Assessing a Bulls Rebuild

Zach Lavine

Rebuilding has a dreadful reputation. Seen as the antithesis of what makes a sports team, it’s usually managers not players, that support its existence. The truth is, things break down. Players raking in millions of dollars surely understand their Porsches and Lamborghinis will have engine and exhaust issues, let alone the common man’s flat tire or bum headlight. There’s no shame in driving into the local Midas or Jiffy Lube to fix everything up.

Assessing a Bulls Rebuild

This Isn’t Michael’s Bulls

The Chicago Bulls were a feel-good story last year. Assembled out of aging trade pieces and free agents, they were atop the east at the All-Star break. Finishing 46-36 and in the sixth seed was a small fall from grace, but a good spot to be in after suffering through the previous five years. Nobody expected them to make it past the first round, and lose they did. Issues had already arisen.

Nikola Vucevic has never been known as a defender… ever. It was easier to overlook, considering he’d only played for the lowly Orlando Magic, so the keen-eyed critics that come with increased clout hadn’t been able to pick apart his game outside of the pick-and-pop. DeMar DeRozan finally seemed to have found a home years after being shown the door from Toronto. Zach LaVine, despite performing similarly to years prior, finally received All-Star recognition with wins piling up. Those three aren’t a good mix, like banana and raw fish. They don’t complement each other all; no one makes up for another’s weakness. They just… get in the way and leave you disgusted.

Around The League

The Bulls actually weren’t all that good, to begin with. Their -0.39 point differential per game last season conflicts with their 46-36 record. They’ve fallen to a -1.47 point differential per game this season, resulting in a 12-18 record (as of December 21st). Clearly missing glue guy Lonzo Ball, things are falling apart in Chicago. What is there to look forward to? Even the Magic, with the aforementioned¬†massive assist from the Vucevic trade, have tons to be hopeful about with youngsters Paolo Banchero, Franz Wagner, Wendell Carter Jr, and crew. Other “win-now” teams can at least win now. The Los Angeles Clippers may be struggling to get the engine humming, but they’ve got a nice frame, a powerful engine drivetrain, and a skilled driver behind the wheel (role players Paul George and Kawhi Leonard, coach Ty Lue). The Bulls have nothing of the sort.

Perfectly Balanced, as All Things Should Be

When does a team need to blow it up? Trade everything for future assets, bring in a new coach and hand over all possible minutes to high-upside young guys.

Blowing it up makes more sense for a small market team that can’t reliably attract free agents. Oklahoma City and Utah are current examples, but Memphis and New Orleans often struggle to keep up with Los Angeles and New York.

Chicago is ranked third by TV market size. With so much talent in the league, someone out there is bound to trade their ticket to LAX for ORD. It helps to have a rich franchise history and a loyal fanbase.

Chicago may have to deal with freezing cold, wind, and blizzards, but at least they have money for their sports franchises. Sounds perfectly balanced.

Should He Stay, or Should He Go?

The Lonzo ball situation is dire and bigger than basketball. He’s struggling to walk upstairs, and suiting up for NBA games might not be the biggest concern for him. Hopefully, he can recover and live with a healthy body, and if he’s able to play basketball next year, consider it a massive win.

Ball’s unselfishness, vision, and point-of-attack defense are essential for wins. Cite win percentage with and without him. The Bulls had a defensive rating of 107 with him, and his absence ballooned the figure to 114.3. His aesthetically displeasing jumper has become a lost memory, and his 42 percent 3-point shooting last year is playable in any lineup.

Zach LaVine has “not seen eye to eye” with the Bulls franchise. The tension between him and co-star DeRozan would ideally be mended, but there are other factors to consider. They owe their 2023 first-rounder to Orlando, although its top-four protected. If they choose to tank and finish with one of the three worst records in the league, they’d have a 52.1 percent chance to keep the pick. LaVine is six years younger than DeRozan, and he’s locked up for longer.

DeRozan has long had connections to the Lakers. If the Bulls were offered a trade that involved the Lakers’ 2027 and 2029 first-rounders for him, wouldn’t it be smart to take them up on it? They might have to throw Alex Caruso in, and they might have to take back Russell Westbrook, but the trade would be future-focused. Vucevic will be a free agent after this year, and I’d recommend the front office doesn’t get stubborn and resigns him. If he’s not surrounded by strong perimeter defenders like Ball and Alex Caruso, he’s a detriment to a defense.

Coby White is a part of a loaded backcourt currently. If DeRozan is traded, he could see more playing time. His value is lower, but his tradeability is higher than DeRozan’s.

To Tank or Not To Tank?

Turning that pick heading to Orlando into a top-four is tempting. With Victor Wembanyama, Scoot Henderson, Amen Thompson, and Ausar Thompson, among others, at the top of the current mock drafts, there are some certified ballers available next summer. The Bulls are just five and a half games ahead of the last-place Detroit Pistons and four games ahead of the fourth-place San Antonio Spurs. So, a top-four pick is achievable.

Fortunately, the Bulls may receive the Trail Blazers’ first-rounder, being that they should make the playoffs. If the Magic keep their pick, the Bulls will still own their 2024 and 2026-2030 first-rounders.

Without a legitimate franchise player, defensive issues, and key rotational guys missing, they can’t win it all. Why fight for a play-in spot?

Bulls Rebuild: Young Upside Guys to Keep Around

The Bulls selected Patrick Williams fourth overall in 2020. He’s a lengthy playmaker and versatile defender who can fill multiple roles. Though he’s struggled so far in his NBA career, he was never expected to be a finished product anytime soon. He could benefit from increased minutes and usage rate. Can he become a cornerstone player? Someone that could make a top ten list of the best NBA players? Maybe, maybe not. To win a championship, you tend to need someone of that caliber. Wembanyama, Henderson, and the Thompson twins could become that kind of player.

Dalen Terry drafted 18th overall just five months ago is a similar type of player to Williams. He’s lengthy, a fledgling playmaker, and a versatile defender. He showed promise as a spot-up shooter in college while playing for the Arizona Wildcats. He and Williams could make a formidable defensive duo someday.

Ayo Dosunmu may not be the point guard of the future, but he’s just a sophomore. Might as well keep him around and give him reps. He’s been an elite finisher¬†but could use some polish as a point guard.

Older Guys to Keep Around

Lonzo Ball has already been discussed, but Alex Caruso is yet ANOTHER stud defender for this Bulls team. He’s the kind of player everyone wants to play with. Unselfish? Check. Pesky on-ball defense? Check. Can shoot? Check. That’s four. Count them, FOUR highly skilled defenders with easily transferable offensive skillsets.

The Verdict on a Bulls Rebuild

Trade DeRozan. Keep LaVine. Leave Vucevic hanging if you can’t find a trade partner. Keeping him around while also improving the defense around him could be of the Bulls’ benefit. If he can work, maybe it’s best to keep him on a cheaper deal. Fingers crossed for Williams, Terry, and Ball’s health. Trade Caruso at the deadline or keep him, really can’t go wrong there. Lose games… Victor Wembanyama? Yeah, he’s worth sacrificing a year for, especially when that year is unwinnable.