Bulls mailbag: It's business as usual in Chicago, and that's fine by them – The New York Times

I had a casual conversation with a high-ranking Chicago Bulls executive shortly after the NBA’s trade deadline.
We didn’t agree on the direction of the franchise.
The Bulls stood pat at the deadline for the third straight season. They did nothing despite substantial evidence that their injury-plagued roster isn’t close to contending at a high level and likely won’t be anytime soon.
My point of contention was the front office punted on a pass offered happily by the team’s fans — a rebuild.
Your fans,” the executive countered.
Initially, I didn’t get it.
I don’t have fans. People read me at The Athletic and follow me on social media mostly because they’re Bulls fans. I thought the exec was trying to be snarky. It felt like an attempt to downplay our subscribers and passionate followers of the team on social media.
But the comment wasn’t made to downplay anyone. It was delivered to emphasize the difference.
The Bulls fans the executive was referencing are paying customers. My “fans,” by and large, aren’t the segment that fills United Center on cold Chicago winter nights.
That exchange, albeit brief, provided tremendous insight into the minds that make up the Bulls’ management.
With that as the backdrop, here’s a spicy edition of the mailbag in which fans let their frustrations be known. (Submitted questions have been edited for clarity and length.)
Did you believe AK (Artūras Karnišovas) when he said ownership would approve a rebuild but he didn’t want to do that? I find that extremely unlikely. If you polled the 29 other front offices, I think most or all would say the Bulls really need to rebuild and are going nowhere.
The Bulls could have gotten several first- and second-round picks (like Charlotte did) for the combo of (DeMar) DeRozan/(Alex) Caruso/(Andre) Drummond. Now two of those guys can walk this summer and Caruso will be worth less. It seems unlikely AK doesn’t realize this. — Shawn M.
I believe him. I also reported it last summer, long before he said it. I have no choice but to take Karnišovas at his word. He’s the chief basketball exec. He has final say on all basketball decisions. If he wanted to steer the franchise in a different direction, it would be happening.
If you polled the other 29 front offices, I think most would say they would love to have the business operations the Bulls enjoy. I agree with you, Shawn; the way Chicago is operating from a basketball standpoint doesn’t add up. But business is booming! And if DeRozan, Caruso and Drummond aid in that, why tinker? It’s short-term thinking at its finest. But it seems to work for the Bulls year after year. And I don’t mean on the court.
So … what’s the plan? Should we actually expect to hear one? I refuse to believe that (Karnišovas and GM Marc Eversley) are not seeing the same thing everyone else is. If they are not going to rebuild, can we at least hope for continual incremental improvement, i.e. the New York Knicks?
No way I am spending $$ on tickets for this team though. Unfortunately, it seems that 20,000-plus people a game have no issue giving Jerry (Reinsdorf) their money. Rough being a Bulls fan who wants something more than ninth place. — Paul D.
Haven’t you heard, Paul? The plan is to be competitive!
But seriously, the front office has been consistent from the start about putting out a competitive team. We applauded their efforts in turning over the roster quickly in 2020. Now we’ve all grown restless as the Bulls have remained committed to what they’ve assembled. It’s flawed, sure, but technically still competitive.
We just didn’t know this would be the plateau.
Should we expect any market for Zach LaVine in the offseason after his injury? And if the Bulls don’t find a suitor for LaVine, what does that mean for DeRozan and the potential for the Bulls to re-sign him? It would seem crazy for the Bulls to seriously consider running the same team out there. — Mark V.
Should I start preparing you now, Mark? Get ready for the four-peat no Bulls fan ever asked for.
If no one wanted to trade for LaVine before, what team in its right mind would give up assets to get him now coming off foot surgery? The Bulls are stuck. Unless they take pennies on the dollar and basically give him away, Chicago will be unable to trade LaVine until he demonstrates he’s healed and borderline dominant again. That day is a long ways away. Even then, as we just witnessed, the Bulls could find it difficult to trade LaVine.
DeRozan said he loves it in Chicago, and the two sides have been in talks on an extension. If I had to say today, DeRozan will be back, as will LaVine and Nikola Vučević.
We know what fans think of AKME and the Reinsdorfs, but based on what you have heard from other journalists and perhaps interactions with other coaches and front offices, what is the general consensus on the front office and ownership? What are their reputations within the industry? — William H.
A lot of people I talk to are confused by the Bulls overall. They’re not sure what they’re doing or why when it comes to building a team and, at times, running a chaos-free organization. Yet the people who are in positions of power seem to have a lot of respect. I’m not sure yet how much of it is token respect for colleagues within the same industry versus how much is intimate knowledge of the franchise’s inner-workings. But the two don’t really go together.
Darnell, any chance AK’s seat is starting to heat up? — Shawn G.
There is no reason to think that at this time. Karnišovas has a lot of stains on his record, and the list is growing. Missing the playoffs for a second straight season would be the most obvious demerit.
But the Bulls can once again point to injuries as the thing that derailed their season. It’ll look like a success rather than failure when the season ends and the Bulls fought for the playoffs despite LaVine finishing with only 25 games played, while Patrick Williams and Torrey Craig struggled to appear in 50.
This season already has “What if?” written all over it. Not by the fans, media or critics. But by management.
Gar/Pax or current management — worst for the Bulls? — Benny W.
Harsh, but not out of line.
Gar Forman and John Paxson obviously had much more time in charge. It gave them a runway to try, fail and try again. In the process, they enjoyed a level of success the current regime can only dream of delivering. That gives Gar/Pax the edge as the better duo for now.
I anticipated more creativity from the current front office. That’s been my biggest surprise. Circumstances backed them into a corner. And instead of pivoting, they went with the wildly unpopular route of continuity.
Why should I keep watching the Bulls play? They make me sad. — Alex M.
Is there any reason at all for hope? — Paul S.
Start with Coby White’s emergence. He’s fun to watch and easy to root for. He works hard to improve, plays the right way and gives his all, he’s selfless and he just wants to win. The Bulls are lucky to have him on a team-friendly contract.
I’d lump Ayo Dosunmu into that category as well. I also like the spot minutes Dalen Terry and Julian Phillips are getting, which gives them opportunities to show their development.
DeRozan remains one of the more entertaining players, especially when he gets hot. And Caruso is just a joy to watch fly around.
Future of Patrick Williams. Is it a concern that our highest pick under AK has not helped us or that he cannot stay healthy? — Eric M.
Here’s one way of looking at that question. Williams has appeared in 29 more games than Charlotte Hornets star LaMelo Ball.
You think Hornets fans are concerned about Ball, who was picked one spot ahead of Williams? I don’t.
What ails Williams isn’t injuries; it’s inconsistency. If he were a star, we’d be wishing him a speedy recovery and eagerly awaiting his return. But because he hasn’t lived up to expectations, we’re not sure what to expect when he rejoins the lineup. His latest injury — which sounds like it’s lingering — only adds to the confusion.
Should we let Patrick Williams walk? I’m tired of making excuses for him and his poor play. It’s clear he will be a role player/ bench forward now. And if we re-signed him, what would his contract most likely look like? Thanks. — Collin S.
I’m not a fan of letting any asset walk. I don’t think it’s smart business. Clever front offices can always turn a depressed asset into something of value, which then can be paired with other assets to acquire something greater down the line.
But let’s not trash Williams. He’s a 41 percent career 3-point shooter and a solid defender. He has value. He’s just not the star some thought he’d be.
That’s OK. He still needs a fresh start seeing as how he might never blossom alongside DeRozan, LaVine, Caruso and Vučević in Chicago. But if all he did was defend and knock down 40 percent of his 3s, he’d be a great rotation player.
The question is the contract.
Jaden McDaniels’ contract with the Minnesota Timberwolves is the closest, most recent comparable. McDaniels landed five years, $103 million from Minnesota. Given what Williams has shown over his first four seasons, that feels like his high end.
While DeMar DeRozan had played up to his current contract, the Bulls famously paid much more in (free agency) than was expected at the time. What do you think would be a reasonable contract ($/years) if DeMar were to re-sign with the Bulls? Like the recent contracts to LaVine and Vooch, I don’t know if anyone but the Bulls values him that much. — Brian H.
There are so many layers to the DeRozan dilemma.
He’s been a wonderful representative of the Bulls organization for the past three years. He’s been clutch, durable, a mentor and a two-time All-Star while in Chicago.
But he’ll turn 35 in August.
And he wants to be paid according to the widespread value he brings.
DeRozan compared his impending free agency to a relationship with a spouse:
“It’s, like, ‘What we need to do to work on this, baby? Let’s figure this thing out. You want me. I want you.’ The love is there.” pic.twitter.com/zgYOL3lw2q
— Darnell Mayberry (@DarnellMayberry) February 8, 2024

