The Chicago Bulls‘ offseason officially begins on Wednesday night after a 116-100 loss to the Milwaukee Bucks in Game 5 of the first round of the Eastern Conference playoffs.
The Bulls wound up losing eight of their last 10 games including the postseason. Five of those losses came at the hands of the Bucks who also beat them 127-106 in the last week of the regular season. The Bulls were beaten by 15 points or more seven times in the last 10 games they played.
Clearly, injuries were an issue, but interior defense and scoring were also a problem. Don’t expect a player like the Los Angeles Clippers’ Isaiah Hartenstein to be the cure for all that ailed the Bulls down the stretch of the regular season and in the playoffs, but an impending free agent might help deliver some of what the Bulls were missing this year.
Isaiah Hartenstein Would Be ‘An Ideal Fit for the Bulls’
According to Heavy.com’s NBA editor and insider Sean Deveney, Hartenstein is drawing some interest and he would be “an ideal fit for the Bulls.”
“There is buzz around some of the back-end free-agents in this year’s market, and one worth watching is Clippers center Isaiah Hartenstein, who quietly had a remarkable season backing up (and often playing as much as) Ivica Zubac,” Deveney wrote. “The Clippers would like to keep him but may not be able to afford to do so after Hartenstein averaged 8.3 points, 4.9 rebounds and 2.4 assists in 17.9 minutes per game.”
Those numbers won’t jump out at many people, but if you drill down a little further, you might see why Hartenstein could be an intriguing free-agent target for Chicago. At 7-foot, 250 pounds, Hartenstein was an elite rim protector in 2021-22. His defensive field goal percentage inside six feet was 52% which ranks seventh in the NBA amongst players who have played 50 games or more this season, per NBA.com. For perspective, the league leader was the Cleveland Cavaliers’ Jarrett Allen at 48.6%. Where was Nikola Vucevic? He ranked 157th at 63.3%.
That’s less than ideal.
Nikola Vucevic’s Shortcomings Were Tough to Overcome
There have been mounds of speculation surrounding the future of Vucevic with the Bulls. While he averaged 19.4 points, 12.4 rebounds, and 1.2 blocked shots per game, Vucevic’s inability to make open threes and his limited range as a defender were glaring weaknesses.
Vucevic continued the mediocre three-point shooting from the regular season in the five-game series against the Bulls. He made just 30% of his threes and almost all of those attempts were wide open. Those shortcomings were among the things that were impossible for the Bulls to overcome. While Vucevic doesn’t deserve all of the blame, it seems he should shoulder a good portion of it considering he was the most disappointing of Chicago’s “Big 3” (DeMar DeRozan and Zach LaVine).
A player like Hartenstein would have instantly made the Bulls’ defense a bit more formidable. He had an affordable deal this past year and the 23-year-old is due for a raise, but it probably isn’t going to be a bank-breaking bump in pay.
“Hartenstein was a bargain, a training-camp signee who made $1.7 million last season,” Deveney continued. “He’d surely like a bigger role going forward, and is expected to garner wide interest from around the league. The Hornets and Mavericks are said to have interest, and he would be an ideal fit for the Bulls, who have been hurting for center depth.”
Even if Hartenstein was signed as a backup to Vucevic, he feels like a more capable reserve than Tony Bradley and even Tristan Thompson, whom the Bulls picked up from the buyout market later in the season.
Once July rolls around, expect to hear Hartenstein’s name in the mix and it’s quite possible, he could even be looked at as a potential replacement in the middle for Vucevic if Chicago trades their big man bench depth and a pick. It’s going to be an interesting summer as the Bulls try to bounce back from a disappointing finish and build on their return to the postseason after a five-year absence.
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