Bulls Insider

With NBA Free Agency near, Bulls need to prepare for unexpected

Management wants to address shooting, point guard position beginning Friday

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Presented by Nationwide Insurance Agent Jeff Vukovich

At the onset of the Chicago Bulls’ 2020-21 offseason, much focus centered on the partially guaranteed contracts of Thad Young and Tomáš Satoranský and whether management would operate as an over-the-salary-cap or under-the-cap team entering free agency.

Then, management included both players in sign-and-trade acquisitions of, in Young’s case, DeMar DeRozan from the Spurs and, in Satoranský’s case, Lonzo Ball from the Pelicans.

While such fireworks aren’t expected when NBA free agency opens---ahem---at 5 p.m. Central on Friday, those moves are reminders that the annual moratorium can offer unexpected twists and turns. Teams must prepare for the unexpected.

As it stands, executive vice president Artūras Karnišovas has publicly stated his desire to retain at least three of his own free agents in Nikola Vučević, Coby White and Ayo Dosunmu. The latter two guards are restricted free agents since Karnišovas said publicly they would be tendered qualifying offers, allowing the Bulls to match any offers.

Vučević agreed to an extension on Wednesday, the team confirmed, which sources said is expected to be for three years and roughly $60 million.

The Bulls’ needs are as obvious as they are well documented by now---shooting and stabilizing the point guard position in advance of another season without Ball.

Whether the latter is by a committee of White and Dosunmu, perhaps a return of Patrick Beverley or a fresh face remains to be seen. Proviso East product Jevon Carter is set to enter free agency after declining his player option with the Milwaukee Bucks, although a return to that franchise is in play.

As for shooting, here’s what Karnišovas said last week after the NBA Draft: “We’re trying to change our shooting profile. Being last in the league in rate from 3 and 3-point makes, we’re going to try to address that in the offseason.”

Donte DiVincenzo could be an intriguing option after he declined his player option with the Golden State Warriors. Talk around the league is that local product and former Bull Max Strus is set to land a big payday in free agency.

For all the talk about a Zach LaVine trade, he remains---by far---the Bulls’ biggest weapon from beyond the arc. He has averaged at least 7 attempts each of the last four seasons, never shooting worse than 37.5 percent.

While LaVine certainly represents the Bulls’ biggest trade asset, taking him off the roster only intensifies the need for 3-point shooting. When asked on draft night where LaVine currently stands with the organization, Karnišovas alluded to the play-in loss to the Heat.

“I think we all were disappointed the way the season ended. Zach was one of the guys who was very disappointed with the way it ended in Miami. He went into offseason to get better,” Karnišovas said. “He’s already working out with Ty Abbott, (our) player development (coach) in LA. He’s trying to get better.”

If the Bulls follow the expected route and operate as an over-the-cap team, they will have the non-taxpayer mid-level exception of roughly $12.4 million and biannual exception of $4.5 million to spend. They also must round out the roster with veteran minimum exceptions.

How they handle the projected $165 million luxury tax threshold also will be a point of interest. Karnišovas expressed confidence that ownership would allow him to exceed that figure should he need to, although the Bulls only have paid that tax once in franchise history.

Karnišovas traded for Vučević and hired Billy Donovan as coach in relatively stealth fashion, with little warning of either move beforehand. So perhaps he has some tricks up his sleeve after free agency opens on Friday.

But with Vučević agreeing to his extension on Wednesday, it’s more likely the Bulls retain their core and use salary-cap exceptions to improve shooting and their roster margins.

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