After years of ineffective transition, the Bulls finally returned to the playoffs last season. But, with injuries that were accumulating, the franchise arrived in “postseason” in a very sad state, leaving the games of the end of the year with a “gentleman sweep” against the Bucks of Giannis Antetokounmpo.
For the leaders, the first part of the season has nevertheless proved that the construction of the workforce was good, with in particular the arrivals of DeMar DeRozan and Nikola Vucevic. And Zach LaVine therefore convinced his franchise to extend it this summer for the next five years, despite uncertainties regarding his knees.
With Lonzo Ball in charge, Chicago had indeed put on a new costume in the Eastern Conference and can draw a rather positive assessment of this association after a year, even if everything has not been perfect. The fault, in part, to the fragility of the playmaker who missed the entire second part of the season. Which coincided (or caused) with a slide in the standings… Without its leader, the LaVine-DeRozan-Vucevic trident struggled to find its balance, between a Nikola Vucevic forced to deviate more and more from the racket in Billy Donovan’s game, or the need for the DeRozan-LaVine tandem to have the ball in hand to create their shots.
Even without Lonzo Ball, whose knee has not recovered and who could still be absent for long weeks, even long months, the Bulls triplet has the qualities to hurt a lot, but also clear limits (especially defensive) that must be compensated. It is thus a team capable of evolving at a very high level but which has also experienced its air holes, as when Chicago aligned 15 losses in 21 games, which tarnished the whole.
Cross your fingers to avoid injury
The other adjustment variable for the Bulls lies in the choice of “role players”, and this was rather good, between the arrivals of Alex Caruso, or even Derrick Jones Jr, and the choice of Ayo Dosunmu at the Draft. But there again, in this sector, the accumulation of injuries did not allow Billy Donovan to find collective continuity.
Because the end of the exercise was not really happy, between the doubts and concerns around the state of health of Zach LaVine and therefore this rather dry elimination against the defending champion, Milwaukee, in the first round. On arrival, the balance sheet is half fig half grape, with the enthusiasm carried by the start of the season (Chicago was leading the Eastern Conference on January 7, with 26 wins for 10 losses) and this end of the campaign weighed down by injuries (20 wins for 26 losses to finish) which cooled everyone.
The following ? It will therefore always be written with the same trio, and this is already good news. Chicago made its adjustments by recruiting Andre Drummond to replace Tristan Thompson, and enlisting Goran Dragic to ensure a reliable alternative to position 1, while Lonzo Ball again had knee surgery.
Alongside them, elements like Coby White, Ayo Dosunmu, Derrick Jones Jr. will have another year, while the return of Patrick Williams should stabilize the workforce.
The roster still seems solid. He will have to remain so throughout the regular season and especially that he crosses his fingers to be spared from injury, in order to show that the level of play displayed during the first part of last season was indeed that at which the Billy Donovan’s troupe can play. Over time.
– Arrivals : Andre Drummond (Brooklyn), Goran Dragic (Brooklyn), Dalen Terry (Draft)
– Departures: Troy Brown Jr (Lakers), Matt Thomas (Free agent), Tristan Thompson (Free agent)
PLAYER TO WATCH: ZACH LAVINE
Water has flowed under the bridge since the arrival of Zach LaVine in Windy City in the exchange involving Jimmy Butler, on the evening of the 2017 Draft. The rear / winger was then still a little frail, but promised to a great future. Five years later, Zach LaVine has grown well, with a more robust physique and offensive panoply.
Around him too, things have also evolved in the right direction since Nikola Vucevic, then DeMar DeRozan came to strengthen the workforce and give a new dimension to the Bulls. At the end of the season, Zach LaVine had maintained doubts about the continuation he was going to give to his career by saying that he was going to study all offers.
Finally, Chicago confirmed its scorer in the role of “franchise player” by offering him a maximum contract of 215 million dollars over five years despite his knee injury which complicated his second part of the season. All’s well that ends well, or almost.
Zach LaVine will therefore be the leader of the team, and if something goes wrong, it will be on him that eyes will turn first. Among the challenges he will have to face this season, there will first be the health aspect, since he will have to prove that he is indeed back at 100%. Beyond the sporting side and his performance, he will also have to improve on leadership by finding ways to make his teammates better.
Average age: 26.5
Payroll: $156.6 million (18th)
THE IDEAL SCENARIO
The Bulls confirm their encouraging 2021/22 season by showing consistency throughout the campaign. The DeRozan-LaVine-Vucevic trident finds the right carburation and the “role players” blend perfectly into the collective, between the contribution of veterans Goran Dragic and Andre Drummond and the progression of younger elements like Ayo Dosunmu or Patrick Williams, essential in its role as a defensive stabilizer.
Apart from the unfortunate Lonzo Ball, who nevertheless returns during the campaign to help the team at the end of the season, the physical glitches spare the rest of the group, including Zach LaVine, who still manages to pass a milestone in leadership for bring his team to the gates of the Top 4 in the East. Chicago thus qualifies for the second time in a row in the playoffs, a first for eight years, and this time manages to do better than figuration.
The season is already successful when the Bulls pass a round of playoffs. The group’s potential is clear and the franchise is becoming very attractive again, taking another step in the right direction.
The balance between DeMar DeRozan, Zach LaVine and Nikola Vucevic remains fragile. The three are illustrated in turn but it is still difficult to distinguish a real collective force which emerges from the group of Billy Donovan. The end of last season finally left more traces than expected, in the heads but also on the bodies.
Because this is where the coming season is played out, in terms of the health of the players. That of Zach LaVine is finally worrying and prevents the rear / winger from giving his full measure, which contributes to install frustration and tension within the group. Same thing for the case of Lonzo Ball, who cannot even return, especially since the option Goran Dragic and his 36 years does not turn out to be as judicious as expected.
Unlike the start of last season, which was rather encouraging, Chicago is stalling and can’t get rid of the soft belly. The offensive talent of DeMar DeRozan and Zach LaVine allows the team to hang at least the “play-in” but it is far from the initial ambitions of the club, which questions the viability of its trio of All- Stars, who still can’t win against the big teams, and clearly seem below the leaders of the East.