5 Bulls storylines to watch in the pivotal 2022 NBA offseason

the Chicago Bulls ended the 2021-22 season last week with a 4-1 playoff loss at the hands of the Milwaukee Bucks.

A 46-36 end to the regular season and a return to the playoffs for the first time in five years mark progress for a franchise that has wandered in the wilderness since the Jimmy Butler trade in 2017. But there’s still a long way to go. to approach this off-season to ensure that progress is not just one-off.

With that in mind, here are five storylines to watch in a pivotal Bulls offseason:

1. Zach LaVine’s Unrestricted Free Agency

Artūras Karnišovas, Billy Donovan and several key players made it clear in their exit interviews with reporters that they wanted to keep the core of this team intact and establish continuity over several seasons. The biggest obstacle to that is LaVine walking in free agency.

For the first time in his career, LaVine is a free free agent, so there’s a real danger of that happening (or the Bulls being backed in a sign-and-trade). When he last came on the market as a restricted free agent, the Bulls’ previous management regime allowed LaVine to test the waters – then matched a $78 million offer sheet in four years of the Sacramento Kings.

“I thought it was four out of four,” LaVine said when asked if he thought he was underpaid three of the four years on that contract, which was earning him $19.5 million per season.

It’s no secret that LaVine is looking for maximum money this offseason, with that below-market contract and his rise to a two-time All-Star as the backdrop. Working in favor of the Bulls are the rights to LaVine’s Bird, which allows them to offer him a five-year contract worth around $212 million – one more year and more than $50 million more than an outside team cannot deliver.

There are, of course, other factors at play. LaVine will soon meet with an outside specialist to determine the next steps in treating his left knee, which has plagued him for the final three months of the season and gone under. the knife in the past (ACL tear, 2017). Karnišovas dismissed the idea that LaVine’s knee story would affect negotiations in his season-ending comments and professed a desire to keep All-Star custody in Chicago for the long term.

And so, the ball is in the court of LaVine and her agency. Stay tuned.

RELATED: Zach LaVine Approaches UFA Premiere With Open Eyes

2. What marginal improvements can the Bulls find?

Should LaVine return, don’t expect major upheaval in the Bulls’ core DeMar DeRozanLavine, Nikola Vucevic, Lonzo Ball, Alex Caruso and patrick williams.

“Hopefully we can keep the core together and work around the margins,” Karnišovas said of his offseason plans.

So the question will be how — and where — the Bulls improve the roster on the sidelines. If the Bulls stay below the $149 million luxury tax line, which is possible even with LaVine on a standard maximum, they will have the mid-tier non-taxpayer exception available to them. Last offseason, it was this exception that brought Caruso in, but the allotted salary (expected at $10.1 million this season) can also be split among multiple players.

Besides the middle tier, the Bulls have the 18th pick in the draft and the trade market to work with. Shooting, size of the forecourt – for rebound and rim protection purposes – and general depth are distinguished as needed.

As for assets? A future surplus, lottery-protected first-round pick from Portland sits in the chest. And of all the players on the list, Coby White, who is eligible for the extension this offseason, will be the most pressing to watch, given how crowded the Bulls’ guard room is. At 22 and after the best shooting season of his career (38.5% from 3-point range), White has value in Chicago or elsewhere despite a poor end to the regular season and playoffs.

3. Get healthy

The Bulls have undoubtedly suffered freak injuries this season. The two biggest examples: Losing Williams (for 65 games) and Caruso (for 22 games) to wrist surgeries derived from flagrant fouls.

Still, getting healthy and preparing for sustainability in 2022-23 should be top of the list this summer.

First, there are Ball and LaVine’s ailing left knees. Every member of the Bulls’ starting backcourt is expected to visit knee specialists soon to determine next steps, which could involve surgery in one or both cases. Caruso – who, beyond his wrist fracture, suffered foot, hamstring, back and head injuries in 2021-22 – also has his eye on returning to 100% in the months to to come.

“Obviously broken wrist, concussion, those things are out of my control. But the nagging little muscle injuries, to take care of that, to make sure I can be there for my team, and to have all of our guys there to build the habits that we need, to build symmetry, the chemistry you have to win at a high level,” Caruso said during his exit interview about his goals for the offseason.

Caruso, who recorded 41 appearances in 2021-22, has played more than 60 regular season games once in the past three seasons. Ball (35 games in 2021-22) has done it just once in his five-year career and has now had two meniscus surgeries in his left knee. A February MRI showed no structural issues with LaVine’s left knee, but his ongoing pain is cause for concern nonetheless.

On the bright side, DeRozan (76 games, third in the NBA in total minutes) and Vučević (73 games) have proven remarkably durable in each of their first full seasons as the Bulls. But the rest of the core have a history of injuries that hangs like a dark cloud over the team’s future prospects. Yes, the Bulls have had healthy success. But can we count on the health of this group going forward?

“I hope for sustainability, I’m a positive guy,” Karnišovas said. “We’re going to look at everything and we’re going to try to get them healthy this summer before training camp…

“I expect them to be healthy. But all the additions we’re going to make to the roster is more towards versatility and flexibility because the season is long and you need to have a good roster. quality for flexibility.

4. The development of Patrick Williams

With only marginal additions expected this offseason, the importance of Williams’ development swells. Thriving him even into an above-average starter is one of the main avenues for the Bulls to rise to a higher tier of contention.

Williams – who averaged 9 points, 4.1 rebounds and 6 field goal attempts in just 17 appearances in 2021-22 – and the front office were on the same page when it came to the points on which the second-year forward needs to improve to move forward.

“Consistency,” Williams said when asked which areas of his game he wanted to improve in his third season. the game consistently, I think that might be a next step.

Karnišovas added: “I think his (Williams) skill set is quite complete, what he can do athletically, not many players can do that in our league. I just think the most important thing for him is the experience and confidence. We will always ask him to be more aggressive.

Williams’ work to develop the necessary stamina and game sense continues this summer. Its role is likely to include Hellish workouts in Los Angeles with DeRozan, and possibly a second Summer League run. In the end, the Bulls will hope he can maintain some of the late-season flashes he displayed more consistently in a pivotal and hopefully less injury-plagued third season.

5. How will the Bulls approach the draft?

The Bulls own the 18th overall pick in this year’s draft and are without a second-round selection. While not a premium slot by any means, it is one that has produced some rotating players in the recent past – Tre Mann (Thunder), Josh Green (Mavericks) and Lonnie Walker IV (Spurs) for the past four years alone.

Karnišovas and company could attempt to identify a cheap, cost-controlled depth play with an edge with this pick. Or, as they have done with much of their future capital project over the past two years, they could return it as part of a package for immediate relief.

“We have to explore everything,” Karnišovas said when asked if he was more inclined to keep or trade the pick. “We had a pretty busy summer last summer, and a lot of things that you still can’t project come into draft or free agency.

“The way I let things work out for the draft is you feel better a week or two before the draft because you go through practices and interviews. You get a better feeling. Then, obviously, the preparation for free agency happens at the same time. Once that gets closer we’ll probably have a better idea, but right now it’s hard to say in terms of the opportunities we’re going to have.

If the Bulls trade the pick, they’ll have to do so after officially making the pick on draft night due to the Stepien Rule, which prohibits trading future back-to-back firsts (the Bulls owe the Magic their first 2023-rounder in framework of Vučević’s trade). So there’s sure to be some intrigue on draft night — and as draft night approaches — no matter which direction they go.

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