The Chicago Bulls enter the most crucial step of their offseason Friday as free agency opens across the NBA, placing the front office in a position to finally address issues plaguing the last two seasons.
This should be a clear-cut offseason for the Bulls. This team’s needs are obvious: a point guard and a bolstered 3-point offense. But the same was true last summer, when the Bulls attempted to address identical problems by signing Andre Drummond and Goran Dragic, moving zero players in the process.
“We’re going to address the shooting, address the lead position,” Karnišovas said last week. “We’re gonna address it. Once free agency starts, I’m sure (more) information will come out and we’ll see what we have but there’s a lot of work to do. We have to get better.”
But will the Bulls actually make a move? Let’s take this piece by piece.
1. Filling the vacant point guard position
With Lonzo Ball expected to sit out the entire 2023-24 season, the Bulls do not have a starting point guard — again.
This has been a realistically clear situation for nearly two years now. Whatever is plaguing Ball’s knee doesn’t have a simple answer or timeline. When he underwent a rare cartilage transplant in March, it was a last-ditch effort to get the guard back onto the court, not a surefire way to return the Bulls to the short-lived glory of the first half of the 2021-22 season.
For the past 18 months, the Bulls front office has been chasing the mirage of those early months when a healthy Ball teamed up with Zach LaVine and DeMar DeRozan to lift the Bulls to the top of the Eastern Conference. But this summer, Karnišovas is finally committing to begin looking for both long- and short-term replacements.
“I don’t have regrets because I had to wait for clarity,” Karnišovas said. “I was going with the hopes that he was going to play with us and that didn’t happen and I had to adjust.”
Fourth-year guard Coby White is a clear centerpiece of the offseason conversation surrounding the point guard position.
White started out as a point guard for the Bulls, but he struggled with decision making and ballhandling as he adapted from his role as a shooter in college. This season, however, showcased growth from White, who challenged himself to become more of a playmaker through improved handles and defensive consistency.
During exit interviews, coach Billy Donovan voiced support for White to return to the starting point guard role.
“I’ve got a lot of confidence in Coby,” Donovan said. “The growth that he’s made, you know a shortened rookie year with COVID to his third year now — it’s been pretty impressive. He’s a lot more equipped today to be in that role than he was a few years ago.”
Even if the Bulls are confident that White is ready to become the starting point guard, it’s not clear this is the right path for the roster.
White’s development last season made him a stronger ballhandler and defender, but it also took him away from his primary role: taking and making a prolific volume of shots from behind the 3-point arc. If White is expected to function as a pass-first guard next season, it will only diminish the team’s already limited 3-point shooting.
2. Addressing the dearth of 3-point shooting
The Bulls have to take more 3-pointers next season. They finished with the seventh-worst offensive rating in the league last year for one simple reason: the offense made the least 3-pointers (10.4) off the lowest volume of attempts (28.9) in the league.
None of this is new. The Bulls were also one of the lowest volume 3-point shooting teams the year prior, taking the fewest (28.8) and making the second-fewest (10.5) 3-pointers in the 2021-22 season.
Karnišovas cited player development as a key to improving the team’s overall shooting numbers. But the Bulls can’t expect to naturally improve their shooters enough in the offseason to improve this statistic with the same personnel.
Young players like White and Patrick Williams have improved to support LaVine on the offensive end. But the roster as a whole is not composed of strong shooters — and it’s a weakness the Bulls can’t afford, no matter how strongly they defend on the other end.
3. The forecast for free agency
With all this in mind, how will the next few weeks play out for the Bulls?
This summer’s free-agency market is packed at the guard and wing positions where the Bulls are seeking answers. While top targets like Kyrie Irving and James Harden are incredibly unlikely to land in Chicago, there are still some solid choices to shore up shooting and ballhandling.
Gabe Vincent and DePaul product Max Strus both impressed as 3-point producers during the Miami Heat’s run to the NBA Finals. Other pure shooters like Georges Niang, Joe Ingles and Seth Curry could also boost shooting around the perimeter. After declining his option with the Golden State Warriors, Donte DiVincenzo offers a strong balance of shooting and point guard acumen that could simultaneously address needs for the Bulls.
An increasingly promising option at point guard is Jevon Carter, who spent the last two years as a second rotation guard for the Milwaukee Bucks. A wing guard who can operate on or off the ball, Carter’s experience, price point and 39.7% career 3-point shooting could be an ideal fit.
The most likely outcome at point guard: Patrick Beverley returns for his first full season as a Bull.
On paper, this isn’t a bad option. Beverley upped the ante for the Bulls on defense and buoyed LaVine’s confidence on offense. His veteran experience provided a stabilizing presence on the ball, averaging 5.8 points and 3.5 assists in 22 starts last season. But this is another piece of the same problem — running back a group that wasn’t good enough to advance out of the play-in tournament.
4. Time to make a trade?
To truly shake up the roster, the Bulls would need to trade away a piece of their core trio: LaVine, DeMar DeRozan or Nikola Vučević.
Vučević is already off the table — at least for now — after the Bulls extended his contract Wednesday. Out of the three, Vučević was the most logical piece to keep. He doesn’t help or hurt the 3-point shooting discrepancy, his veteran leadership bolsters the locker room and he produced consistent double-doubles while starting all 82 games last season.
But unless they plan to wait six months for when Vučević becomes trade eligible, the Bulls are now down to three options: trade LaVine, trade DeRozan or run it back yet again.
After signing a $215 million maximum contract, LaVine is clearly the team’s greatest asset. But while the Bulls have been taking a heat check on LaVine around the league, a report by Yahoo’s Jake Fischer found limited interest in the star guard.
Publicly, the front office has remained committed to their core for the 2023-24 season — and if interest doesn’t rise in LaVine or DeRozan, the Bulls might have to practice the continuity they’ve been preaching for another season.
Source: Berkshire mont