The Chicago Bulls flipped the calendar on 2022 with Saturday’s last-second loss to the Cleveland Cavaliers.
Those teams will stage a rematch on Monday in Cleveland. But there are bigger picture items to come in 2023.
Here are three things we’d like to see this calendar year:
Management consistently has stressed continuity with this roster. So if a trade is made, it’s just as likely to be as a buyer to fortify their current core.
But the most prudent pathway may be to move one of the Bulls’ Big Three. In the case of DeMar DeRozan or Zach LaVine, the right deal could help the franchise reset rather than rebuild.
The Bulls’ Big Three may not be a failure. But it does have a ceiling, particularly with the future of Lonzo Ball unknown. Ball seemed to be the straw the stirred the drink to unlock the trio’s fullest potential.
Trading DeRozan could help the Bulls do a reset on the fly, much like the Utah Jazz did when it parted ways with franchise stalwarts Donovan Mitchell and Rudy Gobert. The Jazz remain competitive this season, with a stockpile of draft assets from both deals and a potential All-Star in Lauri Markkanen acquired in the Mitchell transaction.
Trading DeRozan also takes the Bulls away from the decision on whether to extend him or not; he’s extension-eligible this offseason and signed through 2023-24. While DeRozan is still playing at an All-NBA level and possesses the type of game that will seemingly age gracefully, the Bulls can’t tie their future to two players in their 30s like DeRozan and Nikola Vučević.
As a player headed to unrestricted free agency this offseason, Vučević won’t net the return DeRozan or LaVine would. But losing him for nothing this offseason should he choose to sign elsewhere would be difficult for a franchise that traded two first-round picks and Wendell Carter Jr. for him.
As for LaVine, he’s in the first of a five-year maximum contract that may only entice franchises looking to make a big splash like the major markets of the Los Angeles Lakers or New York Knicks. The Lakers’ only draft capital lies in first-round picks in 2027 and 2029, which don’t seem to fit with executive vice president Artūras Karnišovas’ aggressively competitive side.
At 27, LaVine also represents the Bulls’ best bridge piece between the current win-now mentality and need to develop the younger stable of players like Patrick Williams and Ayo Dosunmu. But how long will LaVine be content playing the second option to DeRozan? Sources said LaVine has questioned his role internally at times.
The return of Lonzo Ball
For 35 games, Ball played with a selflessness that produced aesthetically pleasing basketball. He pushed pace offensively. He launched 3-pointers effortlessly. He defended endlessly.
And then, in almost a cruel coincidence, a knee injury occurred, a timeline for return to play followed and that timeline passed without a guard returning.
Ball isn’t Derrick Rose, who won a most valuable player award before his first significant knee injury. But he is one of those players who makes winning plays and makes his teammates better. He produces similarly electric plays at times.
Ball’s knee injury has required two surgical procedures, and there’s still no timeline for him to return. Hearing him address the injury publicly is almost painful; one can hear how much he misses the game.
Rose enjoyed a renaissance following his rocky injury road, albeit not reaching his same lofty heights. Here’s hoping Ball gets that chance as well.
Ayo Dosunmu re-signed
The local product is a restricted free agent this offseason. The Bulls have made clear how much they value Dosunmu. But management said similar things about Markkanen and then failed to find common ground on an extension.
Dosunmu looks poised for a double-digit year career. He’s tough, versatile and contributes whether he starts or comes off the bench. While he still can improve his shooting and ability to run a team, he’s reliable and relentless. In-game failure doesn’t deter him.
As a player who fell to the second round, Dosunmu signed a modest, two-year $2.5 million deal. He stands to earn a significant raise. Would a three-year, $30 million deal get the job done? Time will tell. But the Bulls should make every effort to make this negotiation a smooth one.