he Bulls keep offering us a healthy helping of different, the idea being that different has to be better than a steady diet of the same. It’s hard to argue with the concept of change, though the franchise hasn’t finished with a record above .500 since the 2015-16 season. Different can make the observer feel like things are getting done.
So the dominant thought after the Bulls’ most recent roster additions isn’t, “Who knows if it will work?’’ It’s, “Hey, look, they’re doing something!” Change = good.
In a matter of days, the Bulls acquired Lonzo Ball, DeMar DeRozan and Alex Caruso. It looked and sounded good. Ball can play, even if he still can’t shoot as well as you’d like. DeRozan always has been able to score, and he doesn’t miss many games. Caruso gives the team a three-point threat it has been missing.
Will this latest version of the new-look Bulls work? Will different really be different this time?
I’d settle for interesting. I haven’t found the Bulls interesting since Tom Thibodeau was the coach, which, although not forever ago, was three coaches ago. I know I’m supposed to find Zach LaVine interesting because he can get his shot whenever the spirit moves him. It moves him a lot. Now the question is how he’ll be able to coexist with Ball and DeRozan. It’s a much more interesting question than last season’s big question, which was whether LaVine would be selected for the All-Star Game. He was, so, you know, hooray.
The other storyline last season was how the Bulls would fare after landing four-time All-Star Nikola Vucevic. Answer: not well, with the team going 12-17 after he arrived in a March trade from Orlando. As part of the deal, the Magic received Wendell Carter Jr. and Otto Porter. I don’t want to say that’s a cautionary tale for Bulls fans, but I would like to remind them how excited they were three years ago, when Carter looked like he would become a double-double machine for the franchise one day. Or when Porter arrived in a trade from Washington three years ago and averaged 17.5 points and shot 48.8% on three-pointers in 15 games. Remember how good different felt then? Until it wasn’t so different after all.
I liked the trade that sent Jimmy Butler to Minnesota in 2017 and gave the Bulls LaVine, Lauri Markkanen and Kris Dunn. That certainly was different. It’s about the nicest thing you can say about that deal. Butler has gone on to superstardom in Miami. Remember how, season after season, Markkanen was finally going to figure things out? He’s still in the deciphering phase. He and his phase could end up on another team very soon.
If you feel you’ve been watching a hamster on a wheel, it’s because that’s exactly what you’ve been watching. New management regime, old management regime — the skeptical among you might wonder what difference it makes who calls the shots. The names change on the backs of the uniforms. The results don’t.
Maybe vice president Arturas Karnisovas, who was tasked with transforming the roster when he was hired in 2020, knows what he’s doing. Maybe this transformation sticks, unlike all the others that came before him.
Coby White is a reminder of how quickly we move on around here. White, the seventh overall pick in the 2019 draft, averaged 15.1 points for the Bulls last season. But you hardly heard a word about him in all the talk that accompanied the arrival of Ball, DeRozan and Caruso. Is he destined for the scrap heap of remember-them Bulls — Nikola Mirotic, Omer Asik, Thaddeus Young, Mike Dunleavy, et al.? Players you think of and say, “Oh, yeah! I’d forgotten about him!” Or are we ignoring White’s contributions because we’re caught up in the energy of Karnisovas’ wheeling and dealing?
Different is interesting. And so we try to get our minds around what the Bulls will look like in 2021-22. How is the trio of LaVine, Ball and DeRozan going to work? Will contract-extension talks between LaVine and the team be a drag on performance? Can a franchise truly build around LaVine if winning a championship is the goal?
There are a lot of unknowns. That happens when a franchise’s immediate goal is to be different than what it was even a few weeks ago.
Different is good. I think.