About a year ago, the success of the Chicago Bulls was a “feel-good” story around the NBA. Since then, the tide has shifted dramatically, leaving concerns about the franchise’s immediate future.
Where Do the Chicago Bulls Go From Here?
Chicago Bulls Executive Vice President of Basketball Operations Artūras Karnišovas was straightforward while fielding questions from the media following last Thursday’s trade deadline. During the press conference, a couple of things stood out. Karnišovas defended Chicago’s lack of trade activity by saying he wanted to (further) evaluate the current roster and let the rest of the season play out. When asked whether he expects the Bulls to make the playoffs, he responded with a prompt, one-word answer: “yes.”
Chicago (26-30) has lost twice since Karnišovas’s presser, and as of February 13th, they sit in a virtual tie for 10th place in the East, five and a half games back from avoiding the play-in tournament.
Who Deserves Blame?
It’s been a strange season for the Bulls, who can’t seem to string together a stretch of winning basketball. DeMar DeRozan and Nikola Vucevic largely deserve praise for their play this year. Zach LaVine, Ayo Dosunmu & Patrick Williams are playing better after a rocky start to the season.
So what’s the problem? Well, the team just doesn’t seem to mesh and often loses focus when matched against similar, or worse, opponents. A complete ‘180’ from last season, Chicago has done well versus good teams but falters when that isn’t the case, with losses to the Orlando Magic, Houston Rockets & Charlotte Hornets serving as a few (of many) examples.
Coach Billy Donovan also doesn’t appear to have full control of the locker room, despite being rewarded with a contract extension before the 2022-23 campaign. He often cites a lack of preparation and/or focus whenever the Bulls lose a game they “should have won,” a recurring theme for almost 365 days.
And yes, Lonzo Ball’s absence has loomed large as well. However, it can’t be used as an excuse for ineptitude, especially when there were clear opportunities to add a playmaker at any point from January 2022 (since Lonzo has been out) until now.
Is A Turnaround Possible for the Chicago Bulls in 2023?
It would be foolish to ignore Chicago’s uncertain 2023 postseason chances and outlook for the future. The current core of DeRozan, Vucevic & LaVine is buoyed by a mixture of vets and young players looking to establish themselves, with neither part of the roster at the forefront of strategy. Basically, the team is in flux because there isn’t a defined direction.
Even if Lonzo were available, did Chicago assemble a roster to compete for a title? No. With Lonzo out of the lineup, did Chicago build a roster to compete for the playoffs or make requisite changes to it after playing poorly? Nope.
The answers to both questions highlight a delusion from the front office about the current roster. The Bulls, as currently constructed, are very mediocre. Since that’s the case, signing outside help via the buyout market and altering the starting five must be prioritized as the season winds down.
Russell Westbrook is heavily rumored as the top target for Chicago should he hit free agency. There are close tie-ins with his former coach, Billy Donovan, fellow UCLA Bruin Zach LaVine, and fellow LA native DeMar DeRozan.
Chicago could also offer a significant, possibly starting, role to Westbrook, whose contract expires at the end of the year. Though Westbrook isn’t a fit in terms of shooting, his pace, intensity, and ability to make plays for others are all noticeably absent from this version of the Bulls.
The Last Word On Chicago’s Immediate Future
Adding Russell Westbrook could help, but it doesn’t guarantee a play-in or playoff spot come April. Also, there’s some irony in the sense that the Bulls will need to make another critical decision about the franchise’s direction if that acquisition, say, Westbrook, were to perform well en route to the postseason.
If that happens, do you re-sign him to a multi-year deal with Vucevic up for a huge contract as well? Do you even look to re-sign Vucevic at all? What about revisiting a potential LaVine trade?
That might be looking ahead, but Chicago’s failure to prepare for all possibilities resulted in their current one. Upper management must define a direction without owning a draft pick in 2023.
The only thing that matters moving forward is having a strategy, whether or not it pays off. Life as an underachieving, middling franchise is never where you want to be in the league.
Chicago must keep that in mind when making these next key decisions.