The Chicago Bulls’ 2022-23 mildly exciting, mostly disappointing season is over. They are gone fishin’, faded, and bound for some Cancun sun.
Make no mistake about it, though: they fought a good fight. The team held on to that last play-in spot for dear life and made the most out of it.
In the play-in’s 9 vs. 10 matchup, they broke hearts in Canada (DeMar DeRozan’s daughter, Diar, probably deserves some credit too), rallying back from a 19-point deficit to boot the Toronto Raptors out, 109-105, right in front of white and red-plastered, cheering Canucks.
Then, they challenged the Miami Heat in Miami for that 8th and final playoff spot, clawing back from a double-digit lead once again and even held a six-point lead late in the 4th Quarter before bowing out, 102-91. It was closer than what the final score indicated.
Who are we really kidding? Ultimately, those are moral victories that absolutely do nothing. The Bulls are a proud and historic franchise with a big market, surrounded by passionate fans (1st in attendance this season) that expect a deep playoff run at the very least. Under all that, winning a play-in game and almost qualifying for the playoffs is an embarrassment more than anything.
Also, this is a massive stepback from last season’s promising campaign (46-36, 6th seed). They looked fine for most of 2021-22, played like a worthy playoff squad all year, and even had a serious MVP candidate in Demar DeRozan for the first few months.
This season, they finished 40-42 and frustratingly wasted good defense (7th in points allowed and 5th in defensive rating) with stagnant offense, ranking just 22nd in scoring and 24th in offensive rating.
Note that the questionable offense is despite having some very capable weapons on the roster. DeRozan (24.5 PPG) and Zach LaVine (24.8 PPG) are high-scoring wings that can drop 25-plus on any given night, which they basically did. They also have Nikola Vucevic who can score when called upon and has been a double-double machine his entire career. Back-up point guard Coby White could be in there too – he’s been playing limited minutes but the kid is a bucket.
Defensively, while the numbers are nice as mentioned, it still felt like it’s short of what’s supposed to really happen. Their man in the middle, Vucevic, is a capable defender, likewise to the guy behind him in the depth chart, Andre Drummond. Over at the wing and guard positions are defensive dogs too, like Alex Caruso, Patrick Beverley, Patrick Williams, and Derrick Jones Jr. – all are blessed with either size, technique, tenacity, or instincts.
Decisions, decisions. The Bulls front office have a list of things they’ll need to answer over the next few months:
- Do they blow DeRozan and LaVine’s tandem up? It’s been two years and they have no playoff series win to show for, and the former is turning 34 years old this off-season. As good as he is, he’s bound to decline in production.
- Do they keep Vucevic? And if they want to, does the big man want to stay? He has taken a backseat from his high-usage wing teammates, a bit different from what he had with the Orlando Magic. The FO may want him back, especially since they are not likely to keep the 2023 1st round pick they gave up for him. Then again, how ‘Vooch’ is approaching 33 and they may be some tough negotiations on the contract.
- Do they extend Coby White and re-sign Patrick Beverley? These two are reliable options and added depth for offense and defense, respectively. White still has an upside to become a stud in Chicago, while Pat Bev has an infectious intensity you’d love inside the locker room.
- Lastly, do they fire Billy Donovan? He’s a legendary coach, a probable future HOFer, and very well-liked by his players, but two of his three seasons have been disappointing. Maybe it’s time to revert back into someone who would be more offensively inclined?
The off-season could be long for the Bulls and its fans, and news about player movement might be a whirlwind. They ought to be ready. For now, the franchise has all the time to reflect on this season and then regroup on their direction for 2023-24.