The Chicago Bulls ended a four-year playoff drought, found success in the duo of Zach LaVine and DeMar DeRozan, and at one point were at the top of the Eastern Conference after a hot start to the season. However, injuries to LaVine, Lonzo Ball, Alex Caruso and Patrick Williams derailed what was once a promising season. On the bright side, three of those four guys are now fully healthy to enter the season, but the downside is the Bulls will be after undergoing a second knee surgery this year.
The sobering news of Ball's status aside, the Bulls still figure to be in the playoff mix this season. But the team will have to figure out how to navigate the year without its starting point guard, especially when nearly everyone else around them in the East has improved.
Ahead of the 2022-23 season, here's a quick breakdown of Chicago's offseason, and a preview of some key storylines to watch for when the season tips off in a few weeks.
- Signed free agent Goran Dragic
- Signed free agent Andre Drummond
- Selected Dalen Terry with the No. 18 pick in the draft
Derrick Jones Jr.
Top of the key: Staying afloat without Ball
Without a doubt, the biggest storyline circling the Bulls is the status of Lonzo Ball and how the team will carry on without him for the time being. Ball recently underwent a second knee surgery after tearing his meniscus in January, and he has had several setbacks in his rehab process over the last nine months. He's expected to be reevaluated in 4-6 weeks, but the Bulls aren't putting any parameters on when to expect him back on the floor just yet. With Ball sidelined for the foreseeable future, Chicago has to figure out who will fill his role in the meantime.
On media day, head coach Billy Donovan said he was waiting to see how training camp plays out to see who will fill that starting point guard void, while listing off all the positive qualities that Goran Dragic, Ayo Dosunmu, Alex Caruso and Coby White bring the team. Those will be the four guys Donovan has to pick from to fill Ball's role, and while having options is nice, it doesn't make the decision any easier. If defense is the priority, which it probably should be considering how porous Chicago was on the end of that floor last season, then Caruso should be the obvious choice. Last season, the Bulls allowed 8.5 fewer points when Caruso was on the floor, which was ranked in the 96th percentile of the league, per Cleaning the Glass. Putting Caruso in Ball's place ensures minimal drop off on the defensive side of the ball, however, his lackluster shooting numbers from a season ago are worrisome. The Bulls need Caruso to knock down 3s on offense if he's going to start, otherwise it will cause spacing issues for DeRozan and LaVine.
If Donovan wants more of an offensive punch, then Dragic could be the top choice. The 36-year-old guard was Chicago's prized free agent signing, and while he may be well past his prime, his performance during EuroBasket for Slovenia proved The Dragon still has plenty of fire left to get downhill and get to his midrange spots. However, starting Dragic would hurt the Bulls on defense. The same goes for White, who was excellent in knocking down 3s a season ago, but is a liability on the other end of the floor.
Dosunmu provides a nice balance on both ends of the floor for Chicago. He's not nearly the defender Caruso is, and he's not going to control a game on offense like Dragic is capable of. However, the second-year guard proved in his rookie season that he's able to step into that starting role when needed. He was efficient enough on offense to keep the defense honest, and his high energy and work ethic was good enough to not be a total liability on defense. That happy medium Dosunmu provides may win out for the Bulls in the end as they await the return of Ball, whenever that is.
Next up: Big expectations for Williams
From the quotes that came out of media day, it sounds like the Bulls have high expectations for Williams to take that oft-mentioned third-year leap. At least that's what they hope happens. During exit interviews last season Williams said his goal for his third year was to be more aggressive, but exactly what does that entail? Well, according to Donovan, it's wide reaching.
"I think the hardest thing to do as a young player when you're playing with a guy like Vooch, Zach and DeMar and experienced players is, when do I shoot? When do I pass? When do I drive? How do I be aggressive? When can I be aggressive? I think now he's starting to understand where his spots are, and then in his spots, he has got to be in a position where he's attacking and being aggressive," Donovan said at media day. "That may be running the floor, getting on the offensive glass, coming off screening action, catching the ball in the pocket. Just to have a mentality of try to create an advantage to the next play. And I think he can do that, he has shown signs to do that, but we've got to continually push him in that situation."
Donovan wasn't the only one at media day who was optimistic about Williams. LaVine noted how the third-year forward worked out with his personal trainer, Drew Hanlen quite a bit this summer, and how the team has "all the confidence in the world" in him. DeRozan shared how he took Williams under his wing during the offseason, putting him through strenuous workouts and saying he has "big" expectations for the promising forward.
We've seen Williams show flashes of being a solid two-way player, but the Bulls need him to be consistent enough to make an impact on a nightly basis. Given that Chicago was resistant to include Williams in a potential trade to land Jerami Grant at the deadline last season, it makes sense that the Bulls are banking on him blossoming into a quality player. But unlike other prospects who can take more time to develop on lottery-bound squads, Williams is on a win-now team that needs him to take that leap if the the Bulls want to go from a playoff team to serious threat in the Eastern Conference.
One more thing: DeRozan-LaVine 2.0
DeRozan was asked at media day what it's going to be like having a "healthy Zach" this season after the All-Star guard was bothered by a knee injury since the break. "A healthy Zach makes our lives a lot easier," he said.
"A lot of my lows last year was Zach being out, and we always talked about making things easier on one another, and being so up and down, not having each other made it tough on both of us. So having a healthy Zach, a healthy me going into it, it just makes our job and everybody else's job a lot easier."
DeRozan also issued somewhat of a warning to other teams in the league now that LaVine is back healthy, and the two have built-in chemistry from last season.
"It can be very, very exciting and scary for other people at the same time," DeRozan said. "I can't tell you how many times I talked to him this summer, just checking on him, getting that leg back together. I want to be with a healthy Zach. A full year of that -- it's something I dream about every single night."
We saw last season how potent this duo can be when they're both healthy and sharing the floor together. So just imagine how much damage they'll be able to do on offense after a full season of playing together, and with LaVine healthy. A scary sight indeed.
Out of the gate the Bulls have a pretty tough schedule, playing the Miami Heat, Cleveland Cavaliers and Boston Celtics all within their first five games. That home opener against the Cavaliers will be a huge test for the Bulls to see how they can hang with a Cleveland team that got some offensive firepower when it traded for Donovan Mitchell. It'll be the first of four meetings between them, and it'll give Chicago a taste of what to expect from Cleveland this season. Another matchup to circle within the first two months is their first meeting with the Milwaukee Bucks. Chicago fell to the 2021 champs in five games in the first round of the playoffs, and now the Bulls will get their first shot at revenge.
A mid-December meeting with the Knicks should be entertaining given how tightly contested most of those meetings were a season ago. Then in January the Bulls will have the opportunity to take on the defending champions, and potentially erase what was their worst loss (42-point defeat) a year ago. That was also the game that LaVine injured himself and was the unofficial start of Chicago's decline. Surely the players will have that game circled for a number of reasons. To round out the schedule is a trip to Paris, where the Bulls will take on the Detroit Pistons.
- Oct. 22 vs. Cleveland Cavaliers
- Nov. 23 at Milwaukee Bucks
- Dec. 14 vs. New York Knicks
- Jan. 15 vs. Golden State Warriors
- Jan. 19 vs. Detroit Pistons (in Paris)