By a typical Dec. 1, the Bulls, and all NBA teams, have played about 20 games.
There’s nothing typical about the 2020-21 season.
After the NBA and NBPA reached agreement Thursday on a 72-game season that will tip off Dec. 22 and prompt training camps to open Dec. 1, it’s full speed ahead. Like all teams, the Bulls will navigate the Nov. 18 NBA Draft and an abbreviated free agency in a jam-packed flurry of events.
Unlike all teams, the Bulls haven’t played competitively since March 10. For a franchise that got left out of the NBA restart to conclude the 2019-20 season and overhauled its front office and coaching staffs, there’s plenty to do.
Here are the most pressing items:
Establish a culture
This isn’t some simplistic or cliched task. The Bulls have a new — deep breath here — executive vice president, general manager, vice president of player personnel, assistant general manager, head coach, multiple assistant coaches, athletic trainer and player development staffers.
It’s a lot.
Plus, because of the pandemic, much of the conversations between the new and holdover parties have occurred remotely. Like the other teams not part of the NBA restart, the Bulls did conduct a three-week, voluntary team activities session that featured everyone but Kris Dunn. But the new coaching staff wasn’t working with the team directly.
Artūras Karnišovas, Marc Eversley and Billy Donovan have consistently preached building a players-first franchise. They’ve also talked about establishing an offensive system of play predicated on ball and player movement, read-and-react sets and an up-tempo style. Defensively, Eversley has cited rim protection as paramount.
This training camp helps establish these foundational tenets.
Maximize roster spots
When Otto Porter Jr. exercises his $28.5 million player option, management will have 12 guaranteed contracts on their books. If the Bulls use the No. 4 pick in the draft — or engineer a trade to add any first-round pick — that adds another guaranteed deal.
This translates to roster spots sitting as a premium even before decisions on potential restricted free agents Kris Dunn, Denzel Valentine and Shaquille Harrison must be made. Or that the Bulls also own a second-round pick and the Denver Nuggets, where Karnišovas previously worked, scored big in that round with Nikola Jokić and Monte Morris.
Would the Bulls eat Cristiano Felício's $7.5 million salary or could it become valuable as an expiring contract near the trade deadline? Can they orchestrate an uneven trade in which they send out more players than they receive to free up a roster spot?
Valentine, by all accounts, had an impressive showing in the organized team activities, both from an on-court and leadership aspect. Letting him walk isn’t the no-brainer decision that some have speculated. Dunn and Harrison represent some duplication in that they’re both elite defenders with limited offensive potential.
Since Karnišovas and Eversley have talked about wanting to develop two-way players, the expectation is that at least two of those three players won’t be back.
Adeptly mine free agent margins
The reason the Bulls need to maximize roster spots is because they have the mid-level and bi-annual exceptions at their disposal should they choose to use them in free agency.
This is another needle that the new management regime must thread. The Bulls, like a lot of teams, are well positioned for a historic 2021 free-agency class.
Do they burn some of that space with deals to add a player or two with their exceptions? Do they bring back Dunn on his qualifying offer for one year?
Part of how the Bulls address free agency will obviously be contingent on how they exit the draft. There’s significant talk around the league that the Bulls plan to address point guard.
Improve Lauri Markkanen and Wendell Carter Jr.
Karnišovas, Eversley and Donovan each have cited how last season’s roster underachieved and that they like the Bulls' young talent. Markkanen and Carter represent the largest reclamation projects.
Carter must be utilized more offensively. Defensively, as long as he avoids his pesky habit of finding foul trouble, he represents the rim protection that Eversley seeks. But his predraft comps to Al Horford feel like empty words unless he starts getting incorporated into the offense. Donovan, who coached Horford in college, worked magic with Steven Adams in Oklahoma City. Can he do so again with Carter?
As for Markkanen, his regression last season and inability to stay healthy have to change. Again, Donovan is known as a coach who plays to his players’ strengths. So getting Markkanen on the move as opposed to utilizing him as a stationary shooter sounds like a start.
The Bulls are getting ready to start. NBA basketball is almost back.