The Chicago Bulls had an interest in a three-time champion big man this offseason. How different would their offseason be viewed had they been successful in luring him away from his incumbent team?
If fans are feeling like their team did not do enough to keep pace in the Eastern Conference this offseason, they are not alone.
ESPN’s Zach Lowe is one of many who thought that they were surprisingly quiet this summer, especially after last offseason’s splurge and their surge during the regular season. But, in discussing his surprise at their inactivity, Lowe shared the tidbit on the Bulls’ failed plans.
Board Man Gets Paid
During the July 18 episode of the “Lowe Post Podcast”, Lowe and guest Chris Herring of Sports Illustrated were discussing the Bulls’ offseason. Lowe noted how, when healthy, the Bulls are almost built to embrace small ball when Looney came up.
“Looney, I know was of interest to them before he went back to Golden State. Another traditional center – smart, high IQ, all that…I’m interested to see what this team looks like.”
The 6-foot-9 center is indeed a three-time champion, playing an integral role in the most recent one in particular after being a passenger for the first during his rookie season when he did not play in the postseason.
He was a free agent this offseason. But only briefly before re-signing with the Warriors on a three-year, $25.5 million deal, per ESPN’s Adrian Wojnarowski.
Looney averaged 6.0 points, 7.4 rebounds, and 2.0 assists in 80 regular-season games.
Looney shined in the postseason with double-digit rebounding performances and finished with a plus-minus above plus-21 two times in the NBA Finals against the Boston Celtics.
The Bulls signed Andre Drummond to a two-year deal this offseason worth $6.6 million with a player option for 2024. Tony Bradley picked up his $2 million option earlier in the summer giving the Bulls better depth but not versatility.
Lowe’s interest came with that caveat.
Standing (with) Pat
The Bulls will have to find versatility despite the weaknesses of stars DeMar DeRozan, Zach LaVine, and Nikola Vucevic, says Lowe. None of the Bulls’ “Big Three” are good defenders and the rest of the roster is limited in proven ways to cover for them.
That does not mean the Bulls are without options.
“Billy Donovan…has the track record of success playing small, fast, aggressive lineups…I actually would like to see how they would look if they played more with Derrick Jones Jr. at center or Javonte Green at center or Pat Williams at center…my hunch is we are going to see a little bit more of that this year if they’re healthy.”
To Lowe’s point, the Bulls went with DeRozan at power forward 81% of the time, per Basketball-Reference.
Those lineups were plus-2.2, per Cleaning the Glass.
The Bulls have spurned at least one substantial trade in favor of Patrick Williams who has been a lightning rod in his short career. A lot of discourse has already centered around the significance of Williams heading into his third season.
Chicago’s lack of a true switching big projects Williams into that role.
In the brief sample that we saw last season – just 35 possessions – the Bulls were plus-3.0 all coming with DeRozan at the 4 spot.
They were minus-3.4 in 576 possessions with Jones playing center but plus-0.7 when he played there next to DeRozan (358 possessions). Chicago was minus-22.7 with Green playing center, though, none of those 12 possessions came with DeRozan on the floor.
Williams Paramount to Bulls’ Success
Chicago addressed their rebounding issues with Drummond, something Looney would have provided. And the Warriors’ big man was targeted defensively when Boston decided to attack with pick-and-rolls.
It is clear, however, that the Bulls knew that they had to try and upgrade their depth while trying to improve their versatility with the 26-year-old Wisconsin native.
We don’t know how far the Bulls’ pursuit of Looney went.
But he joins Danilo Gallinari as a potential target that chose to land with a Finals participant over more money from the Bulls. Combined with having to add in a player option for Drummond, that puts the Bulls standing in the eyes of the rest of the NBA into focus.
If interior defense proves to be an issue once again, especially if Drummond proves to be unplayable in high-leverage situations, this offseason will be scrutinized even more.