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The Bulls don’t have to “blow it up”, but it’s at least “wait ‘til next year”

this season is over, so have a plan

NBA: Portland Trail Blazers at Chicago Bulls Matt Marton-USA TODAY Sports

Our own Alex Kirschenbaum said it well at his other gig at HoopsRumors, in response to DeMar DeRozan assessing this season as “we’re still right there” after his 3-game absence saw the Bulls go 1-2.

If by “right there” he means barely in the play-in tournament bracket, then he’s right.

Like, what are we even doing, here?

Nobody gets internet points for being ahead of the curve in saying the Bulls need to give up on the season, or going further to give up on the entire ‘core’. But I think my personal breaking point was losing these back-to-back games, even though they were without DeRozan: first against the Wizards missing their 2 best players, and then to the money-laundering franchise that gave them more victories than the Bulls have this season.

Yes, that was followed by a win against the Road Warriors. And while that unit isn’t good (Home Warriors are!), it still reinforced this idea that the Bulls play well against good teams and “down to their opponent” against bad teams.

I don’t think that’s the case: The Bulls are the bad team, other good teams play bad against them because they are playing down to their opponent.

OK, ‘bad’ is a bit of an exaggeration, but they’re certainly below average with an extremely slim margin when trying to earn victories. It’s not a recipe for some startling turnaround.

It’s certainly not a team going far in the playoffs this year. That was the goal stated by Bulls perpetual-honeymoon-phase president Arturas Karnisovas before the season. I think he believes that the goal isn’t yet failed until the playoffs come and go and they’re out in the first round or before. Or maybe he feels it’s unfair and too soon to evaluate until Lonzo Ball saves his team, but that isn’t looking likely at all.

It’s almost needless to say, but this is the Bulls so we have to be extra careful: Karnisovas shouldn’t feel like he has the luxury of evaluation time going past this trade deadline: he needs to think of next year’s team, right now. If it’s actually true that he’s ‘a very competitive person’ - a Paxsonian phrase we’re all too familiar with - decisions should already be made, or at least will be by the trade deadline.

That does not mean Karnisovas has to “blow it up”. That essentially is a fun way to say a very specific thing: “trade DeRozan at peak value”. I understand Karnisovas making an assessment where such a trade is still very unappealing, even if keeping DeRozan means next year’s team’s best player will be 34 years old.

But they do need to evaluate, perhaps prematurely (the horror!), the players who aren’t under contract next season. Starting with the guy who tied his career-high in that Warriors win, Nikola Vucevic. Vuc is going to be an unrestricted free agent heading into his age-33 season. There has been no talk of a contract extension (and he can sign one at any point this season), and if he walks the Bulls won’t be under the cap this offseason to pay starter money for his potential replacement.

There is the possibility of a sign and trade in the summer, but a much better path for Vucevic’s “salary slot” (quotes used, as such a thing is conceptual and not an actual cap mechanism) would be to try and further secure next year’s rotation contributors, if not the starting center spot, this trade deadline.

It’s possible that such a trade damages this year’s chances, but Karnisovas needs to realize this year is toast.

If Karnisovas does what we expect - jack shit - it would not only be another indictment of his job performance the last two seasons (no trades last deadline, not using the MLE, shameful as hell!) but hamper his chances of a better 2023-24 Bulls campaign.

For that team, maybe Lonzo Ball is back. And even without cap space, with the tax line going up they could have over $30M in spending room before lil’ Mike knocks on the office door and says “dad told me nuh-uh”.

(that’s a whole ‘nother post, that whole messed up franchise dynamic)

Get that player in the fold now. Heck, it would even mean more for Karnisovas’s beloved “continuity” to get a head start on next season. It ain’t happening this year.