The Bulls were a solid Eastern Conference Playoff team last season, but they need to shake things up in the offseason if they have bigger dreams.
Chicago’s front office has done a nice job of accumulating the talent required to make the Chicago Bulls an immediate playoff team in the East. The real challenge facing the Bulls now is how to transform their veteran group into actual title contenders.
Zach LaVine’s free agency currently hangs over the franchise like a dark cloud. Losing him for nothing would force the Bulls into an uncomfortable rebuild. The team needs to swallow its pride and give him the max contract he’s looking for if they want to remain competitive.
Of course, paying LaVine that kind of massive salary would significantly limit the team’s roster flexibility moving forward. DeMar DeRozan, Nikola Vucecvic, and Lonzo Ball all make more than $19 million annually for this team. It’s going to require real creativity to make significant changes in Chi-town anytime soon.
What will the Bulls roster look like come September?
The top of Chicago’s roster is going to remain steady. LaVine might flirt with other teams in free agency but it’s hard to envision a scenario where the Bulls don’t do whatever it takes to keep him. The aforementioned veteran trio of DeRozan, Vucevic, and Ball all seem like safe bets to stick around for at least one more season.
That doesn’t mean there won’t be significant swapping of deck chairs on the bottom of the roster. The team has seven players heading towards free agency including LaVine. Throw in first-round pick Dalen Terry and it’s easy to see why the bench is going to receive a serious makeover.
Projected Bulls starting 5
The backcourt of LaVine and Ball should remain intact. Getting a full healthy season from Ball would do wonders for Chicago’s win total. DeRozan is similarly entrenched as the team’s nominal small forward even if he operates more like a power forward at this stage of his career. It’s also safe to pencil in Vucevic for another year as the team’s starting center.
The real open spot in the starting five is who will play on the wing alongside DeRozan. Patrick Williams has the talent to enjoy the inside track, but his own injury record is troubling for the team’s front office. Javonte Green might be able to usurp him or the Bulls could look for a solution who isn’t on the current roster.
Who should Bulls target in free agency?
The Bulls don’t project to be a cap space team (assuming they bring back LaVine) which will likely limit them to shopping in the mid-level exception market. Finding a wing in that price range is going to be exceedingly difficult.
If the Hornets decide to let Kelly Oubre Jr. walk he’d be a terrific fit for the Bulls. More reasonably, the team could investigate what it might cost to bring someone like Danuel House into the fold. A flyer on a guy like TJ Warren could also give the Bulls a shot at a guy with enough upside to impact their closing five.
Possible Bulls trade targets
One other idea for the Bulls’ front office would be to dangle Coby White in a trade for an upgrade on the wing. Dealing small for big is difficult, but not impossible in the modern NBA.
Eric Gordon and Harrison Barnes are two high-level targets that should interest the Bulls. Both could give this team a lot more depth and versatility heading into the postseason. White won’t be enough to land either player on his own, but he could be the centerpiece of a package to get talks heated up.
Projected Bulls cap space
The assumption that LaVine is going to command a maximum salary vaporizes the Bulls’ dreams of having meaningful cap space for the foreseeable future. Exceptions. trades and draft picks are the only realistic avenues for improvement for the Bulls with their existing core in place.
Bulls NBA Draft results
Chicago nabbed Dalen Terry with the No. 18 overall selection. At 19 years of age he probably won’t be ready to play meaningful minutes this season, but the front office deserves credit for targeting upside over an older guy who might have contributed off the bench as a rookie.
Terry’s athleticism and defensive chops give him a chance to grow into a quality starter. Like a lot of wing prospects available outside the lottery, he needs to develop his jumper if he’s going to realize his full potential. Chicago should be a team that can give him the room he needs to do just that.
Bulls outgoing free agents
Troy Brown and Derrick Jones Jr are two free agents the Bulls might look to retain but probably represent serious flight risks. Jones never found the shooting stroke he needed to unlock his athleticism. Brown’s a big forward who can handle the ball but lacks the jumper or athleticism to be a primary creator on offense. Neither guy is a needle-mover for a team that is looking to increase its upside.