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The Longest Summer: Where The Chicago Bulls Go From Here

Our Longest Summer series will look at the eight teams whose seasons are now officially over, and will have to wait until mid-October to make decisions on what’s next and how to proceed after falling short of the cut-off for a continued 2019-20 campaign.

Following the acquisition of Thaddeus Young and Tomas Satoransky, as well as lottery pick Coby White, the Chicago Bulls were on the radar as a 2019-20 playoff sleeper in the Eastern Conference. Though that kind of push didn’t come to fruition, the Bulls were competitive at times and, with the acknowledgement of injuries to Otto Porter and Wendell Carter Jr. and a point differential much better than their record, Chicago wasn’t exactly lucky on the way to a 22-win showing.

Still, the Bulls have a lot of work to do in order to form a legitimate contender, as evidenced by the fact that Chicago was omitted from the NBA’s 22-team bubble restart. Along the way, there are key decisions to make for new front office chief Arturas Karnisovas, and Chicago’s 2020 offseason could be pivotal in outlining their immediate future as a franchise.

2020 Free Agents

Kris Dunn (RFA), Denzel Valentine (RFA), Shaq Harrison (RFA), Otto Porter (player option)

2020 Projected salary cap space (assuming $115 million salary cap)

None, per Early Bird Rights

Areas of Strength

While there are a few non-bubble teams that are generally void of talent, the Bulls don’t quite fit that description. Zach LaVine is a proven 25-point scorer, Lauri Markkanen is an interesting talent and the club also has recent lottery picks in White and Carter Jr. to feature in their rebuild. In addition, the Bulls were able to construct an average (or better) defense in 2019-20, based on an aggressive scheme that maximized their talent on that end of the floor. It wasn’t perfect, but things aren’t completely lost.

Areas of Need

The Bulls… probably need a franchise player. With all respect to LaVine, his flaws are such that it would be hard to envision a legitimate contender being built with him as the No. 1 offensive option. Beyond that, players like White, Carter and Markkanen have considerable talent, but none are likely to reach that kind of ceiling. The Bulls also struggled mightily on the glass this season, and it is a team that has desperate needs on the wing, especially if Porter’s injury woes continue.

Biggest Decisions

Chicago is set to operate over the cap this summer, indicating that they’ll be able to use their mid-level exception but not much else. Markkanen is extension-eligible and, if the Bulls are able to lock him in at a discount, that could be appealing. Aside from that, however, Chicago must try to acquire (likely via MLE) a starting-caliber wing/forward to deploy next to LaVine and help out defensively. The Bulls also have their own lottery pick and, on a lesser level, a decision on Kris Dunn will be needed, both in whether to tender a qualifying offer and how much monetary investment the team is willing to offer. There’s also the looming question of whether Jim Boylen will be the coach next season, or if Karnisovas will want to bring in his preferred coach during this lengthy offseason period.

Overall Offseason Focus

It would be fair to say that Chicago’s roster is a bit better than their 2019-20 record would indicate, especially if Porter Jr. opts in (likely) and stays healthy (less assured). The Bulls do need sweeping changes in order to really make a leap, however, and aiming for star power, either in the draft or via trade using that selection, is a necessity at some point in the cycle. Chicago does have a new front office structure as well, leaving even more uncertainty, but the Bulls are a team to closely monitor as they make significant decisions about their core in the coming months.