The Chicago Bulls. 6 rings. Michael Jordan. 4th most valuable franchise. If you look back at NBA history, the Bulls are often looked at as a premier franchise. While they have not won a ring since Michael Jordan was 6 in 8 years, until the last few years, the Bulls were still a playoff team. Having very competitive teams led by Derrick Rose and a stifling defense, the Bulls put together playoff runs and may have even gotten a ring or at least a finals appearance were it not for LeBron James and the “Heatles”. But in recent years, the Bulls have been losing. And not just losing. They have been stuck taking a few steps forward and then taking more back. It has seemed like a rebuild with little progress and even worse, one without a clear direction.
Many around the league agree that success trickles down from the top, and with the Bulls recently making some front office and executive changes to shake things up, hopefully they can turn the corner to get back to their winning ways. With the off-season and draft not too far away, what should the Bulls do next to become a competitive franchise again?
The first thing they must do, is decide if Zach Lavine is their guy going forward. Lavine is averaging 25.5ppg 4.8rpg and 4.2apg on 44.7% shooting but he has never been a part of a winning team. He is under contract until 2022, but if the Bulls feel like completely starting over, trading Lavine is not out of the question. And if that is the case, doing so now would be easier and most likely more beneficial than waiting. If they do keep him, then they need to find out what other parts on the team they keep and which parts they part ways with.
Coby White seems to be someone who has a place in the league as an aggressive scoring-minded point guard, and with time, should create a dynamic backcourt duo along with Lavine. But that still leaves the Bulls with 3 openings in the starting lineup. Wendell Carter Jr. has had some injury problems and is only averaging 11.3ppg and 9.4rpg. It is just his second season, so the Bulls most likely give him more time. The Bulls have Otto Porter as their small forward and he is under contract for one more season after this one. At that time, he will be 27 years-old with injury concerns. Chances are the Bulls let him walk and use that money on a different player in next year’s free agency. But as of now, we have White, Lavine, Porter, and Carter Jr. in their starting lineup.
The other missing piece to their first 5, as well as the biggest question mark for their youngsters going forward, is Lauri Markkanen. Drawing comparisons to fellow European big man, Kristaps Porzingis, Markkanen showed a lot of signs of being a reliable scorer in his first year. But unlike Porzingis, Markkanen was not an elite rim protector.
And on top of that, Markkanen has also gone through his own injury problems. After deciding if Lavine can be their franchise guy, they must decide if Markkanen can be a number 2 guy on a winning team. Despite the early hype and him only being 22 years-old, there are those around the league who already believe that he will not live up to the hype. I don’t think they can trade him without giving him another run with hopefully a healthy season, given he was a highly touted lottery pick. The Bulls do have other holes on the team and are sort of in the “acquire the most talent or assets possible” mode. But regardless of what they think they need to get, they will have to decide what they think of their two cornerstones in Markkanen and Lavine.
So, if the Bulls do keep Markannen and Lavine, which seems to be the most likely option, what do the Bulls do in free agency and in the draft? Isaac Okoro seems like a popular guess as to who the Bulls take. Okoro reminds some of a young Jimmy Butler with his motor and ability to defend 1 through 4. Another name that could be in the mix is R.J. Hampton due to his potential.
That will give them a solid young core. One that could develop into a real competitive team if given health, time, and maybe some luck. The unfortunate news for the Bulls, is that currently constructed, they will only have about $8million coming off of the books. So unless they can make a move to move some players around, they may have a very limited choice in free-agent pickups.
With that money, they could target someone like Langston Galloway, who was one of the Pistons’ lone bright spots this season. Or they could go after guys like Josh Jackson, Rodney Hood, or Stanley Johnson if they want to take a chance on one of the younger guys. They are all under team options so there is a likelihood the Bulls never even get a chance. So then comes the question, are there any moves they could make to have some more cap flexibility?
Of the Bulls players currently on the team, Thaddeus Young, who makes $19.5million over the next 2 seasons, Thomas Satoransky, a solid backup point guard, and the aforementioned Otto Porter, who makes a bit over $28million next year, are the ones with the most value. Porter (player option) could be a hot commodity as he is a veteran 3 and D player with an expiring contract, two phrases every NBA executive is in love with these days. Satoransky offers whatever team he is on solid minutes on both ends of the floor while being able to even start a stretch of games if you need. Young is another veteran who has played in the playoffs numerous times and can do a little bit of everything.
If the Bulls can come to terms with not competing the next couple years, and can do so without upsetting their potential star, Zach Lavine, they could trade away Porter and possibly the other two. That could potentially free up up to $51million. But there doesn’t seem to be a lot of possible moves here regardless. The Bulls could try to lure Anthony Davis to come play for his hometown but that seems highly unlikely right now as Davis seems really happy playing along side LeBron James and being one of the favorites to win it all this year. Brandon Ingram, and Fred VanVleet will most likely stay with their teams. That leaves DeMar DeRozan, Gordon Hayward and Bogdan Bogdanovic as the top options, and none of them seem like a likely option. Evan Fournier, Andre Drummond, and Montrezl Harrell are all an option and if given the right chance and circumstance, could end up on the Bulls.
The Bulls could keep the aforementioned 3 guys and plan for the 2021 free agency that is headlined by the likes of LeBron James, Chris Paul, Paul George, Kawhi Leonard, and Blake Griffin. But even in this scenario, the Bulls would likely need to find out who they are willing to build around and show enough promise to lure the free agents. So it all comes down to the questions surrounding Lavine and Markannen. The last question, and possibly the biggest elephant in the room is their coaching situation. While the front office seems to be sticking with Jim Boylen, players have been critical of his ways and have expressed their frustration to the media. Boylen has not won many games, and is not necessarily close with the stars on his team. Signs are leading to him being out sooner or later but who comes in? Patrick Ewing, Jay Wright, Mark Jackson, Jeff Van Gundy, Becky Hammon, Kenny Smith, Dave Joerger, David Blatt and David Fizzdale are all names that could come up. The Bulls could go with a younger guy to try to pair him along with the youth of the team, or try to go for a bigger name to entice a star to come over. Despite the flurry of possibilities and the questions, the Bulls will again, have to look at themselves in the mirror and decide on an identity and a direction. They have made the first big flash by changing up their front office. This is a young team with a lot of potential, but without a surefire superstar to build around, things are still up in the air on just how far this team can go.