Bulls Urged to Consider Making Drastic Roster Changes

Chicago Bulls

Getty Head coach Billy Donovan of the Chicago Bulls watches his team.

In sports, the worst thing to be is mediocre. That uninspiring position of not being good enough to truly be able to contend but also not bad enough to be in the mix for one of the top prospects in the next draft.

There is a growing sense that is where the Chicago Bulls could find themselves this season.

Their fall-off in the latter stages of last season and the presumed improvement of the rest of the Eastern Conference are the driving forces behind this logic.

The Bulls would surely disagree as they have pushed continuity as their theme for the offseason after a slew of injuries sunk their campaign, not just the loss of Lonzo Ball. But, should they fall into a similar situation as last season right out of the gates, perhaps more drastic measures could be in order to get the Bulls out of that middling territory.

Bulls Could Pivot Big

The Bulls went 24-23 without Ball last season. And, as The Athletic’s John Hollinger points out, they limped into the All-Star break going 12-11 in the lead-up. They were dragged after returning winning just eight of their final 23 games down the stretch.

Hollinger is among those who do not foresee a repeat of last year’s success for this year’s Bulls; a stance similar to the one he took ahead of last year he admits.

But it’s the plan he says the Bulls should consider if they stumble that is rather surprising.

The Bulls can go for it this season with the players they have and see if that proof of concept from the first half of 2021-22 was something more than a mirage.

And after the season? They can pivot again, with the pick obligation to Orlando out of the way and the future one to San Antonio protected solidly enough (top 10 in 2025, top eight in the following three seasons) that it shouldn’t’ disincentivize tanking. The Bulls would have DeRozan with a year left on his deal, Caruso with two, and LaVine with four. Cashing in their stock next summer by trading those three, and using a raft of cap room (a stronger currency in Chicago than some other markets) and a couple of high picks to get themselves back into the mix in 2025 might be an attractive proposition by spring.

There has been a thought that the Bulls could look to make a big move at the trade deadline this season if things are not going well. That has usually involved center Nikola Vucevic, though, not Alex Caruso.

We have also heard speculation that, with DeMar DeRozan’s contract as it is, he too could be elsewhere next season if things go poorly. His recent comments about being “hell-bent” on getting to the Lakers last season have renewed some of that. But the addition of LaVine is something new to even consider.

LaVine’s Contract Makes it Unlikely

The Bulls just handed LaVine a five-year, $215 million max contract this offseason making him the highest-paid player in franchise history. He was a hot name this summer. But it’s a deal that signaled to many that they were fully committed to building around him going forward – regardless of what they decide to do with DeRozan, Vucevic, etc.

LaVine’s contract also includes a 15% trade kicker.

This further complicates any deal for a team interested in trying to pry him loose in Hollinger’s scenario which calls for the Bulls to win 40 games and finish ninth in the East.

Not only that, but it would take a massive shift in the philosophy from Bulls vice president of basketball operations Arturas Karnisovas. He has touted continuity for the sake of chemistry and, per LaVine, has sought the two-time All-Star’s input on the roster.

To Hollinger’s point, however, it is Karnisovas’ moves that have put the Bulls in this position.

“Unfortunately, the argument that still resonates is that the Bulls pushed their chips in too early and needed to wait for the steak to fully cook. The glass-half-full approach is that the 26-10 mark in the first 36 games stands as proof of concept for what they were trying to do; the glass-half-empty view is it was fool’s gold, relying heavily on improbable late-game heroics and full health from the team’s most important players.”

Their heavily-scrutinized trade of Wendell Carter Jr. and draft assets for Vucevic has already aged worse than DeRozan’s is anticipated to.

But they have very few ways to go about pivoting if that is what they decide to do.

Bulls Pivoting is Last Resort

Karnisovas has insisted this group needs time to show what they can truly be. But Hollinger points out that the trio of DeRozan, LaVine, and Vucevic were outscored last season by 0.5 points, per Cleaning the Glass. But they could be better if they get a healthier Caruso as well as development from Ayo Dosunmu and Patrick Williams.

Especially Williams who Hollinger says could make the Bulls’ situation “legitimately interesting” if he develops as hoped.

To that end, Hollinger says that a pivot to the degree he suggests should only be a last resort.

“Of course, that option should only be on the table if the Bulls amble to a middling one-and-done or Play-In season, which, unfortunately, still seems like the most probable outcome here. There is too much strength at the top of this conference to realistically expect the Bulls to crack the top four, and too many other aspiring improved teams to even circle Chicago as one of the top eight.”

Not exactly a ringing endorsement. But shows the range of outcomes for the Bulls this season even in pessimistic projections.

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