by Evan Bruner
It’s been over three months since the Chicago Bulls 2022-23 season came to a disappointing end. Although they put up a respectable fight against the eventual Eastern Conference Champion Miami Heat, the loss gave Chicago the unenviable title of the ninth team in a conference with eight playoff bids.
The season itself, while disappointing, wasn’t entirely unexpected. The Bulls faltered down the stretch of the 2021-22 season, dropping from the No. 1 seed in the Eastern Conference to narrowly avoiding a play-in game. The loss of Lonzo Ball loomed large in both the regular season and playoffs, and his absence continued to hurt the team in 2023.
With no first-round pick in last month’s draft and a free agency class that mostly consisted of role players, the Bulls enter 2023 with essentially the same roster as a year ago. Ball is still hurt and may never play a game of professional basketball again, Billy Donovan remains as head coach, and the team still lacks size. It’s pretty clear to the naked eye what the Bulls are: a mediocre basketball team. In a league that incentivizes teams to border between the two extremes, Chicago finds itself in the dreaded middle of the pack.
The better question to ask is what the front office plans to do about this. After an eventful 2021, the Bulls’ activity has cooled considerably, and it’s fair to question whether Artūras Karnišovas has any more tricks up his sleeve. In retrospect, it appears that he may have been overly ambitious. The acquisitions of Nikola Vucevic, DeMar DeRozan, and Ball were supposed to put the Bulls into contention, and the resources exerted to get those three into Chicago left the team without a backup plan.
Anyone can play the hindsight game. If things worked out the way the Bulls had hoped (which they did for about 50 games), Karnišovas would’ve been rightfully heralded as a basketball genius. But society cares very little about hypotheticals. No explanation changes the bleak present-day reality of Chicago Bulls basketball.
Looking at the current landscape of the NBA, there’s little chance of the Bulls contending for anything more than a play-in spot in 2024. On the flip side, the team has too much invested in this group to blow it all up. This dilemma has positioned the Bulls to face the monotony of middle-class life in a league that does no favors for such teams.
There was never a Plan B for Karnišovas; he went all-in with this group because he thought it would get the Bulls back to the top. Now, this endeavor looks to have been less than successful, but the hold it has on the organization persists, nonetheless. The Bulls are trapped in Karnišovas’ failed experiment, and they have no choice but to let it runs its course.