The University of Chicago’s Independent Student Newspaper since 1892

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The University of Chicago’s Independent Student Newspaper since 1892

Chicago Maroon

The University of Chicago’s Independent Student Newspaper since 1892

Chicago Maroon

The Chicago Bulls Are Stuck in NBA Purgatory

Expectations are low for the Bulls after a disappointing season last year and a mediocre offseason this summer. 
Opening+night+at+the+United+Center%2C+the+home+of+the+Chicago+Bulls.
Austin Zeglis
Opening night at the United Center, the home of the Chicago Bulls.

Over the past few years, the Chicago Bulls have been just bad enough to leave their fans without any hope of succeeding in the playoffs. But they’ve also been just good enough to prevent themselves from receiving a high draft pick, selecting a top prospect, and kickstarting a new era of the franchise. 

This is the NBA’s purgatory, and the Bulls are stuck right in the middle of it.

After a 40–42 finish last year and a heartbreaking loss to the Miami Heat in the NBA’s new Play-In Tournament, the Bulls will enter the 2023-24 season with far more questions than answers. And for a team as directionless as they are, Chicago stayed relatively quiet throughout the offseason.

This summer’s free agency was mainly about bringing back key players from last year’s squad. Nikola Vucevic, Coby White, and Andre Drummond all signed new contracts to return to the team this season. 

It was Vucevic’s new contract that garnered the most attention from fans, especially after he told Yahoo Sports’s Jake Fischer that the team “know[s] it’s kind of our last chance as this core of guys to do something.” 

But this isn’t to say that the Bulls didn’t bring in any new blood. Torrey Craig signed a two-year, $5.4 million contract after playing in Phoenix last year. Chicago also brought in former Milwaukee guard Jevon Carter, who signed a three-year, $20 million contract.

Carter is expected to provide solid defense and three-point shooting off the bench, something the Bulls could have used down the stretch last year. Craig is an elite defender as well, but he told NBC Sports Chicago that what he really feels like he can bring to Chicago is grit.

“That was one of the reasons I decided to come here, because I felt like I could bring that extra edge and try and win some of the close games we’ve been in or try and motivate my teammates to get over the hump,” Craig said to reporters after team practice on October 4 at Belmont University in Nashville.

While Craig and Carter will certainly bolster the Bulls’s depth, their signings seem like consolation prizes given the other opportunities available this summer. Fred VanVleet’s contract with the Houston Rockets and the Bulls’s loss of Patrick Beverly to the Philadelphia 76ers loom large as potential missed chances.

Similar to their free agency, Chicago’s draft night was relatively quiet. Their only selection in June’s draft was Julian Phillips, a forward out of Tennessee who the Bulls took with the fifth pick in the second round. The Bulls gave their 2023 first-round pick to the Orlando Magic as part of the trade to bring in Nikola Vucevic.

Whether Phillips finds his way onto the court this year remains to be seen—the 19-year-old wasn’t a very proficient scorer in college and only had five games where he recorded 15 or more points. But at 6’8” and 200 pounds, he holds potential as a solid defender and post scorer. 

Enough about the offseason, though. If we’re talking about expectations for this year, it all comes down to a few uncertainties that still need to be worked out before the season opener.

Three of the spots in this season’s starting lineup have been more or less figured out, as fans can expect to see Zach LaVine, DeMar DeRozan, and Nikola Vucevic in the first unit with (almost) 100 percent certainty. But finding a starting point guard is something that Executive Vice President Artūras Karnišovas sees as a top team priority between now and their October 25 season opener.

“I think it’s going to be a fierce competition… That’s the mentality we’re going into training camp (with). I’m looking forward to it,” Karnišovas said on WSCR-AM 670. 

Coby White and Ayo Dosunmu, along with veteran Alex Caruso and recent signing Jevon Carter, are all in the running to secure the starting role. Either Caruso or Carter would be the clear choice if Karnišovas and head coach Billy Donovan prioritize defense at the point, while White or Dosunmu would be better offensive weapons.

The Bulls also need to figure out who the second forward in their starting lineup will be, and that decision comes down to three names. Fourth-year player Patrick Williams has shown some promise as a power forward so far in his young career but hasn’t been able to consistently get going offensively and still projects to mostly a defense-first player.

Recent signing Torrey Craig could also vie for the starting spot. Craig, entering his seventh year in the NBA, started 60 games for Phoenix last year and is no stranger to a high-volume role. And Alex Caruso, who played more than his fair share at the power forward spot last year despite being listed as a guard, could also get the nod from Donovan. 

All in all, this doesn’t appear to be a very promising season for the Chicago Bulls. There hasn’t been enough meaningful change in the roster or the coaching staff to assume that this season will go any differently than the last.

But, as Vucevic said, this could very well be the last chance for the trio of himself, LaVine, and DeRozan to play together in the Windy City. And maybe, just maybe, that alone is enough to motivate this group to the next level.

Maybe.

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About the Contributor
Austin Zeglis, Senior News Reporter, Senior Sports Reporter
Austin is a member of the class of 2024 who hails from Ann Arbor, Michigan. He studies economics and music in the College and contributes to the Sports and News sections of The Maroon.
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