State of the Bulls: 10 offseason questions I’m dying to know

The NBA offseason is brutally long in Chicago.

When the home team makes the playoffs once in the past seven seasons, as the Bulls have, spring and summer months drag. Baseball in the city, especially on the south side, doesn’t help.

Sixteen other NBA franchises earned at least four more games than the Bulls. The Boston Celtics and Dallas Mavericks fans are fortunate to still be dialed in.

Bulls fans are forced to wait patiently for changes they covet but again might not occur. Will this offseason be different? It could be.

A franchise that has bumped its head against its ceiling for three straight seasons appears ready to once again make some sweeping changes. Around the league, everyone wonders the same thing: “Surely, the Bulls will do something, right?”

With the calendar creeping toward decision days, first with the NBA Draft on June 26 followed by the start of free agency next month, here are 10 things I’m dying to know about the Bulls.

Does winning matter as much as the bottom line?

Here’s one of the biggest reasons why this offseason is so critical for the Bulls’ brand. Because of the team’s relative inaction recently despite downright mediocrity for the past several seasons, it’s impossible to not believe each season is business as usual for the Bulls. Chicago led the league in attendance for the third straight season, the Bulls reclaiming the crown they monopolized for years before the pandemic. This offseason will be another defining moment for the franchise in its arduous pursuit of its glory days. Are the Bulls truly interested in getting back to the feel-good times of yesteryear? Or is this a classic case of having Moët taste with a Miller Lite mindset?

Is Artūras Karnišovas running a dictatorship?

Credit Karnišovas, the chief basketball executive, for building the front office and basketball operations in short order upon arrival.

He hired Marc Eversley as general manager and plucked respected executives Pat Connelly and JJ Polk to serve as assistant GMs. Karnišovas also has grown the team’s player development staff. The Bulls’ infrastructure appears as solid as it’s ever been.

My question is does Karnišovas listen to anyone? What proof do we have that he does?

Almost every opportunity to pivot has been passed. Surely not everyone in the Bulls’ revamped front office agrees with the passive approach that’s been taken. It’s not clear whether the team’s inaction has anything to do with Eversley’s name being connected to lead executive jobs in Charlotte in February and Detroit last month. Eversley, according to a league source with knowledge of the situation, recently signed a three-year contract that begins in July.

Karnišovas in all likelihood will keep his right-hand man. But is he listening to him and others?

What’s the deal with DeMar DeRozan’s deal?

It’s widely assumed that DeRozan, set to become an unrestricted free agent, will re-sign with the Bulls this summer. DeRozan has gushed about his time in Chicago and since the trade deadline in February has reiterated his desire to remain with the Bulls.

But the sticking point between the two sides has long been the parameters of a deal, both the amount of money and the length of the contract.

The Bulls would be happy to re-sign DeRozan on a two-year deal. DeRozan’s side obviously would covet more security. The Bulls have a habit of liberally latching player options into contracts so that carrot could come into play with DeRozan’s deal as well.

The dollar amount will be hefty, likely north of $40 million annually, but is less significant to the Bulls’ long-term flexibility. Chicago wants to keep DeRozan but at a reasonable commitment. DeRozan turns 35 this summer and will be in his 15th season in 2024-25.

Will Lonzo Ball play for the Bulls next season?

Team officials are confident Ball, out since Jan. 14, 2022, due to a chronic knee ailment, will play next season. They’re just not as confident about when.

Opening night doesn’t sound likely. However, Ball sounds hellbent on returning each time he’s asked publicly. It will be something of a miracle for Ball to take an NBA court again after what could be a three-year absence. That also makes it impossible to have any expectations whenever Ball returns.

If he rejoins the Bulls’ lineup next season, Ball’s comeback will be one of the biggest stories in basketball. And how the Bulls manage his recovery will be a season-long storyline.

Will Zach LaVine stay or go?

LaVine’s name likely will be in trade rumors for the remainder of his career. His strengths, weaknesses, contract, ego and injury history combine to form a fabulous but flawed talent, one capable of helping any team but only under the right conditions.

It all makes LaVine a difficult fit. The Bulls have outgrown him. Rival teams aren’t sure LaVine is worth the commitment. LaVine is coming off right foot surgery and has three years and $138 million left on his contract.

The emergence of Coby White, along with the promise of Ayo Dosunmu, has given the Bulls a glimpse of life without LaVine, who missed the final 39 games. Before the Bulls ducked into the long offseason, questions already began flying about whether there was still room on the roster for a high-usage player like LaVine.

With so much parity in the NBA and more than a dozen teams in need of a jolt, the Bulls could find a more willing trade partner in this environment. Philadelphia, Brooklyn, Toronto, Detroit, Cleveland, Atlanta, Charlotte and Washington can’t be too choosy in the East. The Los Angeles Lakers, Sacramento, Utah, Golden State, Phoenix and Memphis could get calls out West.

