The discussion around how to improve the Chicago Bulls did not reach full throttle just days into their offseason. It preceded their exit from the postseason following a 5-1 first-round defeat at the hands of the Milwaukee Bucks thanks to a late-season slide.
They were the 10th best team in the East after that.
A lot of the talk surrounded second-year forward Patrick Williams. He was the first selection of Bulls vice president of basketball operations Arturas Karnisovas’ tenure – fourth overall in 2020 – and one NBA executive said that as much as anything will determine Williams’ future in a Bulls uniform.
‘Still Basically a Rookie’
The executive tells Heavy’s Sean Deveney that the Bulls will practice patience with Williams after they turned away inquiries about the young forward at the trade deadline.
“They had no interest in trading Patrick Williams, they were not taking calls on him. He struggled after he came back from the injury but he is young, he was Arturas’ first big draft pick, they’re going to give him a chance. You hate to trade a guy who is still only 20 years old, he’s basically still a rookie.”
Williams started the first five games of the season before suffering a wrist injury that required surgery knocking him out for 65 games.
He came back to average 4.2 points on 43.8% true shooting over his first six games with 3.5 rebounds. The former Florida State Seminole then went on to score double digits in five of the Bulls’ final six regular-season games.
Williams averaged 15.8 points on 71.2% true shooting with 6.2 boards, 1.5 assists, and 1.0 blocks in that span including a 35-point performance in the regular-season finale.
Bulls veteran DeMar DeRozan said that he planned on taking his young teammate under his wing for a ‘summer from hell’ that includes waking up at 4 a.m. The goal is to build consistency through work and Williams has acknowledged during his exit interview that is his biggest goal entering Year 3.
Everyone Has a Price
Holding onto Williams at the deadline was already a sure sign of how high the Bulls still are on Williams who was injured at the deadline. But that does not mean that they won’t move him in the right deal, says the executive.
“I think the only way it happens is if you get a star in return. I can see them pushing for (Rudy) Gobert if the Jazz try to trade him. You do a package of (Nikola) Vucevic and Williams with this year’s draft pick, maybe some smaller considerations, too, and that is a package I think Utah could live with.”
While Karnisovas mentioned continuity several times in his exit interview, he also mentioned staying vigilant for ways to improve the team.
Whether or not Gobert would provide that for this current group has been the subject of debate, in part, because DeRozan’s presence and preferred spot on the floor make Vucevic’s ability to space the floor paramount.
Still, the Bulls’ backline defense was poor all season. The Bucks shot 73.1% in the restricted area in the playoffs. That is the fifth-worst mark in the postseason ahead of Round 2, per NBA.com. after opponents shot just 64.9% there during the regular season but attempted the second-most shots in that area.
Yesterday’s Price is not Today’s Price
Who knows what the asking price on any of the Bulls’ potential targets is currently. Jerami Grant was a target before the deadline with the Detroit Pistons holding out hope of getting Williams in return.
That is thought to be too steep with the veteran just one year away from unrestricted free agency.
People are breaking up Gobert and his Utah Jazz teammate Donovan Mitchell apart preemptively. The executive thinks the Bulls could be in on him and would include Williams for Gobert adding the caveat, “That’s if the Jazz make a move on him.”
Things change, and that applies to the Bulls’ insistence on continuity.
If the right opportunity presents itself, we could certainly see Williams in a different uniform. But it does not sound like that is a very long list of possibilities. Especially after he posted back-to-back games of 20-plus points in Games 4 and 5 against Milwaukee.