These are not your mother’s Chicago Bulls, ladies and gentleman.
No, the team’s still new-seeming front office led by Artūras Karnišovas and Marc Eversley are in the interest of big, unpredictable splashes. And pushing the chips in to win now.
Their latest submission in that department was Tuesday’s sign-and-trade acquisition of DeMar DeRozan from the San Antonio Spurs — adding to an active free-agency period that also saw them agree to terms with Lonzo Ball and Alex Caruso.
But the DeRozan deal was the biggest, in terms of both impact and cost.
Terms: Bulls acquire DeMar DeRozan (three years, $85 million fully guaranteed) from Spurs in exchange for Thad Young, Al-Farouq Aminu, a 2025 first-round pick and second-round picks in 2022 and 2025
Analysis: Let’s start with the positives.
In this deal, the Bulls addressed a couple areas of need. Once (and still) thin on wing depth, they nabbed the best small forward on the market short of Kawhi Leonard — and that small forward instantly becomes the team’s best halfcourt playmaker, having averaged a career-high 6.9 assists (against just 2 turnovers) in 2020-21.
That’s not the only wrinkle DeRozan will add. His ability to draw fouls (his 7.2 free-throw attempts per game last season ranked eighth in the NBA) directly addresses a weak spot Artūras Karnišovas pinpointed at his end-of-season exit interview (the Bulls’ 17.5 free-throw attempts per game was dead last in the league). What’s more, he averaged nearly half as many drives per game (18.2, sixth in the NBA) as the Bulls did as a team (40.8, 26th) last season, and was effective in those chances; he’ll be a boon for a Bulls team that in years past has lacked dribble penetration outside of Zach LaVine.
In sum: As a passer and bucket-getter (he was a 96th percentile scorer in isolation and averaged 21.6 points in 2020-21), DeRozan projects to really help the Bulls’ offense — and in the process, take heavy shot-creation burden off LaVine, who was already putting up near-historic efficiency numbers without consistent help, but without whom the Bulls often stagnated (their offensive rating plummeted 7.6 points per 100 possessions in LaVine’s off-minutes last year).
Now, the cost.
On its face, the Bulls surrendering another future first-round draft choice — the third they’ve traded in the last five months — a productive player in Young and an annual average of $28.3 million in salary to ink DeRozan is a loss, asset-wise. There’s no way around it. The team’s long-term trade and financial flexibility (especially with a lucrative extension coming for LaVine next offseason) is now significantly encumbered to the point of appearing non-existent. And such a high salary number is made more puzzling by the seeming lack of cash-flush suitors in the market for his services.
Simply put: It’s a move that treats DeRozan, who turns 32 in August, will be 34 by the end of this deal and does little to bolster the team’s defense, as the final major piece to thrust the Bulls into true contention.
Is that a fair expectation for this group, which, while significantly overhauled, hasn’t sniffed the postseason since 2017? It feels a step too far too soon, but time will tell. What’s clear is that, if a 2022 playoff berth was mandatory before this bevy of moves, even greater success now is required to justify what could very well be a fiscally painful end to DeRozan’s three-year pact.
But the Bulls hope that losing the asset game now leads to winning basketball games soon. Despite questions on the defensive end, this is going to be a significantly more offensively potent and talented group than this city has seen since the end of the Derrick Rose years.
And notably, the Bulls deployed a slew of creative, big-market-brained moves to assemble it. Moves that, it must be noted, landed on joyous ears in LaVine’s:
With another step toward relevance, the hope must be that a roster and reputational facelift, plus incremental steps up the Eastern Conference hierarchy, will offset the team’s asset drain down the road. That’s a risky gamble, but if nothing else, this front office has chosen a path, and done so with conviction.
Bulls grade: B-
The long-term scope of this deal is enough to make one queasy, and on paper, the Spurs are big winners. But the short-term zeal can’t be denied. Excitement is warranted for the time being, but how this acquisition ages depends on what the Bulls are able to do with this window.