Lonzo Ball was the first domino.
Once he fell, the Bulls found themselves in a very unfamiliar place this offseason: An NBA destination place.
Make no mistake, that’s a description this organization suddenly carries. A description that was more punchline for years rather than a reality.
Is it Miami or Los Angeles? No, and likely never will be.
But in acquiring Ball in a sign-and-trade with New Orleans last week, the new regime continued living up to the promises of a changing culture.
Now, a culture that All-Star-type players want to be a part of.
“Obviously the core,” four-time All-Star DeMar DeRozan said on Friday, when asked what sold him on joining the Bulls. “With Vooch [Nikola Vucevic] being there, Zach [LaVine], the organization, the city, overall the whole spectrum of the team and the organization for me.
“And obviously once Lonzo signed, that made it even more appealing. You could see what they were working toward, and it was something I wanted to be a part of. It wasn’t too much of a pitch that they had to make after that.”
So why Ball?
According to DeRozan, he had been watching his game since back in high school, when the point guard was the “it” prospect out of Chino Hills.
“One, I’ve been a fan of his,” DeRozan said. “I remember watching him play in high school, through college. And since he’s been in the league, it seemed like he hasn’t really been let free to be the player that I believe he is. And coming to this organization once I saw him sign, and seeing him having that opportunity for the first time in his career, was something that I definitely wanted to be a part of.
“The dynamic that he brings to the court on both ends is tremendous. He’s a hell of a point guard, a hell of a player. And for him, I think you’re definitely going to see the best out of Lonzo this upcoming year. It was something that I definitely wanted to be a part of.”
And now he is, as the Bulls completed a sign-and-trade deal for DeRozan that will pay the versatile forward $85 million over the next three years.
But Ball came first.
The Ball to the Bulls rumors have been the worst-kept secret going back to 2019, when someone in the guard’s camp leaked a handful of teams the then-Laker would like to be a part of. Even with former vice president of basketball operations John Paxson and former general manager Gar Forman making up the front office back then, the Bulls were on that short list.
It was about timing.
A new regime, a new aggressive attitude, and just like that it finally happened within minutes of the window opening on the free agent period.
“Like [the media] said, [the Bulls have] been on me for a minute now,” Ball said of his decision. “Just me personally, I feel like they wanted me. And I want to play for someone that wants me to play for them. So that was attractive.”
In the eyes of the NBA, maybe a bit too attractive, as the deal is under league investigation for tampering.
“Nah, I haven’t gotten into that, I’m not going to get into that,” Ball said of the investigation. “I’m here [Friday] to talk about me being a Bull and how happy I am to be a part of the organization.”
Not a comment that too many high-profile players have actually been able to say the last five years
“They’re an exciting team,” Ball added. “I see the future and I think we can get up and down, and win basketball games. At the end of the day that’s how I want to play, and I’m happy to be a Bull.”