things with your star.