A big part of the Chicago Bulls’ offseason plan will be retaining their own free agents. Two of those free agents, Ayo Dosunmu and Coby White, were the franchise’s top picks in their respective draft classes.
Both players are restricted free agents this offseason and there was a notion the generally frugal and cash-strapped Bulls might have to choose between one or the other. But Bulls executive vice president of basketball operations Arturas Karnisovas is not going to just let either walk away this summer.
“Coby and Ayo I think they are developing young players,” Karnisovas said during his media availability via the Bulls on June 22. “We’re gonna address that in free agency.”
Asked if he will extend qualifying offers to both players, Karnisvoas gave an unequivocal “yes”.
Coby White’s Persistence Paid Off
White, 23, is one of just two players to pre-date Karnisovas’ arrival and takeover of basketball operations. The other is two-time All-Star Zach LaVine whom the Bulls signed to the largest contract in franchise history.
The Bulls had White on the trade block dating back to the 2021 trade deadline. White’s stats this past season – 9.7 points, 2.9 rebounds, and 2.8 assists while shooting 37.2% from three – were all down from last season but fail to highlight how much progress he made as a more complete player which head coach Billy Donovan certainly appreciated.
“He’s played well,” Donovan said. “The thing that’s been really impressive to me is the jump he’s made from last year to this year defensively and the amount of time and effort. He had a really, really good summer and I really attribute a lot of his success to that.”
White drew just two starts this past season but he made a career-high 72 appearances.
With Karnisovas confirming that intended starting point guard Lonzo Ball is not expected to return next season as he continues to rehab, the Bulls have more incentive than not to be “all in” on retaining White. If nothing else he provides some familiarity for the group and knows how he would be needed coming out of the gate.
To that end, Donovan agreed that there could be another opportunity for White to crack the starting lineup – something White has said is a goal of his – should the former North Carolina Tar Heel return next season.
The Bulls will have the right to match any offer White may get since he is a restricted free agent so the final call was always theirs to make.
But it does bring a little more clarity to their offseason.
Ayo Dosunmu’s Sophomore Slump Led to Demotion
Dosunmu, 23, opened last season as the starting point guard but soon found himself demoted to the bench along with former No. 4 overall pick, Patrick Williams. A Chicago native, Dosunmu surprised as a rookie second-round pick in 2021-22 averaging 8.8 points, 3.3 assists, and 2.8 rebounds while shooting 37.6% from beyond the arc.
This past season, he posted a very similar stat line with 8.6 points and 2.8 rebounds but his assists (2.6) and perimeter efficiency (31.2%) both fell. But he still brought inspired defense even after his demotion.
It really was never really a matter of if the Bulls wanted to keep Dosunmu in the mix.
There has even been word that the team is eyeing a multi-year contract for the former No. 38 overall pick of the 2021 NBA Draft
“Dosunmu is a restricted free agent who has limited market value after a backsliding season,” wrote Sam Smith of Bulls.com on June 16. “But he’s well-liked by the coaching staff and management and expected to receive a reasonable contract for two or three seasons.”
The question was always making it work financially but Karnisovas says that’s not an issue.
“I think it all depends on free agency, how that goes,” Karnisovas said. “And Jerry and Michael [Reisndorf] have been always open with me to go into luxury tax if our team is competitive – top four, top six in the East. If there are players in free agency that…we go, ‘Yeah, they can improve our team,’ and we’re competitive, we’ll retain our free agent.”