Bulls are in a culture shift, and they can thank guard Lonzo Ball for that
Having Zach LaVine and Nikola Vucevic on the roster was great for DeMar DeRozan, but it was Ball’s sign-and-trade deal that ultimately convinced him to join the Bulls.
Point guard Lonzo Ball was the first domino to fall.
Once he did, the Bulls found themselves in an unfamiliar place this offseason: They were an NBA destination.
Yes, that’s a description the Bulls suddenly carry, one that was more a punch line than a reality for years.
No, Chicago isn’t Miami or Los Angeles and likely never will be. But in acquiring Ball in a four-year, $85 million sign-and-trade last week with the Pelicans, the Bulls’ front office continued living up to its promises of changing the culture.
Now the Bulls have a culture All-Star-type players want to be a part of.
‘‘Obviously, the core,’’ four-time All-Star forward DeMar DeRozan said when he was asked Friday what sold him on joining the Bulls. ‘‘With [Nikola Vucevic] being there, Zach [LaVine], the organization, the city . . . the whole spectrum of the team and the organization for me.
‘‘And 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 was Ball so important?
DeRozan said he had been watching Ball since he was the ‘‘it’’ prospect out of Chino Hills, California.
‘‘One, I’ve been a fan of his,’’ said DeRozan, whose own sign-and-trade will pay him $85 million over the next three seasons. ‘‘I remember watching him play in high school [and in] college [at UCLA]. 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, 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.’’
The Ball-to-the-Bulls rumors have been the worst-kept secret since 2019, when someone in Ball’s camp leaked a handful of teams he would like to play for. Even with former vice president of basketball operations John Paxson and former general manager Gar Forman making up the front office at the time, the Bulls were on that short list.
But it was about timing. With Arturas Karnisovas and Marc Eversley now leading the front office, the Bulls struck a deal with Ball minutes after the free-agent period began.
‘‘Like [the media] said, [the Bulls have] been on me for a minute now,’’ Ball said of his decision. ‘‘I feel like they wanted me. And I want to play for someone that wants me to play for them. So that was attractive.’’’
Maybe a bit too attractive in the eyes of the NBA, which is investigating the deal under its tampering rules.
‘‘Nah, I haven’t gotten into that; I’m not going to get into that,’’ Ball said of the investigation. “I’m here to talk about me being a Bull and how happy I am to be a part of the organization.’’
That’s not a comment too many high-profile players have been able to make the last five years.
‘‘They’re an exciting team,’’ Ball said. ‘‘I see the future, and I think we can get up and down [the court] 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.’’