2024 NBA Offseason Preview: Chicago Bulls

The Bulls went 39-43 during the 2023/24 season, a year after going 40-42 in ’22/23 and two years after posting a 19-23 second-half record following Lonzo Ball‘s season-ending knee injury in ’21/22.

Yes, it briefly looked like the pieces might all fit together when Ball was healthy early in his first year with the team and the Bulls went 27-13, but that was a long time ago. Kristaps Porzingis was still a Maverick back then; Tyrese Haliburton was still a King; Carmelo Anthony was still in the NBA.

Whether or not Ball is able to return to action this fall, three knee surgeries and two-and-a-half seasons later, his presence won’t turn a team that has been unable to play .500 ball without him into a legitimate contender.

Changes are badly needed in Chicago, and with no indication that the Bulls are planning to replace head coach Billy Donovan or remove decision-making power from head of basketball operations Arturas Karnisovas, those changes will have to come on the court, where the team simply can’t run out this roster again with only cosmetic changes.

The Bulls haven’t completed a trade involving a player on their roster since before Ball got hurt — their only deal during that time came on draft night in 2023, when they sent a couple future second-round picks to Washington for the right to draft Julian Phillips at No. 35. I expect that period of inactivity on the trade market to end in a major way this summer, given the ample evidence that the current group isn’t built to advance beyond the first round of the playoffs.

The Bulls’ Offseason Plan

Of course, even if the Bulls’ brass accepts the premise that this roster is stuck in the middle and major changes are necessary, there are no easy answers about what exactly the next moves look like.

When a team retools its roster, the process typically involves building around a rising young star and/or trading away an impact veteran or two in exchange for a valuable package of team-friendly contracts and draft assets. But the Bulls, who haven’t had a first-round pick in two of the last three years, don’t exactly have a plethora of young talent on rookie scale contracts to build around.

Coby White enjoyed a major breakout year in 2023/24 and is on a relatively team-friendly deal, but he projects more as an above-average starter going forward than a true star. Former second-rounder Ayo Dosunmu, another player already on his second contract, also looks more like a solid rotation piece than a future All-Star. Dalen Terry, Chicago’s 2022 first-rounder, has yet to earn a regular rotation role, while 2020 lottery pick Patrick Williams is headed for restricted free agency after suffering two major injuries in the past three years and never averaging more than 10.2 points per game. The Bulls are also picking outside the top 10 in this year’s draft, reducing the odds of finding a franchise cornerstone there.

Maybe, then, cashing in on some veteran trade chips is the way to go for Chicago. But the Bulls don’t have a Donovan Mitchell or a Rudy Gobert on hand to kick-start their retooling process like the Jazz did two summers ago when they traded those two stars for a total of eight players (including former Bull Lauri Markkanen), seven unprotected or lightly protected first-round picks, and three pick swaps.

The Bulls’ top trade chips come with more red flags, starting with Zach LaVine. LaVine is a terrific scorer who has a pair of All-Star nods and a career 38.2% three-point percentage on his résumé, but he’s coming off season-ending foot surgery, has never been an asset on the defensive end, and is owed approximately $138MM across the next three seasons. That contract is harder to stomach under the new CBA, which has created additional challenges for teams carrying multiple maximum-salary players. LaVine’s trade value will be at an all-time low this summer, so there’s no guarantee a trade partner will give up even one unprotected future first-rounder for him unless the Bulls attach another asset or take back some unwanted money.

Moving 33-year-old center Nikola Vucevic won’t be much easier. Vucevic’s shooting percentages in 2023/24 (.484 FG%, .294 3PT%) were below his career rates and he’s not a feared rim protector. His contract, which runs for two more years and is worth $41.5MM, isn’t especially onerous, but it’s not team-friendly either, which will limit his appeal as a trade piece.

DeMar DeRozan would have more value on the trade market than either LaVine or Vucevic, but his contract with the Bulls will expire next month, so he’s not a legitimate trade candidate unless the team can find a sign-and-trade partner. Alex Caruso might be Chicago’s most sought-after trade chip, but the team has set a high asking price for him during recent transaction windows, and now that he’s on an expiring contract, suitors would be reluctant to give up a substantial return unless they’re pretty confident they’d be able to extend him.

Given all these challenges, what might the Bulls’ offseason look like? Well, even if LaVine won’t return a huge package of first-round picks, it’s probably the right time for the two sides to go their separate ways, and there will likely be at least one team willing to take a swing on a player who once averaged 27.4 points per game on .507/.419/.849 shooting and is still just 29 years old.

Chicago’s blueprint in a LaVine trade should be the Russell Westbrook deal the Wizards made with the Lakers in 2021 — in that swap, Washington gave up Westbrook and a pair of future second-round picks in exchange for Kyle Kuzma, Kentavious Caldwell-Pope, Montrezl Harrell, and that year’s No. 22 pick.

The Bulls likely won’t come out as well as Washington did, since Westbrook’s value was higher then than LaVine’s is now, but the goal should be to acquire a few role players whose cap hits are more manageable than LaVine’s $43MM figure and whom the Bulls might be able to get more out of than their previous team did. Any draft assets they can acquire on top of that would be great, but even just turning LaVine into two or three players who could play lesser roles and who could be flipped more easily in future deals could be a win, especially if the club can shed some salary in the process.

