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Will Gottlieb's Mailbag: What's after Summer League for the Bulls?

Will Gottlieb Avatar
July 19, 2022

The draft, free agency and now Summer League have passed. We are officially in the doldrums of the NBA calendar, which means you have to help me come up with story ideas 😇

Best way to do that is to answer some mailbag questions! So here we go!

Nikola Vucevic is still the starter. Andre Drummond is in town to back him up. The Bulls retained Derrick Jones Jr. for a changeup small ball five option and Marko Simonovic showed some promise during Summer League. Carrying five centers on the roster is like carrying five catchers in baseball. There’s just no reason to do so.

Tony Bradley should not be long for the Bulls roster. The Bulls are able to waive and stretch Bradley and I would not be surprised if they do so when the right player comes available.

Vanderbilt is fantastic, as an aside. He’d require a trade, probably of a pick given the trajectory Utah is on, but would be a chef’s kiss fit with the Bulls.

Heading down a dark road already! I’d be lying if I said this scenario hadn’t crossed my mind.

Looking back at the last season and a half, it appears that the mandate from ownership to Arturas Karnisovas was to get the team back to the playoffs. They did just that and even overachieved for a stretch before fizzling out.

That taste of surprise success moved the goalposts a bit, and now the Bulls are under pressure to take another step without much in the way of assets to improve beyond where they topped out last season.

I do think some of the “plan” here is beyond basketball itself. If the idea was to turn the Bulls into a real franchise that can get marquee free agents, rebuild the fanbase and make strides during Zach LaVine’s max contract, the Bulls are still on pace to do so. Whether that results in championships remains to be seen. But blowing it up when two future first-round picks are out the door, and after all the work Karnisovas has done to rehabilitate the franchise’s image, seems unlikely, even if it seems like the prudent roster building move.

This is the positivity we need! The Bulls were famously 38-21 through the All-Star Break, a .644 winning percentage. Over the course of 82 games, that would equate to 52.8 wins.

There’s certainly a chance things hit that kind of stride again, but it’s exceedingly unlikely. Points Bet set the Bulls win total at 41.5, which seems low, but they did finish the season 8-15 with a -7.1 net rating, 28th in the league.

Their +2.0 net rating over those first 59 games projects out as a 46-win team, which is exactly where they ended up. I don’t think the Bulls were ever as good as they were at their best, or as bad as they were at their worst. Continuity and health may help them this year, but the rest of the East isn’t getting any easier.

My guess is they end up in the 44-46 win area again this year.

Kevin Durant

Got a few questions about Goran Dragic, so I’ll lump them all into this response.

Dragic is a fine player. He’s getting old and has definitely lost a step, even since his awesome 2020 Finals run with the Heat, but he does serve a purpose.

With Lonzo Ball and Alex Caruso major health flags, Coby White and Ayo Dosunmu inexperienced and less proven, the Bulls need some reliability in the back court. Even in the playoff series against the Bucks, the Bulls really struggled to bring the ball across half court and allow DeRozan to get the ball where he likes it as opposed to having to work to get to that spot himself.

Dragic has experience playing super high leverage basketball. He’s a career 36.5 percent three-point shooter. And he’s got that #dawg in him.

The minutes promise is definitely weird. Are the Bulls expecting Ball to miss significant time? Do they want to move Dosunmu and/or Caruso off ball? Do they want to play four-guard lineups instead of three? Maybe they intend to move White…?

Up front, I’m not sure there is a reasonable move the Bulls can make with White and the lottery-protected first-round pick via Portland the Bulls acquired in the Lauri Markkanen-Derrick Jones Jr.-Larry Nance three-team swap.

The Bulls were reportedly shopping that package around the draft and didn’t find any takers. My guess is that they’re looking for far more than what other teams are willing to give up.

The Western Conference is really strong and despite the Blazers clearly making a push towards the playoffs, there are no guarantees that pick ever conveys. White is still very young and has shown some microwave scoring flashes, but has lost a ton of value as the top-end prospect the Bulls drafted him to be. This may be a situation where White and the pick are more valuable to the Bulls than anything they could get in return. Thought they’re going to have to make a big decision about White’s next contract, they may be in a holding pattern until something tasty comes along.

The Bulls biggest need is shooting with size. If they’re going to trade White and the Portland pick, that’s what they need to go for.

Ironically, White’s best skill is his shooting, which puts the Bulls in a tough spot trading him. It would have to be like-for-like in terms of skillset, but the trick would be identifying a younger, rebuilding team with an older, more consistent shooter in the same price range.

Seth Curry comes to mind as a matching contract, but who knows what the Nets are up to. Alec Burks could be rerouted after recently being traded to the Pistons. Gary Harris could be a trade deadline target after signing a new deal with Orlando, but would require the Bulls to attach an extra six million in salary to match contracts.

None of these are very sexy names, but the Bulls are in need of reliability, shooting and defense if they’re going to go all out. They could also prefer to continue trying to develop from within and build White’s stock up that way.

This probably deserves a full article as it is my biggest critique of the offseason. The Bulls said their biggest needs were shooting and rim protection and neither problem was addressed. To be fair, they did not have a lot of good options, but there were plenty of ways they could have solved for these issues while staying below the luxury tax.

Instead, they’ll have to do it internally. With the Bulls two best three-point shooters in LaVine and Ball playing hurt and missing time and Nikola Vucevic dropping nine percent on threes from his previous season average, they are hoping for some positive regression both in terms of volume and efficiency.

Patrick Williams, Dalen Terry, Caruso, Dosunmu, Javonte Green, White and Jones simply need to be better, more willing shooters who aren’t phased by misses.

Even if all those things break right, will it be good enough? I’m not sure.

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