What will the Bulls do in free agency? Zach LaVine and DeMar DeRozan trades, free agent targets and more

It seems like so long ago, but it wasn’t until January 14, 2022 that the Bulls unexpectedly found themselves in first place in the Eastern Conference with a 27-13 record. Notably, it was the last game that Lonzo Ball played for them. They’ve been a consistently mediocre 59-65 in the year and a half since Ball’s injury.

It would then be madness for the Bulls to run the same blah group back. But with the three-year, $60 million extension of Nikola Vucevic, that seems to be their plan.

Trading away their core pieces is by far their best option, but given their plan to try to be as good as possible for as cheap as possible, here’s what to do.

MORE: NBA free agency predictions: Guessing landing spots for top stars

Bull’s free agency expense options

With Vucevic’s extension, the Bulls will operate as an over-the-cap team. They will have the $12.4 million midlevel exception and $4.5 million biennial exceptions available to add outside free agents, as well as various bird rights to bring back their own free agents.

The Bulls can add some good rotation players with the bigger exceptions, but they come with caveats. Using them will put them into the luxury tax. It’s almost never been an option for them, but lead decision-maker Arturas Karnisovas has said he’s been given the go-ahead to do so if the team is in the top four or six in the East, per 670 The score’s Cody Westerlund.

The Bulls are also in danger of being capped at $174 million if they use more than $5 million of the mid-level exception. This would greatly limit their flexibility if they wanted to make multiple moves during the season.

The most likely outcome is likely the Bulls use a portion of their $12.4 million mid-level exception and come close to or a few million above the tax, giving themselves enough flexibility to come under with some midseason trades if the writing is on the wall that they will remain uncompetitive.

MORE: Finding the next Bruce Brown in free agency for the NBA’s top contender

Donte DiVincenzo, Max Strus, Yuta Watanabe and other exceptional mid-level targets for the Bulls

Given that the Bulls have limited funds available to improve their roster, what type of player should they target?

Their most obvious need is volume 3-point shooting. They also need an extra big man if Andre Drummond leaves, which according to Substack’s Marc Stein, is probable. And they have among the shallowest point guard and wing depths in the league.

They won’t be able to address all of those needs in free agency, which is why a trade should be imminent (more on that later). But with the limitations they have, here are some of their best options.

Point guards

Free agent options: Jevon Carter, Dennis Schroder, Gabe Vincent, Cory Joseph, Patrick Beverley

Carter is the best realistic option on this list, but he doesn’t address the team’s lack of passing and functions more like a wing. Joseph would also be a really nice few. He has improved a lot as a shooter and is a good veteran general who tries hard on defense. Beverly has hinted at on Twitter that he plans to re-sign.

Backup big men

Free agent options: Mo Bamba (team option), Thomas Bryant, Paul Reed (restricted), Dario Saric, Drummond

There are some decent shooting big man options here, but they will eat up a large portion of the MLE. Saric would be my favorite fit as a skilled small ball center who can stretch the floor.


Free agent options: Donte DiVincenzo, Max Strus, Josh Richardson, Jalen McDaniels, Keita Bates-Diop, Torrey Craig, Yuta Watanabe

Cheap, quality wings are almost impossible to find in the NBA. DiVincenzo, who has been rumored to the Bulls by SNY’s Ian Begley, and Strus will almost certainly be priced out of the Bulls’ plans. McDaniels is an Arturas Karnisova specialty – a tool athlete whose shooting is a question mark. The Suns will likely overpay to keep Craig.

Watanabe will be coveted by a ton of teams, but he would be my favorite pick for the Bulls.


Free agent options: Seth Curry, Damian Lee, Joe Ingles, Georges Niang, Malik Beasley (team option), Jae Crowder

Most of the players I listed for point guard, backup big and wings have some shooting ability. The Bulls could also use some pure shooters for the group. Any of these guys would help, but the best realistic cheap signing is Niang.

MORE: Here are the best 3-point shooters available, from Yuta Watanabe to Joe Ingles

Should the Bulls keep Coby White, Ayo Dosunmu and other free agents?

Coby White is guarded by Cory Joseph

The Bulls also have decisions to make on their own free agents. Fortunately, these won’t dip into the $12.4 million mid-level exception bucket.

Coby White has seen significant improvements in his defense and game. He’s young and brings volume 3-point shooting, which are two attributes the Bulls should definitely target. But they have to provide a walk-away number because giving him too much will affect their ability to stay out of the tax.

I determined fair value for White as four years, $45 million. Any more than that and it might be time for him to say goodbye.

Free agents Ayo Dosunmu, Patrick Beverley, Derrick Jones Jr. and Javonte Green all fall into the same bucket — they’re good, high-energy players who are too reserved as shooters to space the floor. They would be fine on near minimum deals, but they would be a much better fit on other teams. If the Bulls can replace any of them with minimum wage shooters, then that would be a better use of resources.

Marko Simonovic is on a non-guaranteed contract and has (allegedly) played for the Bulls.

Trades for Zach LaVine and DeMar DeRozan

Listing all the holes in the list and the limited funds to patch them shows how difficult this run-it-back plan will be to implement. With good health and an A+ offseason, this is a team that can hit the mid-to-high 40s in wins and maybe steal a playoff series. But that’s if everything breaks perfectly.

The more realistic outcome is for the Bulls to finish around .500 again and find themselves back in the Play-In Tournament for the foreseeable future. A trade is the only way out of this.

The Bulls have gauged interest in LaVine, but there hasn’t been much out there according to Yahoo’s Jake Fischer. They are doing the smart thing in waiting to see if his value creeps up instead of trading him just to trade him. Trying to bottom out is also made more difficult by the two weak upcoming drafts in 2024 and 2025. But if they can get a good package for him, then they should pull the trigger.

After years of being accused of being overrated, DeRozan has completely flip-flopped to being one of the most underrated players in the league. He’s vastly improved from his Raptors days, yet he’s a total afterthought in most NBA discourse.

Zach LaVine and DeMar DeRozan

DeRozan has never played with the spacing around him that other stars have. It’s tempting to think how much better he could be if he was surrounded by four shooters. That’s probably never going to happen in Chicago. Entering his age-34 season, he’s worth a lot more to a struggling team than the Bulls. He will be an unrestricted free agent next year, at which point the writing will be even more on the wall that the Bulls will have to turn.

Like LaVine, they should be aggressive in pursuing offers for DeRozan and see if anyone gets desperate near the trade deadline.

Vucevic should also be on the trade market, though he could fetch considerably less than DeRozan or LaVine.

I’m not completely sold that the Bulls can’t be a good offensive team around the three of LaVine, DeRozan and Vucevic. They created open 3s, but teammates refused to shoot them. Getting four or five better shooters on the roster will solve their biggest problem.

Even with these changes, this is an aging roster with no real path to long-term upside. Their latest move, extending Vucevic, was emblematic of their drive toward mediocrity. It was neither a good nor a bad move. It was uninspired and aimless, allowing them to go wherever the gods of health and luck lead them.

Anyone who has seen even one game of this team over the past year and a half knows that they are delaying the inevitable by holding on to this core. It’s up to them whether they want to wait until there are no other options, get a Bradley Beal-type return in their reset, or get the most value for their good players and springboard into a product that at least their fans can get excited about.

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