In less than a week, training camp opens for one of the most anticipated Chicago Bulls seasons of recent vintage.
How good can this newly-assembled team be? That, and other questions, fill this edition of the mailbag:
What is the main storyline that you will be looking to follow as training camp opens shortly here? Will it be Zach LaVine’s contract situation or will it be how this lineup gels together amidst all the national media criticism of the fit of the DeMar DeRozan signing? --- Elbron O.
There’s obviously not just one main storyline. There are many: You name two. What will Billy Donovan’s rotation be as the season progresses? Do they have enough interior rim protection defensively? How will the backcourt co-exist and will Donovan utilize three-guard lineups consistently? Can Patrick Williams be aggressive? Can Lonzo Ball continue the upward trajectory of his career? And on and on and on.
If I had to pick one, I think I would focus on how the new parts mesh together. I don’t think anybody would question that the Bulls upgraded their talent. Now, how will it play out on the court?
Artūras Karnišovas and Marc Eversley clearly have completely reconstructed this roster in a very short period of time with plans of being in the upper half of the East. Given the ages of DeMar DeRozan and, to an extent, Nikola Vučević, do you believe this is a core that will still be on the roster when/if the Bulls are title contenders? Or, is this the core enlisted to bring the Bulls from below average to consistently competitive with the “title contending” core to follow? --- Pat H.
This is a fantastic question.
It has been intriguing to watch and analyze management’s roster construction. There’s a school of thought that posits LaVine is the swing piece that bridges the “older” pieces of Vučević and DeRozan with the younger core of Williams, Coby White and Ball. There’s nothing stopping management from re-signing the “older” pieces if the Bulls do indeed get consistently competitive and they still fit rotationally and financially.
But I really think the plan is as simple as you suggest: Just get back into being consistently competitive, develop the younger pieces, count on LaVine’s progression and then figure it out moving forward. Management has done a lot in a short period of time. Now, you exhale, see how it plays out, try to draft well and maximize roster upgrade opportunities. If nothing else, this management team has proven to be aggressive and nimble.
As a 25-year-old Bulls fan, I haven’t had an offseason like this in my lifetime. I am used to striking out on the Big 3, Stoudemire and ISO Joe in the summer of 2010 and Melo in 2014. This is exactly what I envisioned when we hired a new front office in 2020. The excitement for this team to compete again is palpable, both in the city and nationally. AK and Eves delivered on a completely revamped roster while addressing clear pain points from last season (free-throw attempts, playmaking PG, wing defending, PnR D). I anticipate some early growing pains, but this roster on paper is a playoff team.
What are the early to mid-season indicators you’ll be looking for to truly see if this is the team that can reverse the fortunes of a dormant franchise for the last half-decade? (For example, the 3 Alphas team had a decent amount of hype, got off to a strong start, and then self-destructed) --- Luke D
Defensive rating, for one. I think everybody agrees this team on paper has a ton of potential offensively. What will they be like defensively? In Donovan’s six NBA seasons, he has never coached a team that has finished lower than 12th in defensive rating. He had four top-10 defenses — and one 11th-place finish — in Oklahoma City, and the Bulls finished 12th in Donovan's first season in Chicago. Ball, Alex Caruso and Tony Bradley can help, but does this team have enough interior defense?
I’ll also probably be looking at usage rates, fully expecting LaVine’s to drop. This could be a good thing and perhaps tap into improved defensive play. Then, of course, free-throw attempts and turnovers. Both were season-long issues last season.
How is Coby White's progression and could you see him building off last season? --- Pokes S.
Officially, the team has said White will be re-evaluated in October. It’s clear he has been rehabilitating and working out at the Advocate Center after offseason shoulder surgery. I’ve heard he’s dribbling too, and, as of now, the hopeful projection is a mid-November return. That’s fluid, of course.
As for expectations for White: He started 54 of 69 games last season. I don’t expect that to be his role this season. So look for him to return to the station he filled in his rookie season, albeit with more experience behind him and firepower around him. Placed in catch-and-shoot situations, White can be lethal. Could he be part of some closing lineups? He has the talent and has displayed the ability to have a short memory and hit big shots. Stay tuned.
What future do you think Coby White has with the Bulls now they have more backcourt options? His injury was described as happening during “basketball activities away from the team.” Does this mean contract violation? There were rumors the Bulls tried to move him after the injury but due to its severity, there were no takers. --- Tom H.
I didn’t hear those rumors, nor have I heard any talk of a contract violation. Lots of players participate in basketball activities away from the team. Plenty of players today have their own trainers. I heard it was a freak accident and injury while White was shooting some shots while on vacation.
As for his future, a rotation player on a rookie deal is valuable for this season. Could he be a trade chip moving forward? The Bulls have committed long-term to two guards in Ball and Caruso with LaVine likely to follow next offseason. Again, stay tuned.
Do you think when Coby is back from the injury, he is playing mostly off-guard? --- Prakash H.
I think so much attention got placed on how White isn’t a true starting point guard — including some here — that it overshadowed some of the growth he did make in terms of decision-making and ability to run a team. That said, I do think he’s best in catch-and-shoot and scoring situations. I’m a believer in White because he’s young and he works and wants to get better. I envision this season’s Bulls featuring multiple lineups with versatility, players who are willing passers and interchangeable parts. I also see Donovan utilizing some three-guard lineups. If he regains full health and plays well, I think White plays a strong reserve role this season.
Zach LaVine switching agents and specifically to Klutch: Do you think that portends well for re-signing Zach? --- Bob J.
I’ve theorized all along that management doesn’t make the moves they made this offseason without the intention of committing long-term to LaVine. As for LaVine, he has never given any indication he wants to leave Chicago. I don’t think the agency switch changes that.
And remember: Ball is a Klutch client as well. It's not as if Karnišovas and Co. are strangers.
Do you expect the majority of the team to play in the preseason to get chemistry down? - Jordan B.
Meh. These guys are veterans. That’s where practices will be important too. I’d guess Donovan will operate like most coaches — increase starters’ minutes as the short preseason schedule advances. But I wouldn’t expect regular-season minutes until the final exhibition or perhaps the next-to-last one. Will they play all four games? I’d say that’s likely. But there’s no need to play heavy minutes in the exhibition opener.
The way I see the East is MIL and BKN both MUCH better than everybody else, and then Celtics, Bulls, Indiana, NYK, ATL, "Ben Simmons drama" PHI, and Heat pretty darn close to each other. One of those teams is going to unexpectedly surge ahead of the pack, and another team will likely fall back. Care to make a prediction for both of those scenarios? --- Alejandro Y.
Celtics and Bulls will surge. Knicks and 76ers will fall back. But I’m terrible at predictions.
Thanks for all the questions. Talk to you soon.