DeMar DeRozan was a great player on forgettable Bulls teams and that's his legacy here


Three seasons and one playoff appearance do not constitute an era, but there’s no arguing that DeMar DeRozan was a wonderful player for the Chicago Bulls.

He made two All-Star teams, averaged 25.5 points on 49.6 percent shooting and played in all but 17 games over three seasons. He was basically Jimmy Butler without the defense and the drama.

DeRozan was a star, a mentor, a leader and in a more competent organization, a consistent winner. He helped the Bulls out of the rebuilding muck and into the bottom tier of respectability.

Mostly, he made Bulls basketball fun again. On some nights, anyway.

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Everything is past tense because DeRozan is gone now, joining Alex Caruso as beloved ex-Bulls off to hopefully greener pastures in the Western Conference.

They both deserved better from the Bulls. So do Bulls fans.

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Without the memories of truly great moments of him in a Bulls uniform, what can you really say about DeRozan other than that he was a fine performer for a mediocre team?

DeRozan is the kind of player that Chicago rallies around, so it’s a shame he couldn’t have played on a truly relevant Bulls team.

That’s not on him, of course. It’s on the Bulls, a middling organization with modest goals of being the sixth-best team in the East, which they accomplished once in his three seasons.

While DeRozan was undoubtedly the best free agent the Bulls have ever signed (they technically acquired him in another sign-and-trade), it’s partially because the bar is set so very low. Caruso is also in the top two or three.

The context of the Bulls making any move is that you can’t believe in or trust that things will be better going forward. This isn’t the worst organization in the NBA but it’s far, far, far from the best.

But in the post-Jordan years, the Bulls are defined by their malaise, and aside from the early days of the Ben Gordon-Luol Deng-Kirk Hinrich trio and the highs and lows of the Derrick Rose-Tom Thibodeau era (yes, we’ll count that), that’s what we’re used to. Tedium and low expectations, that’s the Chicago (Bulls) Way.

So with that in mind, DeRozan will be missed, but it’s hard to get too broken up over his departure because the Bulls weren’t that interesting with him. They can’t get rid of Zach LaVine and Nikola Vučević so easily (if at all), so Caruso and DeRozan had to go to make any kind of change.

DeRozan was part of a 2021 free agency push by Artūras Karnišovas and Marc Eversley that showed the Bulls’ new front office was different than their predecessors, who struggled to attract free agents still in their prime. They got DeRozan and Caruso because their teams’ plans didn’t include them and the prize of that summer was Lonzo Ball.

Ball immediately raised the floor of the team and his ensuing injury then crippled its potential, and the front office did next to nothing over a 2 1/2-year span to pivot, which is how the Bulls got here.

So where is here? What are the Bulls going forward?

You can’t call this a rebuild, not without a plan. A youth movement? I suppose. The Bulls traded Caruso for the young point guard Josh Giddey, who will turn 22 when the season begins, and they drafted Matas Buzelis, who turns 20 in November. They added center Jalen Smith, who is 24, and re-signed power forward Patrick Williams, who will turn 23 in August. Rising star Coby White (24) and local glue guy Ayo Dosunmu (24) return.

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Ball is technically on the roster, though they’ve obviously moved on from the idea of him being the fulcrum of a contending team. There doesn’t seem to be any market for expensive former All-Stars LaVine and Vučević, so they could be back on the Bulls this fall. If that happens, there goes the youth movement idea and you can bet the Bulls will push to be the ninth- or 10th-best team in the East once again.

A rebuild’s initial success is defined by the accumulation of assets — in the NBA and NFL, it’s draft picks since there aren’t minor-league prospects like in baseball — but the Bulls eschewed draft pick compensation for Caruso to acquire Giddey, a promising but erratic talent.

In DeRozan’s case, their options were limited because they were working out a sign-and-trade for his benefit. They still managed to get two second-round picks and a fourth-year swingman in Chris Duarte, who was a second-team All-Rookie selection in 2022, along with his new teammates Giddey and Dosunmu.

The losing that’s going to happen this season should help the Bulls keep their 2025 top-10 protected draft pick out of the hands of the Spurs, a byproduct of the DeRozan sign-and-trade in 2021. Getting a high draft pick is certainly a major staple of a rebuild, but I don’t think anyone has the stomach for a prolonged bout of losing again. Given that the franchise’s two attempts to win by losing failed miserably, maybe this kind of hybrid approach is a smarter approach to take. So much of an NBA team’s draft success depends on luck and that’s even more true today with the flattening of the lottery.

The Bulls had amazing good fortune when they got the rights to Rose. But that’s a long time ago now.

Without luck on their side, the Bulls will need to be innovative, make intelligent decisions and rely on their infrastructure to build a consistent winner. So with that in mind, down the road, we just might consider the DeRozan “era” the high point of the post-Rose years.

(Photo: Armando L. Sanchez / Chicago Tribune / Tribune News Service via Getty Images)





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