While much of the eastern conference has made moves to improve their squads, the Chicago Bulls chose to stand pat, only adding some veterans in Goran Dragic and Andre Drummond. While they are solid names, on the court they aren’t anything more than some okay depth – depth which the Bulls desperately needed, but still not enough to the point where they have closed the gap between them and the eastern elite.
While the Bulls chose to take the ‘run it back’ approach, the Celtics went out and acquired Malcolm Brogdon, the 76ers convinced James Harden to take a pay cut and signed PJ Tucker, Atlanta acquired Dejounte Murray to pair with Trae Young, while the Nets convinced their core to stay together and run it back as a unit for at least one more year.
Already, the Bulls were losing ground on their competition in the East, with many pundits and fans already saying that there is a wide range of possible outcomes for the upcoming season depending on the health of the roster and the development of key young contributors.
Now, add to the mix that the Cavaliers have just acquired Donovan Mitchell, and that equation becomes an extra level of complicated.
On paper, the Chicago Bulls are now the 7th best team in the East.
Take a look at their competition starting with: Miami, Philadelphia, Milwaukee, and Boston – the top 4 seeds from a year ago. We all know the Chicago Bulls’ record against top teams a year ago, and nothing they’ve done this offseason besides banking on the development of Patrick Williams lends any optimism towards a marked improvement in that record this upcoming season.
Then, take a look at a healthy Brooklyn Nets team featuring Kevin Durant, Kyrie Irving, Ben Simmons, and a decent supporting cast.
That’s already 5 teams clearly ahead of the Chicago Bulls. This is where, a week ago, I would say the Bulls have a chance to claim that sixth seed and avoid the play-in tournament as they are talented and experienced enough to hold off Toronto, Cleveland, and Atlanta.
Now, Cleveland has to be considered in that upper tier of Eastern Conference teams. With Donovan Mitchell, Darius Garland, Evan Mobley, and Jarrett Allen, they boast 3 All-NBA caliber players, and another all-star in Jarrett Allen. This is a team that is objectively better than the Bulls, and one that if healthy, should have no problem avoiding the play-in tournament.
I believe the Chicago Bulls can still make the playoffs, but assuming every team stays healthy, their path to postseason play will assuredly come through the play-in tournament. This is the consequence of choosing to not make any major moves to leapfrog the competition.
In addition, the acquisition of Mitchell makes the future murkier as well. All of Cleveland’s big 4 are under 25 years old, giving them arguably the brightest future of any team in the East outside Boston. This team isn’t going anywhere, and even if the Bulls bet on Patrick Williams pans out, a core in 2024/25 of LaVine, Williams, Lonzo, and Dosunmu will not remotely stack up with what Cleveland and Boston will be working with.
It’s imperative now that AKME comes up with a plan to add more star talent to the Chicago Bulls – especially because now in the central division, there are two teams to be reckoned with: one with Giannis, and another with 4 perennial all-stars under 25.
Let’s also not forget that within their own division, Detroit and Indiana have quietly been stockpiling talent, headlined by Jaden Ivey and Cade Cunningham, and Halliburton, Hield, and Turner, respectively.
The Chicago Bulls have work to do, as both their short and long-term outlook leave them in the middle of the road of the East – if they continue to stand pat then I’m afraid they’ll continue to slip down the standings as the rest of the conference catches up.