The Chicago Bulls did what they set out to do this offseason. They are well set up to get a solid evaluation of just what their team is early on next season with an assist from the league’s schedule makers.
Of their first 21 games, 15 of them come against 2022 playoff teams including the NBA Finals runners-up, the Boston Celtics, twice.
And one of the six non-playoff teams, the Charlotte Hornets, made the Play-In Tournament.
All of that adversity should give Bulls vice president Arturas Karnisovas a good idea if he should keep adding to this core. Or, as Joe Cowley of the Chicago Sun-Times recently explained, “wipe” the slate virtually clean.
Bulls Prepared to Pivot
This summer has been all about continuity for the Bulls. Their only outside additions figure to strengthen the bench. But their biggest move was retaining All-Star guard Zach LaVine which, at one point, seemed unlikely.
“Karnisovas and general manager Marc Eversley thought the sample size for their core group wasn’t large enough, and they wanted to give it one more look with the hope of staying healthy this time around.”
The front office has repeatedly mentioned how little their envisioned starting lineup got to play together last season hence the push for continuity.
But they are also well aware of the risk that is involved.
“It’s a gamble the front office was willing to take considering the contract situations of Zach LaVine, DeMar DeRozan, and Nikola Vucevic. LaVine signed a max extension, but DeRozan comes off the books after the 2023-24 season, and Vucevic could be an unrestricted free agent after this season. If it doesn’t work, it’s an easy wipe. If it does, then there’s flexibility to add.”
Bulls Keeping Options Open
The surprise in the Bulls’ openness to an “easy wipe” if this group proves to be more like the one that went 19-23 in the second half of the season than the one that went 27-12 to start. A group that was also 2-22 against the top teams in the league.
But the tough early slate could make the decision easy and quick.
The timing of the schedule release could have also played a part in the chances of these lightly rumored extensions being completed. Now, the Bulls can hold off because they should have a solid grasp on what they are by Christmas.
This would also follow a pattern for Karnisovas who used an initial evaluation period when he was first hired to inform his big swing for Vucevic in 2021.
That process was repeated to finish that season and then spurred the 2022 offseason.
Primed to ‘Blow It Up’
The Bulls have already been pegged as a team all set to make a big move at the trade deadline after their quiet (relative to expectations) offseason. But Grant Hughes took it a step further on a recent installment of the “Hardwood Knocks” podcast with Dan Favale.
“This team feels like a sneaky, ‘Oh, we’re going to get part way into the season and blow it up’ team” because…DeMar DeRozan’s not an MVP candidate anymore…and Vucevic was kind of the start of, what I think, is kind of a bad team-building plan of action.”
Judging from Cowley’s take, Hughes’ read is spot on.
That does not mean that’s what will happen. But the Bulls have been slammed for not giving themselves much flexibility in their roster construction.
Whether this is the right core or not, perhaps that is taking it a step too far.