The Chicago Bulls’ window of contention has often been attached to veteran DeMar DeRozan. With center Nikola Vucevic heading into the final year of his contract, and Zach LaVine set to re-up on a max deal, this put their long-term future in question.
How will they go about maximizing this roster without hamstringing themselves?
LaVine’s return, which NBA correspondent Marc Stein reported interested teams were informed of, answers some of them. Their approach in free agency can be more along the lines of improving on the margins than trying to replace the two-time All-Star.
There is some belief, however, that the Bulls window was already more open than many have chosen to believe.
Brand New Deal
DeRozan is signed through the 2023-24 season, per Spotrac. But, heading into his 14th season, he will turn 33 in August. That has had the Bulls’ title contention eulogized after they were decisively disposed of by the Milwaukee Bucks in the first round.
There were doubts about this group’s viability before they ever played together.
Johnson followed up an assessment by SB Nation’s Ricky O’Donnell that it could be asking too much to expect a 19-year-old prospect to contribute right away with DeRozan’s window.
“The [Jalen] Duren talk actually ties back to the philosophical thing that I wanted to return to. Although, as a quick aside, I will add, for whatever it’s worth I predict DeMar DeRozan has another Bulls contract beyond this one…I just am told he’s incredibly happy here, we’ll see how that plays out.”
DeRozan has made no secret of how much he has enjoyed his time in Chicago, calling his first year in the city “perfect” after being acquired in a trade last August.
His desire to be here is one thing. But should the Bulls want to keep the five-time All-Star and three-time All-NBA selection?
DeRozan’s Sustained Success
Despite his advancing age, this past season was arguably DeRozan’s best. His 27.9 points per game were the most of his illustrious career. There is reason to believe that his game will age well too.
It is not based on his athleticism and the amount of work he puts in during the offseason keeps him prepared for the rigors of a long grueling season.
Johnson acknowledges that this version of DeRozan is probably fleeting for the Bulls.
“I do agree that, in terms of him playing at this high of a level, you probably have a shorter window.”
A bit of caution may be needed for the risk of prematurely writing off DeRozan. The negative perception around his fit with the Bulls was largely based on the belief that his time in San Antonio was predictive of a decline in his abilities.
The third All-NBA selection of his career did away with that logic. His effectiveness may last even longer than renewed expectations.
DeRozan’s value has also extended beyond his on-court production. He took a quick liking to Ayo Dosunmu and has taken Patrick Williams under his wing this offseason. Williams flew out to work out with DeRozan for a “summer from hell”.
But how does this impact the draft strategy of an admitted aggressive front office?
Blending it all Together
Johnson noted that Bulls vice president of basketball operations, Arturas Karnisovas has traded away a lot of capital since arriving two seasons ago. The Bulls need to begin planning for their next iteration.
“The league is so wide open at this point I feel like…you kind of need to go for it. But I also almost feel like you kind of need to replenish your coffers with some young talent.”
That is why Johnson thinks that the “safe bet” is for the Bulls to make and keep the pick.
He also says thinks that a trade up in the draft is possible. And, given his views on DeRozan’s future, that pick could be for more of an upside play. As O’Donnell pointed out, that was the Bulls’ strategy behind taking Williams fourth-overall in 2020.