Few rivals are in position to both pay DeRozan whatever amount he feels is suitable while also handing him the reins he still craves. At the same time, the Bulls have young pups who benefit from learning from DeRozan but also could use the space to play more minutes if he’s not here.
From there, you have to factor in the Bulls’ potential direction with DeRozan compared to their potential without him, DeRozan’s preference on where he wants to play and then, after dissecting all of that, determine if the money works.
Would you be amenable to the Bulls re-signing DeRozan to a two-year, $50 million deal? How might your stance change if it’s three years, $75 million? The former might seem reasonable, while the latter might feel absurd. Both might reek of an overpay, like the Bulls would have outbid themselves again.
Just know the bean counters with the Bulls will have done the math. Whatever investment is made in DeRozan, the projected return extends far beyond the standings.
(Top photo of DeRozan and LaVine: Michael Reaves / Getty Images)

Get all-access to exclusive stories.

Subscribe to The Athletic for in-depth coverage of your favorite players, teams, leagues and clubs. Try a week on us.
Darnell Mayberry is a senior writer for The Athletic covering the Chicago Bulls. He spent 12 years at The Oklahoman, where he handled the Thunder beat before moving into an editor’s role. Prior to The Oklahoman, Darnell covered the University of Akron men’s basketball, preps and recruiting at the Akron Beacon Journal. He is the author of “100 Things Thunder Fans Should Know And Do Before They Die.” Follow Darnell on Twitter @DarnellMayberry


Leave feedback about this

  • Quality
  • Price
  • Service
Choose Image