One of the most interesting teams in the NBA offseason will be the Chicago Bulls, largely because it seems nobody else in the league knows what the team plans on doing this summer. There seem to be two clear paths ahead for Chicago as it attempts to navigate an odd situation.
The Bulls completely revamped their roster in the 2021 offseason, adding DeMar DeRozan and Lonzo Ball in free agency to bolster a roster featuring Zach LaVine and Nikola Vucevic. Alex Caruso was also signed, and Ayo Dosunmu appeared to be a steal in the second round of the 2021 NBA Draft. It felt like the Bulls were trying to finally compete after years of struggling.
Chicago was in contention for the No. 1 seed in the East at one point in the 2021-22 season, but Ball suffered a knee injury which he still hasn’t recovered from. The Bulls eventually dropped off and landed in the No. 6 spot in the playoffs. They lost to the Bucks 4-1 in the first round and there didn’t seem to be much to hold onto heading into the 2022-23 season.
This year, the Bulls were marred by inconsistencies and were still without Ball. There was some noise about Chicago potentially blowing everything up at the trade deadline and tanking to keep its top-4 protected pick but the Bulls made no moves in either direction. They eventually flamed out in the second play-in game to the Miami Heat.
Here’s where things stand for Chicago, the paths forward and the most likely outcome for the Bulls this summer.
The current situation
The Bulls still have no timeline for Ball to return from a series of knee injury setbacks, and the likelihood of him playing is slim. Even if he is able to return, will he be his old self? It’s unlikely, and the Bulls are on the hook for $40 million over the next two years with his deal. Vucevic is a free agent, and DeRozan becomes an expiring contract. LaVine is locked in for the foreseeable future.
Dosunmu and Coby White are free agents but both are likely to be retained. Patrick Williams is approaching the end of his rookie-scale deal and will be eligible for an extension soon.
The Bulls don’t have a first-round raft pick in 2023. They could have two first-round picks in 2024 depending on Portland’s position, and they might keep their 2025 first-round pick which they owe to San Antonio if they are outside the bottom 10. Chicago has no limitations on future first-round picks from 2026 onwards.
Path 1: Run it back
Bulls fans are not going to be happy about this outcome, largely because the idea of the end result being different hinges entirely on Ball’s health. If he’s back and at 100%, which are both massive question marks, he does give Chicago some more defensive muscle and offensive flow. The Bulls cannot bank on that being the solution.
DeRozan dropped off from his MVP-level play in 2021-22, and LaVine was also less efficient. Vucevic will likely want a long-term deal with a significant salary, and his limitations were on display in the playoff series against Milwaukee. He’s a strong offensive player, but lacks defensive versatility. White should draw some interest in the offseason but the Bulls likely match his offer sheet. He was a strong bench presence this season and still has some upside.
The Bulls likely top out as a mid-level playoff team if they go down this path.
Path 2: Blow everything up
There’s a segment of the fan base that will advocate for this path. The Bulls can execute a sign-and-trade agreement with Vucevic, who could be heading elsewhere in free agency. DeRozan will draw significant interest from contenders, and Chicago can get some extra draft capital there. Parting with LaVine will be tough, but he’s already sat through one rebuild and might not have the stomach for another one. There will be teams willing to give up solid assets for him, especially those who are all in on contending.
There won’t be any takers for Ball, but the Bulls can get better evaluations on Dosunmu, White and Williams with more minutes. They could get immediate capital if they make this move on draft night, but it feels like they won’t be having a first-round pick this year. That makes rebuilding a bit more challenging.
Path 3: Re-tooling around Zach LaVine
The Bulls attempted a rebuild by dealing Jimmy Butler, and that has not worked out well. They’re unlikely to go for a full rebuild but could opt for a re-tooling around LaVine. That means parting ways with Vucevic and DeRozan, although Chicago could get some solid assets back in deals for both of them.
Ball is likely done as a Bull, and could be used as salary filler if Chicago attempts to acquire another player who is more in tune with LaVine’s timeline. Caruso would likely stay in this scenario, along with Dosunmu, White and Williams.
Most likely outcome: A combination of 1 and 3
Chicago won’t completely overhaul the roster. LaVine isn’t being dealt, and DeRozan has a lot of goodwill with the franchise. That guard pairing was a strength for Chicago. Vucevic is a free agent and the Bulls are likely to either bring him back or deal him in a sign-and-trade package. Deandre Ayton is a potential Bulls target coming up in rumors, and he does offer a better overall fit than Vucevic. Ayton could also use a change of scenery.
Caruso could give the Bulls a future draft pick but Chicago would likely keep him around in this situation. The Ball contract is going to hinder things, and the front office will surely try to move off it. The Bulls can attach some future first-round picks as compensation, and maybe a team like the Hornets or Rockets will bite. White will be retained as a restricted free agent.
It’s not the outcome some Bulls fans will be hoping for, but it’s the most likely scenario this summer.