The Chicago Bulls accelerated their rebirth as a contender in the Eastern Conference before the 2021-2022 season kicked off. With cornerstone player Zach LaVine already in place, Chicago acquired stars Lonzo Ball and DeMar DeRozan. The Bulls acquired both players through sign-and-trade deals with the New Orleans Pelicans and the San Antonio Spurs. During free agency, they signed former Lakers guard Alex Caruso to a $37 million-dollar contract.
With the nucleus of LaVine, Ball, and DeRozan, the Bulls’ front office believed they were formidable enough to contend for a playoff spot. The Bulls started the 2021-2022 season red-hot by becoming a top-seeded team in the Eastern Conference. However, things would take a drastic turn after Ball and Caruso missed action because of injuries. Caruso returned to playing, but Ball was out a lot longer.
Arthroscopic surgery was conducted on his left knee last January. He was expected to return within six-to-eight weeks, but he had a setback in April and did not return for the remainder of the 2021-22 season. At the time of Ball’s injury, the Bulls had a 27-13 record. As a result, Chicago struggled down the stretch and became the sixth seed in the Eastern Conference playoff picture.
The team closed out the regular season with a 19-23 record. They would fall to the Milwaukee Bucks (4-1) in the first round of the Eastern Conference playoffs. Outside of Ball’s injury, there were some positives from the Bulls’ 2021-2022 campaign. DeMar DeRozan reemerged as one of the best shooting guards by averaging 27.9 points per game last season. Coby White showed improvement and has the potential to become an impact player this year.
While other playoff teams in the East made moves to improve their roster, the Bulls opted for continuity. Members from last year’s playoff team are still intact. The team re-signed Zach LaVine to a five-year max contract worth about $215 million. The re-signing of LaVine cleared up multiple rumors of the All-Star guard possibly signing with another team. Chicago’s most recent move is that they signed veteran point guard Gorin Dragić. The decision to sign Dragić is to have a reliable option that can step in and contribute without the presence of starting PG Lonzo Ball. Recent reports have stated that Ball has not fully recovered from the knee surgery conducted in January. The former UCLA standout will not be involved in training camp activities and will not be ready for the start of the regular season.
Projected Starting Five
PG: Alex Caruso
SG: Zach LaVine
SF: DeMar DeRozan
PF: Patrick Williams
Center: Nikola Vucevic
Projected Outlook: Playoff Team, 7th Seed
With teams such as the Boston Celtics, Miami Heat, Cleveland Cavaliers, and the Atlanta Hawks making significant improvements in the conference, it will be difficult for the current Chicago Bulls team to gain traction as a top playoff seed. Dragić and Caruso will not be able to replicate everything that Ball brought to the table, but they are both reliable stop gaps until he is healthy. Chicago will need another 27.9 points per game campaign from DeRozan and will need Lavine to become the number one option that he is paid to be like.