The timing of a potential deal would be interesting. Could we see a blockbuster trade materialize just before the season?

How much will Patrick Williams get paid?

A league source said the Bulls offered Williams a contract north of $16 million annually when the two sides were negotiating last fall.

That will now be the number to beat for Williams, who is set to become a restricted free agent this summer. But because a season-ending foot injury in January limited Williams to 43 games, he didn’t get the chance to prove his value to be higher.

How much the Bulls value Williams will now be fascinating to watch play out. He was Karnišovas’ first draft selection, picking him fourth in 2020. The front office and coaching staff have supported, and at times defended, Williams through everything from ineffective play to injuries.

Soon comes the moment of truth.

If the Bulls have seen enough of the Williams experiment, one team that has great interest, a league source said, is Oklahoma City. The Thunder need more size, and they have an army of draft picks that can sweeten the pot for the Bulls if a sign-and-trade emerges in July.

What will the Bulls do with the 11th pick?

Lottery luck didn’t land on the Bulls last month. Atlanta, the final team jockeying with the Bulls for position, hit the jackpot of course after losing the regular-season race to the Bulls. If it weren’t for crummy luck, Chicago wouldn’t have any.

Now the Bulls are left to figure out which direction to go in a draft most analysts describe as weak.

One Eastern Conference executive, speaking on the condition of anonymity, said it would be a surprise if one player from this draft class blossomed into so much as an All-Star.

With that as the backdrop, the Bulls are tasked with maximizing the 11th selection. If they select a player, it’ll be a name most fans haven’t heard of. They could draft and stash an international prospect, which might only drive the fan base crazier. Or they could trade the selection on draft night to maneuver in other ways.

One thing is sure, though. There is talent to be found in every class when the experts say there is not.

How will the Bulls navigate salary cap gymnastics?

The Bulls can’t re-sign DeRozan, Williams, the 11th pick and remain under the tax. And it makes no sense for the Bulls to commit to those moves only to run back the same roster that has fallen short the past three seasons.

Something, as they say, has got to give. Someone’s got to go.

Whether that’s LaVine, Williams or even DeRozan or Nikola Vučević, changes must be made. Don’t forget, the Bulls still will be watchful of the bottom line. But how will the Bulls get there?

It’s been three years since Karnišovas flipped the Bulls’ roster into its current version. Those moves were largely hailed at the time, but they’re the same deals that backed the Bulls into this unenviable corner.

They chose to sit the past few seasons, so creativity will be required to get out.

How much better can Coby White get?

White finished 14 points shy of Tyrese Maxey for this season’s NBA Most Improved Player honor. The league saw and recognized all of White’s improvements in his fifth season.

Now the question is how much better can he get?

White is the reason reporters are questioning Bulls coach Billy Donovan about whether LaVine still has a place on the roster. You can’t picture many scenarios where White continues developing at the rate he was without LaVine in the lineup. Not when LaVine returns. White benefited immensely from all those minutes — the third most in the NBA at 2,881. He grew from getting far more touches. The opportunities White had without LaVine will be halved alongside LaVine.

Now that the Bulls see the type of player they have in White, they shouldn’t risk stifling his growth.

White was hard on himself for his defense this season, saying it wasn’t as effective as he had worked to become. However, his offensive game flourished. Everything from his ballhandling to his playmaking and shooting grew more reliable. With better defense and more consistency, White might just be the Bulls’ point guard of the future after all.

Will new assistant coaches make a difference?

The recent shakeup to the coaching staff was the first series of moves that suggests the Bulls are serious about changes this summer. Wes Unseld Jr. and Dan Craig were brought in to serve as co-lead assistants. Both were in the running for the Bulls’ head coaching opening when Donovan was hired in 2020.

Unseld spent three seasons as the coach of the Washington Wizards. Craig was a longtime assistant for the Miami Heat who came over from Tyronn Lue’s staff with the LA Clippers. They replaced Chris Fleming and Josh Longstaff.

Maybe the Bulls need some new voices on the bench. But until the offseason plays out, coaching changes feel like putting a Band-Aid on a bullet wound. Chicago needs a change in personnel, on the court much more than on the bench.

Unseld, known to be affable and a people person, was credited with engineering three consecutive top-10 offenses when he served as an assistant in Washington in the early-to-mid 2000s. He can perhaps pump life into the Bulls’ attack. Meanwhile, Craig brings championship experience from the Heat and knowledge from Erik Spoelstra, another championship-winning coach.

Both should help build the Bulls’ culture.

(Photo of Lonzo Ball, Zach LaVine and DeMar DeRozan: Mike Stobe / Getty Images)

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