The Bulls have had themselves quite an offseason, continuing the dramatic overhaul of the roster that began right before the trade deadline. There are still some smaller moves to make to fill out the roster (Paul Millsap?), but the big work is done after finally finding a deal, for Lauri Markkanen.
There’s no doubt the front office has supplied this roster with an influx of talent from last season’s trade deadline on through this offseason. When looking at Seth Partnow’s player tiers of the top 125 players in the league over at The Athletic, the Bulls now have five players on the list: Zach LaVine, Nikola Vucevic, DeMar DeRozan, Lonzo Ball and Alex Caruso. Before last season, there were just two players in LaVine and Otto Porter Jr.
We’re still waiting on the results of the tampering investigation into the Ball sign-and-trade, but the Bulls aren’t going to lose Ball. Even if getting dinged for tampering would be unfortunate, what matters here is this front office made Ball its top target and got him, setting the tone for the bold offseason.
However, while there has been plenty of praise for the Bulls’ offseason, there’s also a lot of skepticism and criticism concerning how much the Bulls gave up to amass this talent.
Sports Illustrated’s Michael Pina actually defended the DeRozan move and gave the Bulls a B+ grade pre-Markkanen trade, which we can only assume is now an A based on his blurb that reads, “A for effort, even if that’s not actually the grade we’re giving until Lauri Markkanen’s situation is resolved.”
The Bulls’ offseason got one vote for “the best move(s) of the offseason” survey question on ESPN (done before the Markkanen trade) and The Athletic’s David Aldridge ranked it the fourth-best in the NBA. Aldridge loved the fact that Chicago actually targeted a group of coveted free agents and hit on them. Similarly, Robby Kalland over at Dime on UPROXX praised the front office for “just going for it,” even with questions about the ceiling.
Coach Nick of BBALLBREAKDOWN had a nice breakdown of how these moves will help the Bulls have an elite offense and make noise in the East:
Furthermore, one Charles Barkley thinks the Bulls had the best offseason in the NBA, so they have that going for them ... or maybe that’s a curse.
On the flip side, as mentioned, the DeRozan deal specifically has had its share of critics. It actually came in a bit lower than initially reported (about $81.9 million rather than $85 million), but that doesn’t change the calculus of these critiques. Pelton gave the move a D-, Partnow, Danny Leroux and Sam Vecenie all questioned it to varying degrees in this lengthy conversation at The Athletic (there’s also some praise for the Bulls mixed in) and John Hollinger called it the “biggest head scratcher of 2021 free agency.” And that ESPN survey? The DeRozan acquisition tied with the Pelicans’ offseason as “the worst move(s) of the offseason.” . ESPN’s Kevin Pelton praised the Lonzo Ball and Alex Caruso additions, but ultimately gave the Bulls a C+ after factoring in the DeRozan trade.
Now, to actually perform on the court:
Even with more absolute talent, early power rankings aren’t exactly loving Chicago. ESPN has the Bulls at 10th in the East and No. 19 in the NBA. NBA.com’s John Schuhmann has Chicago at No. 8 in the East right now. The Bulls were the biggest mover up in Colin Ward-Henninger’s recent power rankings at CBS Sports, but they’re still just at No. 9 in the East and No. 16 in the league. Bleacher Report’s Greg Swartz gives them a 10-spot jump to get to No. 13 overall and seventh in the East.
I don’t think too much of this is all that unfair. Some of the hate for the DeRozan deal has been a bit over the top, even though I had my reservations at first, but nothing is guaranteed for Chicago in 2021-22. With a seemingly improved Eastern Conference, the Bulls will need a lot to go right to avoid the play-in tournament. It absolutely can happen given the talent level, but there will be some growing pains, especially with the difficult start to the season.
It’s up to the Bulls to just go out and win some damn basketball games, and maybe the experts will change their minds.