Another year, but same old question: How do Bulls get better?

  • Brooklyn's Spencer Dinwiddie, here looking to pass around the Bulls' Coby White, might look good back in a Bulls uniform.

    Brooklyn's Spencer Dinwiddie, here looking to pass around the Bulls' Coby White, might look good back in a Bulls uniform. Associated Press

 
 
Updated 5/18/2021 3:34 PM

After completing his first year in charge of the Bulls, Arturas Karnisovas is staring at a relatively blank canvas.

There's basically a four-man nucleus with Zach Lavine, Nikola Vucevic, Coby White and Patrick Williams, along with plenty of vacant roster spots and the usual bad-team obstacles to acquiring new players.

 

Is Karnisovas ready to paint a masterpiece or will he be heading to the art store to shop for new brushes?

It's an imperfect analogy, but the annual question of "How do the Bulls get better?" is open to artistic interpretation. And before answering, keep in mind good NBA players generally dislike joining bad teams.

A quick look at that four-man nucleus leads to two main needs. There's no power forward in the group, unless Williams is better suited for power forward. A traditional point guard, preferably with winning experience, is another possible need.

In his end of the season address, Karnisovas did give a list of the Bulls' biggest issues: Turnovers, fouling and not getting to the free-throw line.

Of those three, not getting to the foul line was the most alarming. They finished last in the league in free-throw attempts with 17.5 per game. After the all-star break, it was even worse with 15.4 free-throw attempts, more than 3 per game below the 29th place team, the L.A. Clippers.

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How do the Bulls address that problem? Attack the basket more aggressively, learn to be a little more savvy when drawing contact, add some veterans who are more likely to get calls?

Another area of concern is interior defense. Vucevic has never been known as a rim protector, and after joining the Bulls, he posted the team's second-worst defensive rating, ahead of Williams. As the Bulls consider options for power forward, they should probably keep that in mind.

Asked about that topic, Karnisovas pointed out the Bulls actually improved on defense after the trade, but regressed offensively.

"You have to make shots to win games and we did not do that," Karnisovas said. "A goal moving forward is to have more balanced play. Not trading offensive energy for defensive or vice versa."

So is Daniel Theis the answer at power forward? He's a free agent and free to find a better offer elsewhere. Among Bulls players, Theis ranked dead last in offensive rating, net rating and plus-minus -- so maybe he's not the answer.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                       
 

Two other incumbents at power forward are Thad Young and Lauri Markkanen. The Bulls can choose to bring back Young, who turns 33 in June, for $14.2 million or set him loose for $6 million. Considering how well he played this season, there's a good chance he'll return.

It seems likely Markkanen will move on as a restricted free agent, but who knows? The Bulls can match offers from other teams. He shot a career-high 40.2% from 3-point range this year, so he'll be in demand, even though his points and rebounds dipped since his sophomore season.

The amount of cap space the Bulls will have depends on what they decide to do with Young, Markkanen and Theis. They also need to decide whether to bring back Tomas Satoransky for $10 million or buy him out for $5 million. If adding a point guard is high on the Karnisovas wish list, Satoransky is probably gone.

So what should the Bulls do this summer? Here are a few free-agent targets that might be doable.

Spencer Dinwiddie: A former Bull coming off ACL surgery, he averaged 20.6 points and 6.8 assists for an OK Brooklyn team in 2019-20, Considering the Nets already have $150 million wrapped up in five players, they may decide Dinwiddie is expendable.

Remember when the Bulls started their GM search last year, Dinwiddie suggested himself for the job and said he would trade himself to the Bulls. Maybe life will imitate Twitter. He'll cost at least $20 million per season, most likely.

Norman Powell: He was a teammate of LaVine at UCLA and has championship experience in Toronto. Not really a point guard, but he's sort of a younger, more talented version of Garrett Temple. Powell was traded to Portland at midseason and might give the Pacific Northwest right of first refusal.

Richaun Holmes: Not that anyone noticed, but Holmes blossomed in Sacramento, averaging 14.2 points and 8.3 rebounds this year. A Lockport native, Holmes played center for the Kings, but maybe he'd consider coming home to be power forward for the Bulls?

Lonzo Ball: He's a restricted free agent and no one seems to have a clue whether New Orleans plans to keep him.

John Collins: Another restricted free agent, talented and inconsistent, he seems likely to leave Atlanta.

Dennis Schroder: Not sure why he'd leave the Lakers, but he is a free agent.

Kelly Oubre, Evan Fournier, Tim Hardaway Jr.: If the Bulls want to sign a small forward and push Williams to power forward.

Speaking of which, Williams is a blank canvas unto himself. His rookie season was nothing special and he seems to have better potential as a scorer than defender. Early evidence suggests he may not have the quickness to guard elite perimeter players. But he is just 19, so this summer could lead in several directions.

"Pat has a lot of those skills, it's just when is he going to choose to use them," Karnisovas said. "We saw glimpses of what this kid can do. The sky's the limit for him."

Twitter: @McGrawDHBulls

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