The Chicago Bulls have languished at the bottom of the Eastern Conference for years, but an active free agency has given them a level of star talent the team has not seen since Michael Jordan, Scottie Pippen, and Dennis Rodman were wrapping up a second three-peat.
Chicago kicked off free agency by signing Lonzo Ball. It followed that move by inking former Los Angeles Lakers guard Alex Caruso and, later, orchestrating a sign-and-trade to bring multiple-time All-Star DeMar DeRozan to the Windy City.
The Bulls might not immediately vault into title contention. Still, there is more star talent on this team than any in the last 23 years. How appropriate.
The Chicago Bulls have four All-Star-caliber players
How did the Bulls get here?
Chicago’s journey back to putting out a competitive roster began with Arturas Karnisovas and Marc Eversley replacing John Paxson and Gar Forman in the front office. It continued when the Bulls made an incredibly aggressive move to acquire All-Star center Nikola Vucevic from the Orlando Magic.
The Bulls entered free agency with a pair of All-Stars anchoring their foundation. They have doubled the number of All-Star-caliber players on the roster.
DeRozan has already been named to four All-Star teams. He arguably should have made a roster last season, finishing the 2020-21 campaign averaging 21.6 points, 6.9 assists, and 4.2 rebounds.
Ball hasn’t made an All-Star team, but he certainly seems to have that kind of upside if he continues to shoot the three-ball at a decent clip and exhibits better finishing at the rim. It’s hard to deny his talent as a playmaker in the open floor and his ability to clean the glass and lock down defending guards.
Those two officially enter into the same core as LaVine and Vucevic, both of whom made the All-Star team this past season. LaVine is one of the best pure scorers in the game. He shot nearly 42% from beyond the arc and can shoot off the dribble or get to the rim. For his part, Vucevic can also fill it up from the deep and excels at diving to the rim for jump-hooks and floaters.
This is the most talented group since the trio of Michael Jordan, Scottie Pippen, and Dennis Rodman
It would be foolish to suggest this new Bulls core can be as successful as Michael Jordan, Scottie Pippen, and Dennis Rodman were toward the tail end of the 1990s. Still, the franchise has not boasted this kind of basketball talent since the days of the dynasty.
Some fans might point to the 2010-11 Bulls featuring an MVP Derrick Rose as the more talented group. That team led the NBA with 62 wins and made it to the Eastern Conference finals. Or, perhaps the 2011-12 Bulls are an even better shout here, considering Luol Deng joined Rose on the All-Star team that season. Joakim Noah was on his way to being named Defensive Player of the Year, with Carlos Boozer at the power forward.
However, those Bulls teams from the early 2010s don’t quite stack up to the current roster. With LaVine, Vucevic, and DeRozan all on the same team, Chicago arguably has three of the 50 best players in the NBA, and Ball could crack those conversations if he meets his full potential. LaVine and Vucevic probably deserve more mentions closer to the top 25.
These Bulls will be hard-pressed to come anywhere close to achieving what Jordan, Pippen, and Rodman did in the 1990s. The team boasts plenty of question marks on the defensive end of the floor and faces an NBA landscape with far more widespread talent than there was 20-plus years ago.
Still, Bulls fans have reasons to be excited about the new-look roster.
Where do the Bulls fit in the East?
The Eastern Conference poses a challenge to this Bulls roster.
The Brooklyn Nets still have their “Big Three” of Kevin Durant, James Harden, and Kyrie Irving. Milwaukee is coming off an NBA championship and returns much of the same roster. The Philadelphia 76ers face a decision on Ben Simmons but remain as talented as any team in the NBA. Meanwhile, the Miami Heat reloaded by adding Kyle Lowry.
It will be tough for the Bulls to insert themselves in the top of the Eastern Conference playoff picture. Yet, it’s been years since basketball fans in Chicago have had reason to be this excited. Aside from Ball and DeRozan, the Bulls fortified their perimeter defense by signing Caruso. Patrick Williams, the No. 4 pick in the 2020 NBA Draft, also remains a figure of immense intrigue as it pertains to the team’s future.
Chicago is not about to go on a run of championships as Jordan, Pippen, and Rodman did. However, it could be as talented and competitive as any Bulls team in the last 23 years.
Stats courtesy of Basketball Reference.