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Seven big questions for the Chicago Bulls as they return from the All-Star Break

Will Gottlieb Avatar
February 21, 2024

The All-Star Break is over and the Chicago Bulls are ready to take on their final 27 games of the 2023-24 NBA season.

Here are the biggest questions and storylines facing the team for their final stretch.

1. Coby White’s ascension

The final game before the All-Star Break represented an important moment for the Bulls. Maybe not a passing of the torch, but at least the beginning of one.

In the final minutes of a clutch game, Coby White, not DeMar DeRozan, was the one running the offense.

Still, the Bull’s offense is dominated by DeRozan isolations, so we’ll see if and how that gently moves toward White, particularly in clutch moments.

White is among the frontrunners for the NBA’s Most Improved Player award, boosting his scoring average from 9.7 to 19.6 points per game year over year. He’s nearly doubled his assists (2.8 to 5.3) and rebounds (2.9 to 4.7) per game, while boosting his True Shooting percentage from 57.2 to 59.1.

White has established himself as a core building block of the future. Can he take another leap to become the franchise player?

2. Buyout market watch

The Bulls are currently $1.7 million below the luxury tax line with one free roster spot.

They have their remaining Mid-Level Exception ($6.2 million), Bi-Annual Exception ($4.5 million) and Disabled Player Exception ($10.2 million) at their disposal. The Disabled Player Exception expires March 11.

Though it’s exceedingly unlikely they cross the luxury tax line, they are technically $8.7 million from their hard cap at the first apron.

The prorated veteran’s minimum for the remainder of the season is just $615,198, meaning the Bulls have more than enough to sign someone for the rest of the way.

The only complicating factors are the unlikely incentives in White’s contract, though it’s impossible for him to get the full $1.3 million he could have potentially gotten, per a source. Even if he hits some of the smaller benchmarks in his incentives, the Bulls could easily pay the prorated minimum the rest of the way without concern.

With those potential issues out of the way, there are a handful of intriguing buyout options remaining on the market, including Furkan Korkmaz, Marcus Morris, Killian Hayes, Danuel House, Otto Porter and Joe Harris, with guys like Evan Fournier, Davis Bertans and Seth Curry potentially becoming available down the line if they reach buyout agreements with their current teams.

Shooting and size will be the priority with injury blows coming to Patrick Williams and Torrey Craig, in addition to Zach LaVine.

3. Will Patrick Williams return?

Williams has not played since January 25 after suffering a foot edema. The Bulls announced on January 30 that he would be re-evaluated in two weeks. It’s now February 21 and Williams is still not running.

Following a light ramp up period, Williams continues to feel discomfort and the team will be cautious with how they progress him.

“Patrick is doing the light, slow ramp-up,” Billy Donovan told reporters. “Everything they do is going to be based on his pain and what he can tolerate. Quite honestly, there have been certain things where he’s felt it. He’s much better than he was. I think when this first happened, he was feeling it walking. He’s beyond that right now. But they’re going to be very, very careful in terms of how much they continue to push through and how much they pull back on him. He has responded really well and done well. But on some of the things he has done, he has felt it mildly. And they’ll be cautious.”

“They just want to make sure on the ramp-up, where if he continues to feel pain, they have to pull back. And that’s where they’re at right now. He has done stuff. For a period of time, he was in the boot and not doing anything but lifting weights. He has done some low-level stuff on the court. He feels much better than he did prior to this. But they’re not going to push him until those symptoms are completely gone.”

With Craig now missing 2-4 weeks, the power forward depth on this Bulls team is down to Alex Caruso.

4. How real is Ayo Dosunmu’s shooting?

There’s a difference between “a guy who can shoot” and “shooters” and over the last 17 games, Ayo Dosunmu has not just been a “shooter,” he’s been one of the best in the entire Association.

He’s 39-of-73 for 53.4 percent over that stretch. Dosunmu’s confidence in his shot has skyrocketed as he’s attempting 4.3 threes per game, up from his 2.6 career average number of attempts per game.

Dosunmu won’t be able to maintain these ungodly numbers, but even if he stays in the 38-40 percent range on his current volume, he becomes infinitely more interesting as a long-term building block of the team.

5. How much longer will DeRozan be at the top of his game?

DeRozan’s usage is down three percent from last season. His field goal percentage is down 3.2 percent from last season. His True Shooting percentage is down 1.8 percent from last season. His scoring is down three points per 100 possessions from last season and 7.7 points per 100 possessions from the season prior.

Obviously, none of this is to diminish DeRozan’s pedigree or importance. Even for as good as he has been, he’s still underappreciated as an all-time Chicago Bull, and the desire to prepare for the future has nothing to do with his greatness. DeRozan is still a premier scorer and closer. He’s second in the league in clutch points scored with a 62.9 true shooting percentage.

But he’ll be 35 ahead of the 2024-25 season and the Bulls front office will have to determine how much longer they will pay him to be the most important player in the franchise.

6. Which Bulls team will finish the season?

The Bulls are currently 26-29, three games clear of 10th and sitting comfortably in 9th place in the Eastern Conference standings.

In their remaining 27 games, the Bulls average opponent win percentage is .509, the 13th hardest schedule in the league, according to Positiveresidual.com. The 14-9 equivalent for the remaining games would be 16-11.

The Bulls are just 9-24 against teams above .500 this season, so while their current pace has them looking a lot more formidable than the first 19 games, this final hurrah will be a challenge.

With LaVine out for the year, Williams injury still unresolved, Craig out for 2-4 weeks, and White and DeRozan tied for the league lead in minutes played, these final 27 games will determine who this team really is, and influence the front office’s decision making moving forward.

7. How will the front office thread the needle?

Having chosen against making trades that could clear up the salary cap crunch the team faces while collecting assets for the future, the Bulls are up against some “cap gymnastics” they will have to resolve ahead of next season.

It’s clear they’re going to build this thing on the fly. They’re not stripping down parts and re-orienting. They’re going to try to thread the needle.

They have until June 30 to sign DeRozan to an extension before they allow him to become an unrestricted free agent. Even if they do let him get to that point, they’d have the inside track to re-signing him since they have his Bird Rights, which allow a team to sign players while operating above the salary cap line.

Extending him before free agency would hamstring some of their flexibility to sign other players, and set the bar for how much room they have to bring Williams back. Speaking of Williams, how will his injury affect what the market is willing to pay him this summer, should the Bulls let him test restricted free agency?

How will they manage Andre Drummond’s unrestricted free agency? Surely, they’d prefer not to lose him for nothing after opting against trading him. But will they have space to do so?

They also have the issue of Lonzo Ball to consider. If they deem Ball’s injury, which has held him out since January 14, 2022, to be career-ending, they can apply for a provision that would wipe the remaining $21 million off their cap sheet in 2025. That would create enough space to run it back again.

They will also have to re-open trade discussions for LaVine, whose season-ending foot surgery further complicates his marketability.

At some point, they will have to decide whether White, Dosunmu and Williams can be the core moving forward. If so, how do they put the right pieces around them? If not, how can they find their future franchise player without moving up in the draft or signing anyone of consequence in free agency?

We’ll see how the remaining 27 games inform those opinions, and whether those important questions will be answered in the summer of 2024 or some time down the road.

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