Breaking Down the Chicago Bulls Very Active 2021 Free Agency - by Lucas Warren
NBA free agency started yesterday and we’ve seen a lot of moves but the two most active teams thus far have probably been the Miami Heat and Chicago Bulls. Today we’re gonna talk about the latter team the Chicago Bulls so without further ado let’s get started. As of today the Bulls have made three deals this off-season. The first move they made was a sign-and-trade for New Orleans guard Lonzo Ball who was signed to a four year $85 million dollar contract. In return Chicago sent the Pelicans Tomas Satoreansky, Garret Temple, and a future second round pick. Later that day the Bulls signed Lakers guard Alex Caruso to a four year $37 million dollar contract. Most everyone thought that was it for the Bulls but just a few hours ago they made another big sign-and-trade with the San Antonio Spurs trading guard DeMar DeRozan and signing him to a three year $85 million dollar deal and in return sending the Spurs Thaddius Young, Al-Farouq Aminu, a future first round pick and two second round picks. So now let me break down what I think of each deal.
My favorite of the three deals they made is definitely the Ball sign-and-trade. Lonzo Ball’s on-court fit with the Bulls is very good on paper as he is a good playmaker and 3 point shooter and doesn’t need the ball to be effective. So that means Zach LaVine can still be the primary ball handler for this team which I think would be in the best interest for the Bulls as he was one of the most efficient isolation scorers last season and has improved every year as a passer. Ball is also a great team defender, he’s not the kind of defender you put on the other team's best offensive weapon, I think that will be Patrick Williams role, but at 6’6” Ball is very switchable and will allow the Bulls to execute a switch heavy defensive scheme with no player in their starting line up being under 6’6”. On top of that Ball is very cerebral as a defender being able to jump into passing lanes and recognize plays as they develop and react accordingly. And at only 23 years old Ball has a lot of room to grow and can be a part of Chicago's long term plans as a franchise.
I also like the Alex Caruso signing a lot for the Bulls. Caruso has become a fan favorite for the Lakers during his tenure and for good reason, he’s a winning player. Caruso came into this league as an undrafted rookie after 4 years at Texas A&M and had to earn his roster spot during the summer league for the Los Angeles Lakers. The Lakers would end up winning the summer league tournament and had a lot of stand out players on the roster like Kyle Kuzma, his new teammate Lonzo Ball, and of course Alex Caruso. The reason I bring all this up is because Caruso plays with that kind of hunger you just do not see out of 1st round picks. Caruso will dive for every loose ball, fight for a momentum changing offensive rebound, or take a charge in a crucial moment. Caruso is the type of smart and savvy player that is always in the right spot and
the right time and makes the types of plays that win championships. Caruso is also 6’5”, strong, and moves his feet well so he is able to switch pretty comfortably one through four. Offensively Caruso is a little limited but he is good at attacking off the dribble, is decent at catch and shoot threes, and is a smart off-ball cutter. Some NBA fans might not be as excited about this signing but Caruso is the type of player that while his box score numbers are underwhelming he does so many positive things throughout the game that contributes to winning basketball.
Now if this is where the Bulls off-season moves ended I would feel good about it, but as I said earlier the Bulls made a deal with the Spurs to sign and trade all-star guard DeMar DeRozan. Personally this is my least favorite of the three deals they’ve made so far and I think this and the Vucevic trade are two huge swings the Bulls have made recently that carry a lot of risk. There are a few reasons why I don’t love this move for the Bulls.
Firstly DeRozan is 31 years old so like Vuvevic, who is 30, they aren’t on the same time schedule as a lot of players on the roster. Now obviously something like this can work out, it just did for the Phoenix Suns putting veteran guard Chris Paul around a young nucleus of players and they saw great results from that. I just find it slightly concerning that two for your best four players are significantly older than a lot of your supporting cast. And unlike the Suns a lot of the young supporting cast for the Bulls is unproven with guys like Coby White, Lauri Markkanen, and Patrick Williams. The second reason I don’t love this move is the actual on-court fit. DeRozan is a two or three who likes to operate out of the midrange and scores heavily in isolation, he’s become a very good passer throughout the years but is definitely more of a score first guard. The reason I don’t love this fit is because his skill set is very redundant to the Bulls star and number one option Zach LaVine. LaVine is also a score first guard who likes to isolate or run pick rolls and unlike DeRozan is comfortable scoring at all 3 levels. The reason I don’t love this fit is because I assume the Bulls are going to make LaVine their number 1 option yet DeRozan’s skill set is not best served in an off-ball role so I do have some concern that they won’t gel well offensively and that it will boil down to a his turn my turn kinda situation.
The final reason why I don’t love this deal is the stress it puts on the Bulls both financially and from an asset standpoint. The Bulls salary cap number will be revealed at the end of free agency but at the moment it is likely they will either be right at the cap or slightly over it. They also sent a future first round pick in the DoRozan deal but with already owing the Magic either their 2023 first (top four protected) or 2024 first (top three protected) they will have to send the Spurs either their 2025 first or 2026 first. This is concerning to me because they pretty much have to win with the team they have now, and while I think they have a lot of talent on the roster no one is a proven winner so it is definitely not a foregone conclusion that this team will contend in a pretty top loaded eastern conference.
Nonetheless, DeMar DeRozan is a very talented basketball player and for a team that has struggled for as long as the Bulls have when you can get a player of his caliber you do it and worry about the picks and finances later. So while I don’t think the Bulls are now legitimate contenders in the East they undoubtedly became more talented and are a very interesting team to watch out for in the next NBA season.