All indications are that the Bulls and DeRozan are interested in continuing their relationship as he enters his age-35 season. While I’m skeptical that DeRozan will still be playing at a high level by the time Chicago becomes a legitimate contender, I don’t hate the idea of re-signing him to a relatively short-term deal, perhaps one that includes two fully guaranteed years. The return in a sign-and-trade would likely be minimal, and he’s still a valuable enough asset that you’d prefer not to lose him for nothing. If the Bulls re-sign him and decide by the 2025 trade deadline that they want to tear the roster down further, DeRozan would be movable at that time.

Re-signing Williams to avoid losing the asset is also probably the right play — he has shown flashes of real two-way upside and the Bulls will be wary of repeating what happened with Markkanen, who blossomed into an All-Star after leaving Chicago. But the team will have to tread carefully in negotiations with Williams, who reportedly turned down a four-year, $64MM extension offer last fall. Investing long-term in the former No. 4 overall pick means betting on further growth and more consistent production. It’s a bit of a risk, so if there’s another suitor pushing up the price for Williams, the Bulls will have to determine just how high they’re willing to go to match it. It’s also worth noting that since he’ll be restricted, a sign-and-trade deal involving Williams would probably be more viable than one for DeRozan.

The Bulls will have to be careful about their proximity to the luxury tax line as they discuss new contracts with DeRozan and Williams. Once they fully guarantee Caruso’s salary and take into account the cap hold for the No. 11 overall pick, the Bulls will have about $130.4MM committed to 10 roster spots. On the surface, that looks like plenty of breathing room below the projected luxury tax line of $171.3MM, but DeRozan and Williams earned $38.4MM last season and are unlikely to make less than that in 2024/25. Bringing back those two players and adding two more minimum-salary players would almost certainly push team salary into tax territory, which the franchise has made an effort to avoid over the years.

With those financial constraints in mind, there are certain scenarios in which the Bulls may be inclined to let DeRozan or Williams walk, though that would be a tough sell to fans when the only real benefit is saving team ownership some money. Ideally, the Bulls would be able to cut costs elsewhere, perhaps by sending out more salary than they take back in a LaVine deal or by trading Jevon Carter‘s $6.5MM contract into another team’s cap room or trade exception.

Of course, moving off of Vucevic’s or Ball’s $20MM+ salaries would create more significant cap savings, but the Bulls couldn’t realistically expect anything of value back if the goal is to just dump those contracts. They’d definitely have to attach an asset or two to find a taker for Ball, and that may be true of Vucevic too if they’re not taking back an equivalent salary. It’s probably more prudent to hang onto those guys for now and see if they can improve their value as the season goes on.

Waiving and stretching the final year of Ball’s contract is another option if his knee continues to be a problem — that would save the team upwards of $14MM on its ’24/25 cap, likely avoiding tax issues in the short term, but would add $7MM per year for the following two seasons, so it’s not an ideal path.

For what it’s worth, it wouldn’t be hard to find a taker for Caruso’s expiring $10MM contract on the trade market without taking salary back, especially since teams will be able to use their mid-level exceptions as trade exceptions beginning this offseason. But the Bulls would likely only go that route if they’re hitting the full reset button and don’t intend to be competitive at all next season.

There’s certainly a case to be made that that’s the route management should take, but after Karnisovas stuck with this group for so long, it’s hard to picture him totally blowing it up all at once — the changes will likely be incremental, with LaVine among the first dominoes to fall.

Finally, while the No. 11 pick might not put Chicago in position to draft a future All-Star, there’s no reason the team shouldn’t be able to secure a prospect who will develop into a high-level rotation player. With White and Dosunmu expected to return and at least one or two of LaVine, Caruso, Carter, and/or Ball in the mix, the Bulls should be relatively set in the backcourt, but they could use help on the wing and in the frontcourt.

Tidjane Salaun, Ron Holland, Cody Williams, Ja’Kobe Walter, and Tristan Da Silva are some possible fits who could be available at No. 11. Zach Edey may be an intriguing option there too, since he appears more NBA-ready than many prospects in that range and the Bulls could have a hole at backup center if Andre Drummond commands a raise in free agency. Unless they’re able to shed salary in other moves, the Bulls will likely have to let Drummond walk and sign a minimum-salary veteran to back up Vucevic.

Salary Cap Situation

Guaranteed Salary

Non-Guaranteed Salary

  • Alex Caruso ($6,890,000)
    • Partial guarantee. Rest of salary noted above. Caruso’s salary will become guaranteed if he remains under contract through June 30.
  • Onuralp Bitim ($1,891,857)
  • Andrew Funk (two-way)
  • Total: $8,781,857

Dead/Retained Salary

  • None

Player Options

Team Options

  • None

Restricted Free Agents

Two-Way Free Agents

Draft Picks

  • No. 11 overall pick ($5,210,760 cap hold)
  • Total (cap holds): $5,210,760

Extension-Eligible Players

  • Lonzo Ball (veteran)
  • Alex Caruso (veteran)
  • DeMar DeRozan (veteran)
    • Extension-eligible until June 30.

Note: Unless otherwise indicated, these players are eligible for extensions beginning in July.

Unrestricted Free Agents

Other Cap Holds

  • Matt Thomas ($2,093,637 cap hold)
  • Total (cap holds): $2,093,637

Note: Thomas’ cap hold is on the Bulls’ books from a prior season because he hasn’t been renounced. He can’t be used in a sign-and-trade deal.

Cap Exceptions Available

Note: The Bulls project to operate over the cap and under the first tax apron. If they approach or exceed the first apron, they would lose access to the full mid-level exception and bi-annual exception and would gain access to the taxpayer mid-level exception ($5,183,000).

  • Non-taxpayer mid-level exception: $12,859,000
  • Bi-annual exception: $4,681,000
View Comments (14)