The Chicago Bulls made sweeping changes to their front office and snagged one of the top coaches on the market, hoping an overhaul in leadership will carry them back to respectability.
After the past few seasons, that would be a huge improvement.
Though their roster remains largely intact, the Bulls come into the season with a new direction and a different outlook.
They hired Arturas Karnisovas to lead their basketball operation and Marc Eversley as general manager. The new management team made big splash when Billy Donovan accepted an offer to become the coach, a bold move by a franchise not known for them.
But these aren't the same old Bulls.
Chairman Jerry Reinsdorf and president Michael Reinsdorf — his son — decided to act after Chicago finished 11th in the Eastern Conference at 22-43 and were one of eight teams left out of the Orlando bubble when the pandemic-shortened season resumed. It was the fourth time in five years the Bulls missed the playoffs.
Chicago hired Karnisovas out of Denver's front office as executive vice president of basketball operations while shifting John Paxson into an advisory role after nearly two decades as the top decision maker.
The Bulls fired former general manager Gar Forman and brought in Eversley from Philadelphia. They also let former Jim Boylen go with a 39-84 record in less than two full seasons and replaced him with a coach who has a winning history.
Donovan led Oklahoma City to a 243-157 record and playoff appearances in each of his five years. Before joining the Thunder, he coached Florida to two NCAA championships over 19 seasons.
The Bulls scheduled to open the regular season at home against Atlanta on Dec. 23.
Zach LaVine is coming off his best season, averaging a career-high 25.5 points in his sixth year in the NBA and third in Chicago.
But hasn't played in an All-Star game or for a postseason team, two glaring omissions on his resume. He could also be an attractive trade target.
The four-year, $80 million offer sheet he signed with Sacramento that the Bulls matched prior to the 2018-19 season makes him a relative bargain. And the new front office is not tied to him.
“If something happens, it happens. ... While you're on this team, you have to be all-in. I've been all-in since the first day I've been here," LaVine said.
One big item on Donovan's to-do list is to get more out of Lauri Markkanen. His third season was a bit of a dud.
The versatile, sweet-shooting 7-footer from Finland missed 15 games with a pelvic injury and saw his scoring and rebounding drop in his third season. He went from averaging 18.7 points and 9 rebounds in 2018-19 season to 14.7 and 6.3 last year.
“Everyone knows he can put the ball on the floor and shoot it,” Donovan said. “But can we try to create some situations for him where he becomes a little bit more difficult to guard? I think, one, it's him understanding how to attack size mismatches. I think the other part of it, too is the team having recognition in transition of when he's open to find him."
From Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook to Paul George and Chris Paul, Donovan coached some of the NBA's best players in Oklahoma City. He is taking over a team with no established superstars, and that didn't bother him.
“I was more interested in what kind of relationship would Arturas and Marc and I have working going forward,” Donovan said.
ON THE BALL
Coby White opens his second season as the primary ballhandler.
The 6-foot-4 guard from North Carolina showed promise as a rookie, averaging 13.2 points in a reserve role, and was particularly good down the stretch. He averaged 26.1 points over the final nine games, starting with a stretch where he scored 33 or more in three straight outings. That included a 35-point effort against Oklahoma City.
The question is whether he's better suited to play point guard or shooting guard.
The Bulls opted to let guards Kris Dunn and Shaquille Harrison become unrestricted free agents rather than extend qualifying offers, parting with two solid defenders.
The Bulls' most significant addition was Patrick Williams, with the No. 4 overall pick in the draft. At 6-foot-8 and with a nearly 7-foot wingspan, the Florida State product can defend all five spots.