Bulls Achieve Goal, Face Big Risk Following Offseason Roster Decision

Arturas Karnisovas, Chicago Bulls

Getty Arturas Karnisovas watches as players warm up

The Chicago Bulls’ offseason has been a success from a continuity standpoint at the very least. They are set to return all five starters and every top bench option from last season’s squad on top of the offseason additions of Goran Dragic and Andre Drummond.

Their starting lineup played just 63 minutes across five games together, per NBA.com. So, the hope is for better health from players like Lonzo Ball and Zach LaVine.

They also need improvement from Coby White and especially Patrick Williams.

Both players are on their way to full recovery, per Bulls vice president of basketball operations Arturas Karnisovas and head coach Billy Donovan. The question inevitably becomes just how will “running it back” pay off?

Bulls Rank Top 5 in Continuity

NBA.com’s John Schumann released an early roundup ranking the player minutes returning to each of the 30 teams around the league. He includes minutes of players who are either under contract or have already agreed to re-sign.

Schumann notes that there are about 30 roster spots available around the league not including two-way deals while poking fun at the snail’s pace things have slowed to in the wake of the Kevin Durant drama.

But, as his list pertains to the Bulls, Schumann has them ranked fifth in the entire Association.

That puts them just above the Miami Heat and Milwaukee Bucks who finished first and third in the Eastern Conference last season. Milwaukee dispatched the Bulls in the first round of the playoffs in five games.

Chicago ranks below the NBA-leading Toronto Raptors as well as the Cleveland Cavaliers, Oklahoma City Thunder, and Orlando Magic.

The Memphis Grizzlies, New Orlean Pelicans, and Charlotte Hornets round out the top 10.

To Karnisovas’ point about seeking continuity, this year’s top-10 consists of the 2019 and 2021 NBA (Toronto and Milwaukee) champions as well as the 2020 NBA Finals runner-up (Miami). The Cavs, Grizzlies, and Pelicans all made significant strides last season too.

But are the Bulls, or any of these teams, making the right decision relying so heavily on continuity?

Big Risk Involved

The Bulls (and those other teams) are undoubtedly taking a big risk with such a big bet on internal development and improved health. Not only do they risk not taking another step forward, but some data suggests regression is more likely.

Notably absent from this year’s top-10 teams in returning minutes are the reigning champion Golden State Warriors.

Golden State ranks 18th in roster retention after losing several key contributors.

This is only slightly lower than their 14th-place ranking heading into last season. Though, it does need to be said they returned the likes of Klay Thompson to their rotation. That is no small addition.

Still, the Bucks – a smaller-market team – are the only team to rank in the top 10 in each of the past two seasons.

Injuries and players leaving of their own accord played their respective roles.

But continuity does not guarantee success any more than extreme roster overturn. The Bulls do owe this recent turnaround to such upheaval, however, ranking 29th in returning minutes in Schumann’s 2020-2021 iteration.

The Bulls also ranked second in Schumann’s 2019-2020 rankings before embarking on a third-consecutive 20-win campaign.

Heading into that season, the Bucks ranked 27th before marching on to a championship.

Have Bulls Done Enough?

The Chicago Sun-Times’ Joe Cowley wrote that, while the Bulls improved some this offseason, other Eastern Conference Rivals have done more than enough to stay ahead of them in the hunt.

Forbes’ Jason Patt decried their lack of activity.

And The Athletic’s Darnell Mayberry says, despite that lack of sizzle this summer, the Bulls are a title-or-bust bunch following LaVine’s $215 max contract.

NBC Sports Chicago’s K.C. Johnson laid out the logic behind Karnisovas’ projected direction.

Karnisovas’ Nuggets ranked first in continuity ahead of the 2019-2020 season, his final in that front office before joining the Bulls.

Last year’s squad featured the highest percentage of new faces since heading into the 2016-17 season, per Basketball-Reference, which ranked the Bulls 27th in continuity. 2017 was the last time the Bulls had been to the playoffs before this past offseason.

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