As playoff run ends, DeRozan calls first year with Bulls "a dream come true"
Last summer, DeMar DeRozan had to make a decision on the direction of his career.
Choosing the Bulls wasn't necessarily going to be a slam dunk success story. But his initial season ended with a 116-100 loss in Game 5 of the first round at Milwaukee.
With Zach LaVine stuck at home in health and safety protocols, DeRozan was swarmed by the Bucks defense and took just 10 shots for 11 points. But the Bulls did return to the postseason for the first time in five years, and as the team gets ready to pack up for the summer, DeRozan was asked how his choice turned out.
"Perfect," he said. "Couldn't have went a better way. It's been a great, great year, to say the least. Just being around the front office, teammates, the city -- everything has been something more than I could have imagined."
Even with a rough ending, it's probably safe to say DeRozan and the Bulls performed beyond expectations this season. DeRozan himself set a career-high with 27.9 points per game in his 13th NBA season.
"It's kind of one of those dream-come-true type of situations, of things you didn't expect to happen," he said. "It kind of exceeded your imagination. So it was great, I'm already looking forward to next year, just getting back out there and doing it again."
The idea of looking ahead brought to mind two teammates: LaVine, who will be an unrestricted free agent; and Lonzo Ball, who was sidelined since Jan. 21 with a knee injury.
DeRozan was asked if LaVine deserves a maximum-salary contract.
"Yeah. Max player, max talent, max everything," he said. "He's one of those players in this league that you don't see too often. I tell him all the time how envious I am of the things he can do. So he deserves everything that's coming to him for sure."
The Bulls never had their full team together all year. Coby White started the regular season still recovering from shoulder surgery, then Patrick Williams went down with a wrist injury in the second week and missed 65 games. The Bulls were hoping to get Ball back for the playoffs, but it didn't happen.
"A guy like Zo, he changed the game so much, in so many ways," DeRozan said. "The excitement, the pace, the tempo. He's one of those dynamic players that can be out there on the floor and change the whole trajectory of a game. I hate that he had to miss his first opportunity to be in the playoffs."
Overall in Game 5, the Bulls continued to demonstrate why they've won so few games against the NBA's elite teams. They give up too many easy baskets, commit careless turnovers, miss wide-open shots, get lost on defense. In other words, they just don't make enough winning plays, not to mention they don't have the size to stand up to the more physical Bucks.
Height, shooting and defense will lead the wish list during the offseason. But since they'll likely have no cap space, it will be tough to do anything more than a few additions. LaVine will be an unrestricted free agent, so re-signing their second-leading scorer is another priority. They'll have the No. 18 pick in the draft.
The Bulls launched 3-pointers as if their playoff lives depended on it, going 15-for-52. The Bulls' regular season high for 3-point attempts was 40.
Milwaukee's Giannis Antetokounmpo knocked the Bulls around on the way to 33 points. Nikola Vucevic finished with 19 points and 16 rebounds, Williams led with 23 points and White added 17.
"Obviously, their size did hurt us and I think that was an issue for us all year long that we didn't have as much size," Vucevic said. "We did have a positive record, we did make the playoffs, there were some really good moments. Building a winning team that can go deep takes time. It's hard to judge it off one season and one playoff series. I think this team does have a lot of potential, but it takes time. Overall, I think we can say it was a good season for us, could have been better for sure."
The Bucks, who will play Boston in the second round, pounded the ball inside early and opened a 49-20 advantage. The Bulls actually got back into it. Trailing by 11 early in the third, Vucevic missed a 3-pointer that could have pulled them within single digits. On the other end, Javonte Green got a steal, but his quick outlet pass was stolen, the Bucks ended up with a 5-on-3 and Bobby Portis drained a wide-open 3-pointer to end the momentum.