The Chicago Bulls are in an interesting spot this offseason.
After an eventful offseason last year, most people still had the Bulls pegged for the Play-In. Despite numerous injuries the Bulls still exceeded those expectations and finished as the 6th seed in the East. The Bulls lost to the Bucks in 5 games in the opening round of the playoffs, an exit that felt disappointing.
It was clear going into last season that the front office viewed the following players as the core of the team; Zach LaVine, DeMar DeRozan, Nikola Vucevic, Lonzo Ball, Patrick Williams, Alex Caruso, and Coby White.
Those 7 players combined to miss 204 games during the season and they played a grand total of 0 games together. LaVine also played through a knee injury that required offseason surgery for an extended time which clearly held him back. The Bulls not only making the playoffs but also still exceeding expectations despite these injuries should feel like a success.
Why didn’t it?
For one, when the Bulls were mostly healthy. They held the #1 seed in the East and looked primed to win at least one playoff series if not two. The other, despite the injuries, it was clear the Bulls even at full strength probably don’t have the depth, shooting, or size to battle with the best teams in the league in the playoffs and come out on top.
The Bulls have limited assets to improve the roster, an ownership with a history of not wanting to spend, and the face of the team entering unrestricted free agency. Because of all that, the Bulls have some difficult questions to answer this offseason. Let’s examine some of the questions.
Question 1: What should happen with Nikola Vucevic?
Nikola Vucevic is coming off a rocky season and is entering the final season of his contract.
It’s a weird time in general to determine the value of a true center. There’s still a clear advantage in the regular season to having a guy capable of playing like an All-Star at center, but in the playoffs even those guys seem to get exposed by tough matchups more often than not. That’s the case with Vucevic. Although he struggled with his three point shot, Vucevic had one of his better all around seasons and was crucial to the Bulls staying afloat through the injuries. Even if Vucevic is hitting his outside shot, it’s a fair question to ask if a team with him at center is capable of making a deep playoff run since he can’t effectively switch onto perimeter players. So should the Bulls look to use Vucevic’s expiring contract to either upgrade at center or look to improve the lack of depth on the roster?
My thinking is that in today’s NBA you still need a true center because of the advantages they bring in the regular season and to matchup with an Embiid or Jokic type in the playoffs. In addition, you also need the roster versatility to move away from that center in certain moments and/or matchups to be able to switch on defense more effectively in the playoffs. So unless it’s possible to trade Vucevic for an upgrade at center such as Rudy Gobert or DeAndre Ayton, I think the Bulls should look to add more versatility behind Vucevic to be able to adapt to certain matchups if needed.
Question 2: Is Coby White as good as gone?
I think so. The Bulls have limited assets when it comes to making trades to upgrade the roster. Coby White might be one of the few trade pieces that other teams value. The other aspect of looking to trade Coby White is that the Bulls have too many guards and too many guys that need good defenders around them in their rotation. White just feels like the odd man out.
I want to make one thing clear, I still believe White can average 20 points a game in the right situation. This is not me giving up on him. I could definitely see this turning into another Wendell Carter situation where we trade him for a veteran and he looks much better in his next spot. The Bulls need more size and more defense and White can’t give them.
I intentionally put the video of Coby White scoring 30+ here because honestly I don’t know what kind of trade value he has. You could tell me that teams will talk themselves into the flashes White has shown as a guy that can score from anywhere on the floor, but you can also tell me nobody would want to pay him the following offseason.
The Bulls do have a lottery protected through 2028 Blazers’ 1st that could be used to sweeten the pot. I actually think this pick could have some value, especially if the rumors of the Blazers trying to make moves to win now are true. If the Blazers make the playoffs next season through the play-in, this pick would likely be in the 15-19 area. I’m curious what packaging Coby White and this pick could get in return.
Is Zach LaVine worth a max contract?
Part of me wants to leave it at that but I’m not sure that would get published.
In all seriousness you have to pay LaVine the max. We can sit here and debate whether guys that aren’t top 10 players in the league should get paid max contracts, but that doesn’t matter to me. The market value of a player as good as Zach LaVine is a max contract. Like it or not.
These are stats from the last 3 seasons combined. Keep in mind that Devin Booker is coming off a season where he made 1st team All-NBA. I know stats don’t tell the whole story but I look at Booker and say “why can’t LaVine be a top 2 guy on a legit contender?” LaVine plays a similar style, puts up similar numbers in the process, and is even a better shooter from deep than Booker. I got some more stats from the last 3 seasons.
|True Shooting %
LaVine has quietly been one of the best shooters in the league. Even with LaVine on the roster the Bulls lack shooting and the spacing it provides. The Bulls need Zach LaVine if they want to legitimately contend anytime soon, and losing him would probably drop the Bulls out of the playoff picture in a season where the Magic own their 1st round pick top 4 protected. This is the only path forward for the Chicago Bulls.