30 Teams in 30 Days | 2022

30 Teams in 30 Days: With Zach LaVine back, Bulls look to take next step on East climb

DeMar DeRozan and Chicago believe they have the pieces to compete among the East elite.

The Bulls have All-Star duo Zach LaVine and DeMar DeRozan leading the way.

Chicago Bulls

2021-22 record: 46-36

Key additions: Goran Dragic, Andre Drummond (free agency), Dalen Terry (draft)

Key subtractions: Troy Brown Jr. (free agency)

Last season: Helped by the MVP-caliber play of DeMar DeRozan, Chicago was one of the league’s better teams at the All-Star break. Then the Bulls tapered a bit, fell in the East pecking order and then suffered a first-round ouster from the defending champion Bucks. Therefore, after a rapid rise, it was a steady decline, a tale of two seasons wrapped into one. DeRozan was superb, especially in late-game situations, and went beyond projections after being signed by the Bulls in the previous offseason (remember the loud howl when the Bulls paid him handsomely in free agency?). He and Zach LaVine proved to be a lethal 1-2 punch. But the Bulls dealt with injuries to Lonzo Ball and, to a lesser extent, Patrick Williams and couldn’t sustain their steam through an entire season and playoffs.  

Summer summary: The bill came due for the Bulls, whose biggest offseason move was basically paying LaVine and therefore ending any suspense that he might look to relocate elsewhere in free agency. 

In that sense, it was a victory for the team and the player. For the Bulls, keeping LaVine was paramount to their goal of staying in the mix as a contender. They really didn’t have much choice, because LaVine was virtually irreplaceable. Had he fled, the Bulls couldn’t add a player of his caliber because of the salary cap. Anyway, such a player wasn’t freely available on the market. LaVine is just 27 and in his prime, became a much better shooter in the last few years and his defense … well, that remains a work in progress. But he isn’t the liability in that area as he was a few years ago. The key question is whether the knee injury he suffered in March will follow him into next season and beyond; obviously, the Bulls did their due diligence from a medical standpoint before writing the check.

For LaVine, staying in Chicago obviously meant bank — he signed for the maximum $215 million over five years; nobody could offer him nearly as much, and probably nobody was willing or able to deliver big, anyway. Also, LaVine has stability in his professional life after starting in Minnesota and staying three years; star players would rather not join three and four teams if they’re happy where they’re at. And by all accounts, LaVine is content in Chicago, where he’s in a big market, has a meaty role and is with a franchise that for the most part has done whatever necessary to build a winner. 

Once LaVine was done, the Bulls turned their attention to patching up their rotation with veterans on the cheap, and overall the team came away with a decent haul. 

Dragic was a solid pickup, a crafty point guard who still has a little left in the tank. Dragic had superb runs in both Phoenix and Miami when he was at his peak. At this stage, even though he’s kept himself in great shape, he’s probably best at 15 minutes a night, which is insurance for Ball and gives the Bulls another player who knows his way around the floor.

Drummond represents some interior depth, a center who remains an elite rebounder, someone who can routinely get double-figures in that area depending on the amount of minutes he plays. The Bulls were second from the bottom in rebounding last season so it’s a natural fit. He’s a superior rebounder than Nikola Vucecic although the comparisons stop there. Drummond’s offensive game has regressed sharply over the last few years and he’s not an option in the game plan anymore at that end of the floor.

With the 18th draft pick, the Bulls took Terry, a guard from Arizona. He had a defensive reputation during his two years in college but, on a veteran Bulls team, he’ll probably spend a minute in the G League next season.

The Bulls avoided any other wholesale changes mainly because they feel their team hasn’t peaked, and are anxious to see the rotation with a healthy Ball and an improved Williams, among other players. The goal was to keep LaVine and lengthen the rotation, and from that standpoint, mission accomplished.

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Up next: Indiana Pacers | Previously: Philadelphia 76ers

> 30 teams in 30 days: Complete schedule

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Shaun Powell has covered the NBA for more than 25 years. You can e-mail him here, find his archive here and follow him on Twitter.

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