When the Chicago Bulls tweeted an image of a high-fiving Zach LaVine and DeMar DeRozan with the caption: “One month from today: our season begins,” I felt two things.
Of course, my first feeling was a sense of overwhelming excitement. I can’t be more eager to see what Year 2 of this team can do, particularly with a fully-healthy Zach LaVine. As disappointing as the second half of last year’s campaign was, the group showed enough gusto in the first half to stir up real optimism about what a more collectively experienced core can do.
The second feeling I had was like watching your slightly-buzzed mother unexpectedly take the karaoke stage. Concern immediately set in alongside a pit in my stomach. The singing is happening whether I like it or not, and all I can do is hope fun doesn’t promptly dissolve into complete and utter embarrassment.
With training camp expected to start next week and the first preseason game scheduled for Oct. 4, the reality of the path this front office chose is beginning to set in. Since even before last year’s trade deadline, Arturas Karnisovas and Co. prepared us for this offseason. They made clear that the roster they built one summer ago will have a long leash. Again, with that comes a sense of excitement, especially after the highs the Bulls experienced last year. But the NBA is also an ever-changing establishment, and one of the worst things you can do is refuse to change with it.
To be clear, I’m not saying the Bulls’ lack of continued aggressiveness this offseason has already sunk their ship. The front office seems to believe it did enough last year to put this organization in a continued position to succeed. And maybe it has!
However, it’s hard not to walk into this season with some sort of guard up. Not only is Lonzo Ball’s availability still in question, but we watched on the sidelines as the Nets, Cavaliers, and Hawks all make the kind of changes the Bulls didn’t. Considering all three of those teams finished behind the sixth-place Bulls last season, it’s hard not to wonder if their respective big splashes could make the opposite happen in 2022-23.
We also can’t look past the numerous other questions facing this team: Is Patrick Williams ready to take the next step? Can Nikola Vucevic return to form? Will Ayo Dosunmu or Goran Dragic be a suitable fill-in for Lonzo Ball? Can Zach LaVine continue his rise up the league ranks? What about DeMar DeRozan? Will age continue to be but a number?
I’m not trying to panic. It’s just that with returning to the playoffs for the first time since 2016-17, the bar has officially risen. So whereas last year we could head into training camp with gobs of optimism and expectations that don’t extend far past “I just want fun basketball,” this year we have to walk in holding this team to a playoff standard. I’m glad we’ve finally reached that point, but it also comes with some stress.
Anyway, I look forward to what the next couple of weeks brings. While we will not have all of our questions answered, we’ll at least start to get a better idea of the kind of Bulls team we can expect to see on the floor this year. Let’s hope it’s a better one.