The Chicago Bulls are another NBA team that didn’t quite live up to expectations in 2022-23. Before the season, there was some buzz around the Bulls after they ended their four-year playoff drought last season, as Lonzo Ball was expected to be fully healthy after a knee injury limited him to 35 games. But Ball missed the whole season, and the Bulls struggled to a 40-42 record, which allowed them to squeeze into the Eastern Conference play-in game as the 10th seed. They fell to the Miami Heat (103-91) in the final play-in game for the right to earn the eighth seed.
NBA Rumors: Chicago Bulls Open To Moving On From Two of Their Priciest Players
While Ball never played, Chicago was relatively healthy overall. The Bulls used just 11 starting lineups, and their top-7 players, who spent the whole season with the franchise, all played at least 67 games.
Surprisingly, the Bulls’ biggest problem was on the offensive end. Zach LaVine, DeMar DeRozan, and Nikola Vucevic ranked in the league’s top 75 in scoring. But Patrick Williams was the only other player who averaged double-figures. The Bulls were the worst-3-point shooting team in the league, and they didn’t get to the free throw line nearly often enough.
As a result, Chicago could be ready to make drastic changes. Sean Deveney of Heavy.com reported that league sources said the Bulls may re-shape their roster with younger players around LaVine. Vucevic is a free agent, and DeRozan is a potential trade candidate.
Should the Bulls Re-sign Nikola Vucevic
Vucevic has played well during his two-plus years in the Windy City and is one of the league’s best offensive centers and rebounders. The 6-10 center averaged 17.6 and 11.0 rebounds while shooting 52.0% from the field and 34.9% from the 3-point line. He topped the 20-point mark 32 times, scoring a career-best 43 points against Golden State early in the season, and totaled 51 double-doubles along with a triple-double.
For his part, Vucevic told the media before heading home for the offseason.
‘‘The Bulls will have priority. I would like to stay here, but that’s on the front office to decide and work with my agent on the contract part. And also I’ll talk to them about their vision and plan and things like that.’’
‘‘I think we obviously can’t do some of the same stuff.We can’t play the same way we have and try to have different results. I’ve been here for 2½ years now. I like my time here and built good relationships with my teammates, coaches, front office, people in the organization and around the city. So a lot of positives here. But we’ll see what their plan is and what they decide to do.’’
Chicago’s Salary Cap
Another thing about re-signing Vucevic, Chicago isn’t saving money if they don’t, as the Bulls project to be over the cap either way. The starting point in Vucevic’s salary negotiations figures to be $18 million per season.
Chicago has 10 players under contract for next year and a little over $11 million in cap space. They can add over $3.7 million to that total by releasing Carlik Jones and Marko Simonovic, both of whom have nonguaranteed deals. Andre Drummond and Derrick Jones Jr. each have a player option with a $3.6 million value.
Drummond and Jones are likely to opt-in with Chicago. At least Jones should be on the roster by the time free agency rolls around, if not both him and Simonovic. Patrick Beverley, Coby White, and Ayo Dosunmo are the Bulls’ key free agents.
Beverley is an unrestricted free agent who wants at least $15 million a year. But the Bulls only have his non-Bird rights, which means they only can sign him to a minimum contract worth $3.2 million or a deal starting at $3.8 million unless they use their midlevel exception of $12.2 million.
White said he would like to return, and Artūras Karnišovas answered “absolutely” when asked about keeping White around. White showed improvement at both ends of the floor this season. He has improved with his play-making, decision-making, and finishing at the rim as well defensively.
DeRozan enters the final year of his deal, making $28.6 million. The only way Chicago can rid themselves of DeRozan is by trading him.
DeRozan has been everything Chicago could ask for offensively. He has put up 26.2 points, 4.9 rebounds, and 5.0 assists while shooting 50.4% from the field over the last two seasons. The biggest issues are that DeRozan will be 34 in August and is a nonfactor from beyond the arc.
So, who would be interested in engaging Chicago in trade talks?
The obvious answer is the Phoenix Suns. The Suns are looking at ways to get over the hump with Kevin Durant, and DeRozan could be that guy. Plus, the Suns are rumored to be interested in shipping out Deandre Ayton, and the Bulls may need a center. So, a straight-up swap of Ayton-DeRozan possibly makes sense.
The Portland Trail Blazers are also a possibility. The Blazers are looking for a sidekick for Damian Lillard, and they have some talent that could intrigue Chicago. For example, Anfernee Simons, Shaedon Sharpe, and Cam Reddish. If the Bulls want a center, the Blazers have Jusuf Nurkic, a serviceable center.
The Oklahoma City Thunder is another possible landing spot for the six-time all-star. The Thunder were the league’s most surprising team this past season, and they need to add a veteran to go along with youngsters. Shai Gilgeous-Alexander and Chet Holmgren are probably the only two players off limits though they may not want to part with Josh Giddey either.