I’ve been trying to figure out what the Chicago Bulls are planning for the past three years, and I still can’t figure it out. Their roster has remained relatively unchained, and they’ve only made it to the playoffs in one of the last five seasons. Even when they did, they lost 1-4 in the first round to the Bucks. Every NBA commentator alive (and some rolling in their graves) were screaming at Chicago to make a change or just blow it up. Instead, they’re running into the 2023-2024 season as aimless as before.
Let’s break the weird vibes down starting with injured point guard Lonzo Ball. This guy will have missed two-and-half seasons with a knee injury by the time he’s healthy enough to return to the court for the 2024-2025 season. Ball “definitely plans on playing again,” as he told reporters recently, and he’ll only be 26 years old when he returns. I’ll give props to Chicago for sticking by their young star throughout the whole potential-career-ending ordeal, but they’ve done little to help the rest of the team out in his absence. I mean, Memphis is only missing Ja Morant for 25-games and they went and got Marcus Smart. Chicago signed Jevon Carter, Coby White, Alex Caruso, and Ayo Dosunmu to their gladiator waiting room. But, none of the four guards have yet to truly prove themselves offensively. (Caruso, of course, is more of a genius defensively—when he’s healthy.)
That means that primary ball-handling duties have fallen on Zach LaVine, who just signed a massive five-year, $215 million contract extension. He did it, too, even though most of the team was fed up with him last year. During a Bulls’ regular season loss to the Timberwolves, “multiple teammates directed frustration at Zach LaVine,” in what NBC Sports Chicago described as a “strong exchange.” The argument came right after The Athletic reported that LaVine and the Bulls were “not seeing eye-to-eye” and that there was “a palpable feeling across various parts of the franchise of a disconnect over LaVine’s situation in Chicago.”
LaVine and head coach Billy Donovan also had a heated disagreement last November, when the star was benched in the final minutes of a regular season loss to the Magic for shooting 1-14 from the field and 0-5 from the three-point line. “I think everybody goes through ups and downs, just like every team does,” LaVine later said. “Obviously if we’re not winning games, not everybody’s going to be happy… It’s all glitter and show when you’re winning games. But when you’re losing games and you’re trying to do the same things it’s turmoil. Everybody has their right to their own opinion.”
What do the other Bulls stars think of all these problems in their backcourt? Well, center Nikola Vucevic is seemingly fine with it. He just signed a three-year contract extension in free agency worth roughly $60 million. Bulls general manager Marc Eversley even said that “Retaining him became the No. 1 goal of the offseason.” That was the No. 1 goal? From Vucevic’s perspective, the center said that he mostly just did it because he’s a loyal guy. “Chicago traded for me,” he told reporters. “They brought me here. They gave up a lot for me. And so I felt a responsibility to come back and help the team do better than we did. I don’t know what that will be in the end. But that’s just kind of how I felt.”
Meanwhile, DeMar DeRozan is playing a balancing act. He’s out here saying that he’s committed to Chicago this season—and I fully believe him. But he’s also an unrestricted free agent going into next season, and I’m sure he’ll want to keep his options open. Executive vice president Artūras Karnišovas announced that the team is currently in active conversation with DeRozan’s agent regarding a potential contract extension, but they’re also worried about potentially becoming a luxury tax team next season. “I think we’re at the point where we’re going to go into the luxury tax if we’re confirming this is the group,” Karnišovas told reporters. “I think this [season] is just giving more time for this group to figure it out.” Will they?
In the opening game against the Thunder, Chicago lost by 20 points. Zach LaVine shot 2-9 from the three-point line, doouble-double machine Nikola Vucevic was held to just 11 points and nine rebounds, and the only highlight came from backup center Andre Drummond juking and dunking on rookie Chet Holmgren. As cool as it looked, that is a veteran against a rookie—and “welcome to the league” moves aren’t as impressive when your team still loses the game.
The Bulls reportedly held another players-only meeting following the loss, which sounds constructive if not also exhausting. “A lot of guys said a lot of good things, things that needed to be said,” Vucevic told CBS Sports Chicago. “It wasn’t anything crazy, no fighting or none of that. It was really constructive. It was maybe one of the first times since I’ve been here that this was like this. And it was really needed… When you have these constructive conversations, they can only bring positive things.” Let’s hope, Chicago.