The Chicago Bulls have added toughness and strong perimeter play on both ends of the floor signing Jevon Carter and Torrey Craig in free agency this offseason. But have they done enough to be decidedly better?
“The Bulls were granted a $10.2 million disabled player exception for Lonzo Ball…The smart money is on them holding on to it,” wrote Dan Favale of Bleacher Report on July 16. “And yet, Chicago just showed, again, that it intends to maximize the middling window and ceiling of this core. Using the DPE should be an obligation.”
– Second-round picks x2 (2026, 2027)
O’Neale, 30, averaged career-highs with 8.8 points and 3.7 rebounds adding 5.1 rebounds and nearly 1.0 steals per game for the Brooklyn Nets this past season. Most importantly, the 6-foot-6 forward shot a career-best 38.9% on 5.5 triples per game – also a career-high mark – and has shot no worse than 37.7% since his rookie season in 2018-19.
He is heading into the final year of a four-year, $36 million contract.
Again, it was not simply a matter of shots not falling, though the Bulls were in the middle of the pack shooting 36.1% from beyond the arc. That was a 0.8% drop from the 2021-22 season and enough to drop them from fourth place to 16th.
They also won six fewer games than in 2021-22 despite their best three players playing together more than any other trio in the NBA so they could use all the help possible.
That is including perimeter defense where O’Neale’s versatility pits him against ranging from Bulls star Zach LaVine to Toronto Raptors forward Scottie Barnes, and even Boston Celtics big man Kristaps Porzingis. All of these factors would make O’Neale a worthwhile target even with Carter and Craig already joining the fold.
But O’Neale’s fit with the Bulls is only part of the equation, albeit an important one.
Bulls Don’t Have to Use Lonzo Ball DPE
The Bulls don’t have to use the exception until March so they may wait until the trade deadline and, perhaps, even the buyout market (again) to make use of it. It’s also not uncommon for teams to let such exceptions go unused while they sit $8.5 million below the luxury tax threshold, per Spotrac, with 13 players on guaranteed contracts.
Their roster is at 14 including the qualifying offer made to restricted free agent Ayo Dosunmu. He has not signed yet but the expectation remains that he returns.
“We’re still very high on Ayo,” an anonymous Bulls staffer told Keith Smith of Spotrac during Summer League in Las Vegas. “This is how restricted free agency can go sometimes. Don’t read anything into our opinion of him as a player just because he isn’t signed.”
Bulls executive vice president of basketball operations Arturas Karnisovas has also continued to talk up the third-year guard.
Still, a front office that has pushed continuity might want to resolve this before anything else.
Ball, 25, is expected to miss all of next season if not longer after a rare knee procedure that has yet to see any professional athlete make a full recovery. Dosunmu, 23, surprised as a rookie but stagnated as a sophomore resulting in the Chicago native getting pulled from the starting lineup not once but twice.
Nets Asking Price Could Be Too Rich for Bulls
This deal also likely falls well short of what the Nets seek in any potential deals for the veteran forward. He is said to be available but only at the right price and Brooklyn is said to have already rejected an offer from the Cleveland Cavaliers – who roster his friend Donovan Mitchell – for his services.
“Brooklyn has discussed…Royce O’Neale with various teams, wrote Yahoo Sports NBA insider Jake Fischer on June 22. “The Nets are seeking a…first-round pick for O’Neale, similar to how Brooklyn acquired him from the Jazz before last June’s draft.”
The Bulls could offer the rights to the Portland Trail Blazers pick, though it’s lottery protected until 2028 – when it will turn into two second-round picks – as they embark on a rebuild.
But the Bulls cannot trade their own selection in 2024.
Chicago still owes the San Antonio Spurs a first-round pick in 2025 that is top-10 protected from the DeMar DeRozan trade that also restricts them from using their 2026 first-rounder directly in a trade. They can offer pick swaps in those years which would weaken their value in trade negotiations since they are conditional.
This could end up as a case of right fit but wrong timing with Brooklyn seemingly set to ride it out at least into the season with O’Neal after letting his $9.5 million salary lock in for next season.