Chicago Bulls: Steps to Contention

Chicago Bulls Zach LaVine
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The Chicago Bulls have been a frustrating team over the last couple of seasons. They have enough talent on the roster to contend for the playoffs in a top-heavy Eastern Conference, yet continue to fail to do so. With the new hiring of Arturas Karnisovas as the Vice President of Basketball Operations, the Bulls look ready to make major changes to move the organization forward.

How the Chicago Bulls can Contend for the Playoffs

Step One: Hire a Successful Coach

The Bulls recently fired Jim Boylen after a disastrous coaching stint. Simply put, the team wasn’t playing well and the players didn’t have the best relationship with Boylen. His time, from the start, had a quick expiration date written all over it. Now that he’s gone, however, the Bulls can finally move forward.

There’s going to be plenty of excellent candidates available such as Kenny Atkinson, Wes Unseld Jr., Alvin Gentry, Tyronn Lue, and Ime Udoka.

Like several other coaches, Udoka was a former NBA player, playing in the league for five seasons. Although not a huge name on the court, Udoka has made a name for himself in the coaching realm. He served as an assistant coach for Gregg Popovich and the San Antonio Spurs for seven years. Right now he is the assistant coach of the Philadelphia 76ers.

The 76ers recently finished a disappointing season, but this was due in large part to a crucial Ben Simmons injury and a team that simply could not co-exist. Udoka’s time with the Spurs, however, was in the midst of their dynasty. Many former colleagues of Popovich have gone on to see great success as coaches, and Udoka is next in line. He needs to be the front-runner for the coaching vacancy in Chicago.

Step Two: Swing for Potential with the Fourth Overall Pick

The assumption now is that Anthony Edwards will go first overall with at least one of James Wiseman or Onyeka Okongwu going in the next two picks. The Bulls have Wendell Carter at the five, so they don’t have an immediate need there. There’s a high chance that LaMelo Ball and Deni Avdija may be on the board at four.

Ball and Avdija will come into the league with plenty of question marks, as the majority of overseas professionals do. If both are on the board, the Bulls will have an interesting decision to make.

First of all, Ball receives a lot more media coverage than Avdija. That’s not a surprise, as he is a Ball after all. He is a guard, however, and the Bulls have a fringe All-Star in Zach LaVine and a promising youngster in Coby White. Due to that, Avdija may be the best fit.

The conventional “soft” label for European stars joining the NBA with no American basketball experience has drifted away over the last few years. That in itself helps Avdija.

With that being said, Avdija has accomplished a lot in Israel and has a very polished game. He’s a playmaking 6-foot-9 forward with a great pull-up shot. He’s also very solid off the ball, making him a great complementary piece at small forward to the Bulls’ guards. At only 19, he’s also shown that he’s a physical defender who doesn’t shy away from taking contact. It’s important to remember that players coming in from Europe have been playing against actual professionals as opposed to other college-aged players.

A solid comparison for Avdija is Kelly Oubre of the Phoenix Suns. He has the ability to become a third or possibly even second option on a team.

Step Three: The Chicago Bulls Must Be Active on the Trade Market

The Bulls have the pieces to be in the running for a blockbuster trade. Rumors have floated around about a possible LaVine trade, but it wouldn’t be wise for the team to trade their best player. They’re not likely to receive any stars in return, as teams aiming for LaVine are looking to make him a complementary player to a bigger star or their own focal point.

One player to keep an eye on is Lauri Markkanen. He’s shown the ability to produce offensively, but far too often finds himself sidelined due to injury. His potential as a floor-spreading big will draw plenty of attention, however, so the Bulls may be wise to trade him for future assets if they don’t wish to extend him in the near future.

Another name that may be traded is Otto Porter. Like Markkanen, Porter thrives offensively but has also struggled with injuries. He’s on an expiring deal, so it would not come as a surprise if a contender looks to pick him up for a year. If the Bulls choose Avdija as their current and future three, trading Porter is the correct route to take.

The Chicago Bulls and the United Center are an attractive place for players looking for a change of scenery. If the Bulls can keep pieces like White, LaVine, and Carter, draft Avdija, and open up cap space for 2021 free agency, then they can become a playoff contender rather quickly.

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