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Mailbag: Bulls must look inward to improve their future fortunes

Will Gottlieb Avatar
May 11, 2023

Despite missing the playoffs and allowing three-straight transaction windows to come and go, the most likely scenario is for the Bulls to yet again run it back. If they’re going to do so, they need to find alternative ways to improve.

In this mailbag, we answer questions about the Bulls summer outlook and where they can turn to try to get them back on track if they’re not going to get help externally.

@cbefred: Do you believe the Bulls should turn over their starting PG position to Coby White since their cap position is such an unmitigated disaster? Isn’t this the best realistic short-term solution until Lonzo’s contract is removed from their available cap space?

The Bulls are going to have to bank on internal development to improve. And while White certainly has room to grow, I’m not sure moving him to a starting point guard role helps him develop.

White has been shuttled around from role to role throughout his Bulls tenure. He came off the bench his rookie season, turned into a full time point guard his second year and back to bench guard during his third season. White admitted he isn’t a traditional point guard, and while he has made improvements facilitating and reading the floor, he is clearly at his best playing off his own shot rather than playing to find shots for others.

Post All-Star Break, Bulls lineups with White, Zach LaVine, DeMar DeRozan and Nikola Vucevic had a 127.5 offensive rating, which was 99th percentile in the NBA. So there is precedent that those groups can work, but I’m hesitant to put him in a position where he is responsible for running the offense.

If the ball runs through DeRozan and LaVine first, it could work, but the Bulls should keep his projected role in mind when determining the value of his next contract. And what worked best for White was as a secondary option. Not to say he can’t continue to improve, I think he will, but there’s no point in removing him from what he did well to put him in a position where he previously struggled.

With all of that said, you’re right, Fred. He may be the best and only option. Those are just my hesitations.

@wllmckn: best case scenario for the team composition assuming no lottery luck?

@SeeRedUK: What’s your ideal off season look like for Bulls?

It’s hard to envision what the ‘best case scenario’ is for the Bulls would be because opening up the space to make any additions would require a major move. When the Bulls front office says they buy the post All-Star stretch, they’re really setting low expectations because they know their options are limited.

A lot of this hinges on Vucevic’s free agency. If he wants to leave, they won’t magically fall into $20 million of space — they’re still above the salary cap. They will at least be able to use their mid-level and bi-annual exceptions, but that won’t afford them a real upgrade in terms of talent. Maybe they can find a lesser name brand player who fits and opens up the floor better.

The most likely scenario is running it back and finding a way to add a solid shooter for half of the mid-level exception, and that’s why, to me, they need to break up the ‘big three’. It hasn’t worked as planned, and moving on from DeRozan is the only path towards acquiring contributors and draft capital.

@Realconjuguemos: For the most part, a team is only as good as its best player. I’d say the Knicks is the only exception this year. What evidence do you see that we can get a legitimate all-nba caliber season from Lavine next year?

@ThatGuyMurphTV: Jimmy Butler was traded at the same age Zach is now. I remember there being doubts about if Jimmy was a player you could build around similar to Zach today. Do you think it’s likely that Zach’s game reaches another level like Jimmy’s after being traded?

We basically saw an All-NBA type of stretch from LaVine during the final 50 games of the season. Following the 150 point allowance to the Timberwolves, the favored line of demarcation, LaVine put up All-Star numbers. 26.3 points, 4.5 rebounds, 4.3 assists on 50.5 percent shooting, 38.1 percent on 6.8 threes per game and 85.5 percent on 6.4 free throw attempts per game. He missed only one game during that stretch where everyone was resting in the penultimate game against the Pistons.

We saw LaVine go nuclear in the first Play-In Tournament game, helping the Bulls advance, but he obviously disappeared in the second game against Miami. But he can learn from that experience and improve on those mistakes for the next time he plays in meaningful games.

LaVine may not have another full level to get to, but even if he plays the way he did for the better part of last season, and the Bulls optimize the roster around him, they could play at a higher level as a group.

@ShareBullsLove: Why do the Bulls have a small ball mentality? How do you go an entire NBA season playing only 2 players over 6’8″? Are you kidding me?

It’s true — Dalen Terry and Patrick Williams are the only non-centers on the team above the height of 6’6″. But I wouldn’t say this is necessarily something the Bulls front office did by design.

Big wings are hard to find, and it just so happens that smaller forwards/bigger guards like Alex Caruso, Javonte Green and Derrick Jones Jr were more productive playing the position.

Shooting with size should be paramount on the Bulls offseason checklist, but everyone is looking to fill that hole. It will be difficult to find with the limited cap space the Bulls have, so they may have to rely on development from Terry and Williams.

@leoapmenezes: If you could choose any superstar to the Bulls…

Victor Wembanyama.

@MTanaVDo we have a pick this year or not. And how exactly does it work since Portland didn’t make the playoffs

The Bulls received a lottery protected first round pick from the Trail Blazers back in 2021 (in addition to Derrick Jones Jr.) in a three-team trade that sent Lauri Markkanen to the Cavaliers.

The pick is protected every year until 2028 — it conveys to the Bulls only if the Blazers make the Playoffs. Because the Blazers missed the Playoffs, it rolls over to the next year, lottery protected again. Rinse and repeat until 2028, at which point it becomes a 2028 second round pick.

Because the pick rolls over every season, the Blazers cannot trade any of their own future picks until their obligation to the Bulls conveys as that would violate the league’s Stepien Rule.

With the pressure Damian Lillard is putting on the Blazers to compete for a championship today, they will need to unload the clip of future picks to acquire a co-star, but the Bulls have the ability to hold up any deal the Blazers want to complete. That’s a lot of leverage.

Rumor is, the Bulls could return the pick to the Blazers, clearing the way for Portland to make another deal using future picks, in exchange for the 23rd pick (via New York). They should apply even more pressure on Portland to add sweetener, but the 23rd overall pick in the upcoming draft would be a huge boon for a Bulls team with no other picks in a strong draft.

@NickFromGE: Is the front office going to use Miami’s run as an excuse for how close the conference is?

Almost certainly, but they shouldn’t be allowed to. They lost to the Heat and couldn’t even get into the Playoffs!

Miami was the seventh seed coming off a Conference Finals appearance. Even if they are setting the precedent that a Play-In team can advance, they’re in a different class than the Bulls, who were 12th in the East until the Pacers and Wizards decided to gun for the bottom.

@mjahoopAny chance of a D Rose return? You knew this question was coming haha

Rose should, and likely will, retire a Bull, even on a one-day contract. So it wouldn’t surprise me. The Knicks have a team option on Rose’s $15.6 million contract for next season. He was out of the rotation for the majority of the year, which means he will almost certainly be on the market this summer.

We’ve seen the Bulls target Chicago kids year after year trying to distract the fanbase from poor basketball with the opportunity to cheer for one of their own. Dwyane Wade, Jabari Parker, Ayo Dosunmu, Patrick Beverley.

Whether Rose, 35, has anything left in the tank remains to be seen, but it would not surprise me if the Bulls use his return to sell some tickets at the very least.

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