Several years have passed since the Chicago Bulls were last known as one of the Eastern Conference’s elite. So it’s no wonder that it has also been a couple of years since the Bulls have been viewed as a top destination for free agents — despite the fact Chicago is a major city, which typically helps make a franchise more attractive in free agency.
But a great city can only do so much when the potential for success there is slim.
The Bulls haven’t made the playoffs since the 2016-17 season and haven’t had a winning season since 2015-16, when they finished the regular season just over .500 at 42-40. In fact, Chicago hasn’t had a decisively winning season since Tom Thibodeau’s last season there in 2014-15.
In addition to continued losing, the Bulls were led by the front-office tandem of Gar Forman and John Paxson for a near-decade, starting in 2009. When Thibodeau was Chicago’s head coach, the franchise had its best chance of restoring itself to championship-caliber levels. But the duo often referred to as “GarPax” did not get along with Thibodeau, leading to his dismissal as head coach.
With new management leadership in executive vice president of basketball operations Artūras Karnišovas and general manager Marc Eversley and two All-Stars in Zach LaVine and Nikola Vučević, is it finally time that the Bulls regain their status as a top free agent destination?
Garrett Temple thinks so.
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High Praise for Bulls Management
Prior to the Bulls’ 108-96 win over the Detroit Pistons on May 9, Bulls veteran guard Temple talked with reporters, including NBC Sports Chicago. He spoke highly of Karnišovas and Eversley and the positive effect their work can have on making the Bulls a leading team for free agents.
“I think AK and Marc have done a great job. Have done a great job showing that they keep things close to the vest, that they understand the business, and deal with a level of privacy that’s refreshing in today’s NBA,” Temple said.
“I think people that understand and are free agents and things of that nature, are probably looking at the Bulls front office as a place, a group of people that know what they’re doing for sure.”
Karnišovas and Eversley joined the Bulls in 2020. In their first draft, they selected Patrick Williams, who has since gone on to make the starting lineup and maintain his spot there despite never having started in his lone year at Florida State. At their first trade deadline, they did what the Bulls had failed to do in recent years: make legitimate moves.
Chicago, most notably, traded for Vučević. This trade, in particular, gave the team an All-Star to play alongside LaVine, an effective inside presence on the offensive end and consistent double-doubles. The Bulls also acquired Daniel Theis and Troy Brown Jr. — both of whom have become a part of the rotation — among others. So the trades have had a positive impact so far.
Is Temple Here to Stay?
While Temple isn’t a big-name player, the veteran guard could be proof that Chicago is a place to be. Temple told reporters that he, an upcoming free agent, approves of the franchise’s direction enough to want to return when his contract expires this offseason.
“I love what we’re doing here. I love the coaching staff. I’m enjoying the front office. I’m really enjoying being around the guys. For example in Detroit (Saturday) we were hanging out together in the lobby area, talking and playing cards. Those type of things,” Temple said. “Not every team is like that. I enjoy being here. And I would love to see what we could do to progress this type of team.”
Temple has been a key player for the Bulls this season. He has averaged 7.7 points, 2.2 assists and 2.8 rebounds per game while shooting 34.0 percent on 3-pointers. He has primarily come off the bench, providing steady veteran play to follow up the starting unit. But he has also been inserted into the starting lineup on numerous occasions, which is telling of how reliable he has been for Chicago.
Chicago’s All-Star Duo
While a dedicated front office will play a role in making Chicago an attractive place to be for free agents, the existing roster has a significant effect, too. Players want to join teams that already have talented players on board and will make winning easier. The Bulls already had that in LaVine, and young guys like Williams and Coby White could add to Chicago’s appeal. But the addition of Vučević is the real difference-maker.
While it took some time for the Bulls to adjust after the trade deadline, the All-Star duo has been showing some chemistry during their push for the play-in tournament.
In the past three games since returning from a 10-game absence due to the NBA’s COVID-19 health and safety protocols, LaVine has averaged 22.7 points, 3.3 assists and 3.7 rebounds while shooting 49.0 percent from the field. Vučević has had impactful games of his own in that same timeframe, contributing averages of 25.3 points and 14.7 rebounds.
When the season began, the Bulls knew LaVine would be the go-to guy, but someone would have to complement him and be that second option. White showed flashes of potentially filling that role. There was hope Lauri Markkanen could be that, too, but that hasn’t been the case. It hasn’t been till Vučević’s addition that Chicago finally got that legitimate second option.
If the two All-Stars can continue playing like this for the remainder of the season — regardless of whether the Bulls make the play-in tournament — then it will only make Chicago more appealing to other players.