The Chicago Bulls are coming off a slightly disappointing season. There is no doubt that injuries played a factor, as they did with many other teams last season. Lonzo Ball only played 35 games and his future health is in question as well. Alex Caruso also only played 41 regular-season games. What was supposed to be a lockdown defensive backcourt ended up being anything but that. Patrick Williams also missed most of the season.
Five-time All-Star DeMar DeRozan was able to keep Chicago afloat enough to keep themselves firmly in the playoffs. He had one of his best scoring seasons ever in his career at nearly 28 points per game. Despite his best efforts, the Chicago Bulls lost to the Milwaukee Bucks in five games. They had a few chances to make the series more competitive, especially with Khris Middleton going down with an injury, but Milwaukee showed their playoff experience and closed out the series strongly.
Now, Chicago finds itself back this year with a healthy squad and eager to make a run. The biggest issue is that the rest of the conference improved too. It’s unlikely Ben Simmons misses an entire season again for the Nets. You have the Cleveland Cavaliers adding Donovan Mitchell to a roster that was already top four in the conference before losing half their starters last season. The Atlanta Hawks acquired All-Star Dejounte Murray while the Knicks added Jalen Brunson. You also have the Philadelphia 76ers having a full season of James Harden with an ascending Tyrese Maxey. Then there are the obvious contenders in the Bucks, Miami Heat and Boston Celtics.
To keep up with the heated Eastern Conference, the Chicago Bulls must adapt.
Are the Chicago Bulls better than one or two of these teams? That’s very possible but are they good enough to stay out of the Play-In Tournament, which requires them to be at least the sixth seed? That seems very unlikely, even if they were able to stay completely healthy all season. With the recent reports indicating that Ball’s knee recovery has been an uphill battle, I don’t see a scenario where Chicago isn’t fighting for their lives to make the playoffs.
Their best hope is that the former number four overall pick, Patrick Williams, makes a big leap. The Florida State product showed great promise during his rookie year and has the potential to be special in the NBA. With big man Nikola Vucevic showing some signs of regression as he gets older, Chicago really needs a multi-dimensional forward like Williams to showcase what he’s got. He has the archetype of a player that you can play at both forward spots and maybe a little as a small ball center.
There is also some hope that sidekick Zach Lavine makes another jump and becomes a superstar. He’s a great three-level scorer that can take the load off of DeRozan. It does seem more likely that he’ll stay more or less the same which is still a really good player.
If Williams can show that he has the ability to be the third-best player on this team then maybe Chicago has a fighting chance to lock in a six-seed or better. As it currently stands, the Bucks, Heat, Celtics, Cavaliers and 76ers are all teams that stand to be better. You also have the Brooklyn Nets and the Atlanta Hawks on the same tier as Chicago.
The Chicago Bulls went all in on their current core to compete for the title, signing most to a lengthy contract. Unfortunately for them, the rest of the Eastern Conference is loaded with talent as well.