It was an offseason of change for the Chicago Bulls … kind of. They have a new lead executive (Arturas Karnisovas), a new general manager (Marc Eversley) and a new coach (Billy Donovan). The core of last year's 22-43 team will return, as will most of its role players. There are additions -- most notably rookie forward Patrick Williams, selected No. 4 overall, and veteran guard Garrett Temple -- but they are counting on improving through coaching, player development and health.
Typically, a new front office wants to put its stamp on the roster. In an extreme example, the New Orleans Pelicans made sweeping changes in the draft, free agency and the trade market in the summer of 2019 after hiring David Griffin, and not a single player he inherited remains on the roster today. The Bulls are on the other end of the spectrum, and at media day Karnisovas said they would use this season "to look at our roster and evaluate and see what the long-term goals will be."
In other words, the front office will find out whether or not last season's team underachieved. Under coach Jim Boylen, the Bulls ranked 29th in offensive rating and won only two games against teams that finished the season with a winning record. There had been some buzz about them making a playoff push after adding Thaddeus Young and Tomas Satoransky in the offseason, but neither of them was as efficient or effective as he was with his previous team.
Donovan's arrival will give Young and Satoransky a chance to remind people why Chicago signed them in the first place. It will give 21-year-old big man Wendell Carter Jr. and 23-year-old big man Lauri Markkanen a chance to make people forget about their respective growing pains. Ideally, the Bulls will be a much more cohesive team, still led by Zach LaVine but less dependent on him and Coby White to create everything.
If they don't prove to be a different team under Donovan, though, this roster could look significantly different by the trade deadline. Karnisovas appears to be taking a patient approach now, but things change quickly in this league.
Taking the temperature
Bulls believer: The last five years have been so bad that I'm having trouble adjusting to feeling so good about the Bulls. They made a massive coaching upgrade, drafted a special prospect and didn't do anything reckless. I never want to think about the 2019-20 season again, and I'm specifically excited to see Carter, Markkanen, Satoransky and Young play like themselves again.
This team is going to be in the mix for a playoff spot. I'm not sure if they'll get in, but I bet Donovan is going to get some Coach of the Year votes as long as they make the play-in tournament.
Bulls skeptic: So everything was Boylen's fault? I remember lots of whining about his aggressive pick-and-roll defense, but they were ninth in defensive rating! I'd say they overachieved on that end, and he should've gotten credit for ignoring the criticism and sticking with a scheme that isn't in vogue right now.
And yes, I am aware that they had the second-worst offense in the league. But they were at least taking shots from the right spots, and it's not Boylen's fault that Porter got hurt, Markkanen stagnated and Carter was passive. It's unfair to Donovan to expect him to coax a good offense out of this bunch, and I can't believe anyone is even thinking about the playoffs.
Bulls believer: Well, the Bulls aren't going to blitz like that this year, and I guess we'll see what happens with their defense. I assume they'll give up fewer wide-open corner 3s.
Didn't I just say I never want to think about last season again? Ugh, fine: Offense isn't just about shot location, and framing it that way is one of my biggest pet peeves. A good offense produces a good shot profile, not the other way around! You could watch any random Bulls game and see that half of their players were completely uncomfortable in the system. That won't be the case anymore.
Bulls skeptic: What about LaVine? He was better than ever as a scorer, and he drastically cut down his midrange attempts. He might not have liked it, but as an opponent, I would be much more worried about the version of LaVine that takes eight 3s a game much more than the one who takes five a game and can be baited into tough 2s. Shouldn't Boylen get credit for that?
Beyond that, White was showing real progress toward the end of the season. Where are the offensive weapons that were supposedly stifled? What approach would have made Markkanen and Satoransky strike fear into defenses? The Bulls were bad on offense mostly because they didn't have good enough offensive players, and that will remain the case until the front office makes some real changes.
Bulls believer: Nice try, but the entire point of an offensive system is to make a team more than the sum of its parts. The Bulls were the first team I thought about when I read Andre Iguodala's comments about the game being "dumbed down." Satoransky and Young are smart offensive players, and asking them to stand on the perimeter and take catch-and-shoot 3s is doing them and their teammates a disservice. You're right that the Bulls don't have a ton of bucket getters beyond LaVine and White, which is precisely why they need better ball movement and player movement than they had last year.
Bulls skeptic: I hope they do have more movement. They can and should be a more aesthetically pleasing offensive team than they were under Boylen. And I agree that there are a few players on the roster who will likely have more fun this year, if only because they appeared to be having such a horrible time last year. I just don't know how much of a difference any of this will make.
When the Bulls finally got a new front office, I figured they'd be open for business. Instead, Karnisovas let restricted free agents Kris Dunn and Shaquille Harrison walk, signed Temple, drafted Williams and … that's about it. Williams looks promising, but the Bulls are still going to have issues with turnovers, fouls and getting to the free throw line. They're still going to struggle on the defensive glass. They're still going to shoot poorly. Sounds like a bad team to me.
Bulls believer: I can't believe you left out Devon Dotson. Anyway, I loved the way Dunn and Harrison defended, but getting rid of them means the Bulls will shoot better. I also imagine they'll foul less in a more conventional defensive scheme and take better care of the ball in Donovan's offensive system.
I get that the Bulls don't appear to have made that many changes, but adding Williams and Temple to the rotation is huge. Even as someone who loved the Williams pick, I have been blown away by how ready he has looked in the preseason. I also think the general public underestimated Porter's importance to this team. They've gone from being a complete mess to being a normal, competent team. This is progress.
Eye on: Devon Dotson
Dotson surprisingly went undrafted, and the Bulls scooped him up on a two-way deal on draft night. He's a lightning-fast guard who spent two seasons at Kansas running the show and pressuring opposing point guards.
It will be tough for Dotson to find minutes with White, Satoransky and Ryan Arcidiacono ahead of him in the rotation. None of those guys have his speed in transition, though, and if his defense translates then he'd give the Bulls a completely different look at the point. The knock on Dotson is that he isn't much of a 3-point shooter, but he shot an encouraging 83 percent from the free throw line as a sophomore.