Who is the Center of Attention in Sculpting Chicago Bulls into Immediate Championship Contenders?

I absolutely love the Chicago Bulls’ current front office team of executive vice president of basketball operations Arturas Karnisovas and general manager Marc Eversley. They are not afraid to make deals.

Clearly team president Michael Reinsdorf has given his blessing for the executive branch of the Bulls to take the steps necessary to build a championship contender. Karnisovas and Eversley have embraced the opportunity.

Last year, Karnisovas and Eversley made a big splash in the free agent market. They brought in DeMar DeRozan, Lonzo Ball, and Alex Caruso to pair with team focal point Zach LaVine and center Nikola Vucevic.

Despite injuries to Ball and Caruso, all three free agent acquisitions made a significant impact during the ensuing season. DeRozan, in particular, stood out. He clocked in an MVP-worthy season, while never threatening LaVine’s status as the franchise’s central building block.

2022 OFF SEASON

Karnisovas and Eversley have already been active players in the free agent market in this off season. And it doesn’t look like they’re done yet.

The first priority for the Bulls was to resign LaVine. The All-Star guard was seeking a max deal. Demonstrating why he deserved one, LaVine played through injuries last year to lead the Bulls to their first playoff appearance since 2017. At several points during the season, the team was the top seed in the East. LaVine was also instrumental in the recruitment of DeRozan.

The Olympic gold medalist got his max deal, signing to remain a Chicago Bull for at least the next five seasons. With no disrespect to Derrick Rose, LaVine is the centerpiece that gives the Bulls the best chance at a championship since the Jordan era.

Karnisovas and Eversley realize that with the right surrounding pieces, LaVine can lead the Bulls to the promised land. Last year, with starting power forward Patrick Williams out with an injury for most of season, the Bulls struggled with a lack of size.

BIG SIGNINGS

Even before inking the deal with LaVine, the Bulls landed free agent center Andre Drummond. This was a huge acquisition. He has been an impact player ever since coming into the league as a Detroit Piston draft pick in 2012. He is a two-time All-Star and has consistently been among the league’s leading rebounders.

The Bulls added big man Tristan Thompson late last season. Drummond will be a great addition alongside Thompson. A Drummond/Thompson second unit frontcourt has the potential to be a defensive strangler that opposing teams will dread facing.

The team has also added depth in the backcourt with the signing of guard Goran Dragic. The Slovenian-born point guard was named NBA Most Improved Player in 2014 while with the Phoenix Suns. In 2017 he led the Slovenian national team to its first FIBA EuroBasket championship, while earning personal accolades as the tournament’s MVP. He then followed it up with an NBA All-Star selection in 2018.

These moves to add depth to the bench are strong, and hopefully indicative of more moves to come. These free agent deals, along with the resigning of small forward Derrick Jones Jr., move the Bulls a little closer to being a serious contender for the league’s top prize. However, one position in the starting lineup is still an area of uncertainty.

IN THE MIDDLE

I like Bulls center Vucevic. He’s a two-time All Star, and it’s obvious he can play at a high level. He is a very skilled offensive player when he plays in the paint. The problem is that from the spectator’s point of view, it seems like he doesn’t like to play in the paint. Instead, it seems like he would much rather stand on the perimeter and shoot three pointers. And, while Vucevic is a pretty good shot from 3-point land, that’s not where the Bulls need him to play. They need a physical presence under the basket.

Further, Vucevic just isn’t built for speed. Vucevic plays hard. He pushes himself to get down court as fast as possible and to move his feet on defense. But all the will in the world won’t make a big body move at a speed it wasn’t designed for.

The Bulls have been linked to several athletic big men already this off season. Everyone in the league thought Utah Jazz center Rudy Gobert was going to be coming to the Bulls via trade. However, the Jazz surprised everyone moving the big man to the Minnesota Timberwolves.

Similarly, Orlando Magic center Mo Bamba let everyone know he wanted to come to the Bulls this off season. Like with Gobert, for a short time the deal seemed all but done. Surprisingly, though, the Top 10 pick of the 2018 NBA draft has opted to resign with the Magic.

GOOD VS. GREAT

If the Bulls don’t make a move to get a more athletic starting center, they will still be a good team this year. But I don’t think they have a realistic chance of winning a championship without a move at center.

This core group of stars and impactful role players that the Bulls have assembled has a limited window to make a championship run. If they don’t make moves now, they could lose out on the opportunity to be a contender.

Karnisovas and Eversley have shown they are willing to make deals and spend money. At the same time, I haven’t seen them make a deal just to make a deal, as some front office personnel are prone to do.

For now, though, the center position will be the center of attention.

Peace. Love. Trust.

Rikki Lee Travolta

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