Bulls' 2022 Free Agents, Targets and Draft Needs After NBA Playoff Loss

Scott Polacek@@ScottPolacekFeatured ColumnistApril 28, 2022

Bulls' 2022 Free Agents, Targets and Draft Needs After NBA Playoff Loss

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    Alex Brandon/Associated Press

    The 2021-22 season for the Chicago Bulls represents one of progress and disappointment about what could have been.

    On the one hand, it was the team's first postseason appearance since the 2016-17 campaign. The DeMar DeRozan addition worked out better than even the most optimistic fan could have hoped, and there is some exciting young talent in place with Ayo Dosunmu and Patrick Williams.

    However, this team was also No. 1 in the Eastern Conference standings for a stretch prior to the All-Star break and looked like a true contender before injuries and the inability to defeat the league's top teams finally caught up to it.

    Lonzo Ball, Alex Caruso, Williams and Derrick Jones Jr. all missed significant time with injuries, and it was clear Zach LaVine was less than 100 percent down the stretch because of his own knee concerns.

    That left the Bulls outmatched in their first-round playoff series against the Milwaukee Bucks, and attention now turns toward building a squad that can take the next step in the 2022-23 campaign and beyond.

    Here's a look at where things stand heading into the offseason in Chicago.

Free Agents

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    Adam Hunger/Associated Press

    Unrestricted Free Agents

    Zach LaVine

    Derrick Jones Jr.

    Matt Thomas

    Tristan Thompson


    Restricted Free Agents

    Troy Brown Jr.

    Tyler Cook

    Malcolm Hill

    *Free agents are courtesy of Spotrac.


    It's no secret who the biggest priority from this group will be for the Bulls.

    The one-two punch of DeRozan and LaVine was a primary reason they were able to make the playoffs this season, and losing the latter would be a massive blow.

    The 27-year-old is someone the team can build around for the immediate and long-term future, and he has taken massive strides as an overall player who made the past two All-Star Games.

    Chicago's success or failure this offseason will largely be determined by whether it can re-sign LaVine and keep the core intact for 2022-23 and beyond. Even though his lingering knee issues sapped some of his explosiveness down the stretch, he can still be one of the best offensive playmakers in the league at his best.

    The Bulls may choose to move on from everyone else on this list, which could give them more flexibility to look elsewhere.

Offseason Targets

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    Ron Schwane/Associated Press

    As mentioned, the biggest offseason target comes from within for the Bulls.

    Chicago made LaVine a key part of its foundation when it landed him in the trade that sent Jimmy Butler to the Minnesota Timberwolves in June 2017, and he has exceeded expectations with the team. He went from electrifying dunker with question marks about the rest of his game to All-Star player and elite scorer.

    The UCLA product averaged 27.4 points per game last season and followed with 24.4 points per game this season while willingly taking on a smaller role to accommodate DeRozan's breakout showing.

    The Bulls would take a significant step back if they are unable to keep LaVine and go from a potential playoff challenger next season to one that may be looking at the lottery.

    Assuming they do keep LaVine, they still need to improve their frontcourt. Nikola Vucevic is a two-time All-Star but is a questionable defender who struggled with inconsistency at times during the 2021-22 season.

    Chicago should have some room to make additions considering Spotrac projects it to have the 14th highest salary-cap figure in the league at $169.9 million. That could leave it with enough money to look at some of the mid-tier free agents who can provide important depth inside such as Jusuf Nurkic, Mitchell Robinson or Nic Claxton.

    Claxton is a restricted free agent, so landing him from the Brooklyn Nets may be more difficult than some of the other players.

    Still, an offseason that sees the Bulls keep LaVine and provide some formidable depth down low would be a successful one, especially with younger players such as Dosunmu, Coby White and Williams in the backcourt and on the wing.

Draft Needs

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    Gene J. Puskar/Associated Press

    Bleacher Report's Jonathan Wasserman projected the Bulls to select Notre Dame guard Blake Wesley in the first round in a March mock draft.

    The 19-year-old makes sense for a contender that doesn't need an immediate star since he may be more of a long-term project as he works on his shooting ability after hitting just 30.3 percent of his three-pointers in his one collegiate season with Notre Dame.

    Wesley is also a solid defender who could help Chicago cover up some of its weaknesses on that side.

    Still, the Bulls could look to add to their frontcourt in the draft as well. Ohio State's E.J. Liddell and Auburn's Walker Kessler stand out as players who could fit into the rotation from their first day and provide interior defense and rim protection.

    Liddell is also a versatile scorer who can hit from three-point range or find the basket on the blocks, which would give the Bulls more options on the offensive side if opposing defenses double LaVine or DeRozan.