There has been only one question in Chicago about this summer’s NBA free agency: Will Zach LaVine be on the Bulls next season?
That decision could be made by the end of this week as the NBA trade window opens at 5 p.m. Thursday, at which point teams can begin negotiating deals with free agents.
Executive vice president of basketball operations Artūras Karnišovas didn’t tip his hand on whether the Bulls will dish out a maximum deal to LaVine — which would top out at close to $215 million for a five-year commitment — but Karnišovas remained bullish on the team’s ability to keep the All-Star in Chicago.
“We’ve been very open that we hope that Zach is here for a long time,” Karnišovas said. “Nothing has changed. … I’m confident.”
If the Bulls are successful in keeping LaVine, their next concern quickly moves to his left knee. LaVine underwent arthroscopic surgery in May to clean up a nagging injury that dampened his performance through the final third of the regular season.
“I think he’s going to be healthy and he’s now progressing great,” Karnišovas said.
General manager Marc Eversley echoed optimism about the health of both LaVine and starting point guard Lonzo Ball, who also will spend the offseason recovering from knee surgery following a season-ending injury and surgery in January.
The front office has plenty to do to improve on a winning record and short-lived playoff run last season, but the most important is also the most elusive — keeping their stars healthy. Ball and LaVine are cornerstones for the Bulls, but both are also injury-prone, a vulnerability highlighted by their absences last season.
Another key for the Bulls to maintain success is shoring up the margins of the roster, especially with injury concerns still looming. First-round draft pick Dalen Terry will be one part of that plan, adding wing depth and defensive energy.
Karnišovas said the Bulls have yet to make decisions on rotational players such as Tony Bradley, Tyler Cook and Malcolm Hill, who stepped up to play considerable minutes during the Bulls’ COVID-19 outbreak last winter. Although the Bulls are open to additions, Karnišovas continued to emphasize “continuity” as the focus for the roster.
“You can build your rosters three ways — through the trades, free agency and the draft — and I think we’re tapping into all three of them,” he said. “This group has been here almost since October, so we’re still trying to get used to how to play with each other.”
The development of Patrick Williams and Ayo Dosunmu — the youngest returning players on the roster — also remains a focus. Although Williams and Dosunmu will not travel to Las Vegas to play in NBA Summer League games, the pair will train in Chicago in July to prepare for training camp.
It was a split season for the two youngsters: Dosunmu started 40 games as a rookie, but Williams spent most of the season on the sidelines recovering from a wrist injury. Coach Billy Donovan said the Bulls are “very, very confident” Dosunmu can contribute at point guard in the 2022-23 season, although he likely will move back to the bench when Ball returns as the starting ballhandler.
As the Bulls approach a new season, the improvement of these rotational players will determine their competitiveness in a burgeoning Eastern Conference.
“It’s important to get a good mix,” Karnišovas said. “For young guys, it’s important also to develop. Even with last year’s roster, there’s a lot of vets, there’s a lot of in between and the young guys got a lot of experience when emphasis was put on winning.
“We got 46 wins, which is great. We got playoff experience. But we need to build on that, and it’s not going to be easy next year to come back and do the same.”
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