You can plan a pretty picnic but you can’t predict the weather.
Surely the Chicago Bulls (6-8) were not on Georgia native and OutKast member Andre 3000’s mind when he uttered those iconic lyrics 22 years ago on the hit song ‘Ms. Jackson’. That year, the Bulls finished 15-67 in the middle of a six-year playoff drought but still riding the high of the second three-peat thanks to Michael Jordan, Scottie Pippen, and Co.
The song probably more aptly describes this current group which spent all summer hyping continuity.
Just 14 games into the 2022-23 season, the Bulls sit two games below .500 and outside of even the Play-In Tournament field as the 11-seed in the East, that plan and its architects are being put back under the microscope.
AKME’s Honeymoon Officially Over
“[Bulls vice president of basketball operations Arturas Karnisovas] and Marc Eversley, to this point, have been wildly disappointing to me,” declared ESPN 1000’s David Kaplan during the November 16 edition of the ‘Kap & J Hood’ morning show. “What have they really done? They won one playoff game in a gentleman’s sweep…and if Khris Middleton doesn’t hurt his knee we get swept away.”
The first playoff series for the Bulls in five years ended unceremoniously with the Bulls being outscored by an average of 14.6 points per game.
They were battered by then with Lonzo Ball out since January.
Two-time All-Star Zach LaVine would suit up for the first four games of the series before missing the decisive Game 5 with a knee injury he had battled through for months and which required arthroscopic surgery this offseason.
“What have they really, really done? Zach was here already. Lonzo Ball? $80 million [and] we can’t get the guy on the freaking court. DeMar [DeRozan]? DeMar’s a really good player. He is. But without any shooting…they did nothing to address the biggest weakness on this team. I’m wildly disappointed in Arturas Karnisovas and Marc Eversley. Wildly disappointed.”
Those injuries, in part, guided Karnisovas’s desire to see this group at full strength before making any further changes.
LaVine has returned but has to have that knee managed while Ball’s return is nebulous at best.
Return on Investment
The Bulls gave up substantial capital to put this group together. Between the likes of Ball and DeRozan last summer as well as Nikola Vucevic in 2021, this Bulls group will have cost three first-round picks, four second-round picks (one thanks to tampering charges in the deal for Ball), and roughly $234 million to put together when all is said and done.
Kaplan was sure to point out he is not questioning the regime’s credentials But he also cited the Bulls’ failure to add three-point shooting not once but each of the last two offseasons.
They also stood pat at last year’s trade deadline.
The Bulls ranked 30th in attempted threes last season but offset it by ranking fourth in three-point efficiency at 36.9%. This season, they are up slightly to 28th in attempts and shoot just 0.9% worse from beyond the arc but have fallen to 15th in efficiency.
If there is a ray of hope for those feeling this team is stuck in mediocrity, Vucevic’s contract is up after this season and DeRozan’s deal is up after the 2023-24 season. That just leaves LaVine as far as long-term, large financial commitments but, at 27, he is just entering into what should be the prime years of his career making him the best choice of the bunch to build around.
Bulls Approaching a Crossroads
There is another saying that warns of taking action simply for the sake of taking action as the results are often less than satisfactory.
That could play both ways, both in how the Bulls got here and in what comes next.
One thing that is clear, however, is that the positivity shown towards this group after last year’s surprising run has given way to angst. And it comes as this season is showing many of the troubling signs from last season’s second-half slide.