For teams like the Brooklyn Nets and Los Angeles Lakers, the pressure and urgency to win an NBA title have been the driving force for all the moves they made this offseason.
The Nets stacked an already talented roster with players who can provide depth and energy when Kevin Durant, James Harden, and Kyrie Irving have to leave the floor for any reason. The Lakers, on the other hand, surrounded LeBron James and Anthony Davis with a former MVP in Russell Westbrook to take some of the load off the duo during the regular season so that they can be fresh for the offseason.
Reaching the NBA Finals and winning the title are the objectives of these two teams, even for reigning champions Milwaukee Bucks. But what about the other teams that are not quite great enough to sit at the same table as those contenders?
Ladies and gentlemen, I present to you the 2021-22 Chicago Bulls.
The Bulls were one of the noisiest teams in the offseason, adding free agents Lonzo Ball and Alex Caruso. And just when everyone thought their free agency window had closed, they went ahead and signed veteran DeMar DeRozan to a staggering $85 million, 3-year deal, a huge contract for a player who will be entering his mid-30s by the time it expires.
A lot of heads turned by the moves the Bulls made. Most experts loved the addition of Caruso and Ball as it injected youth and athleticism but the DeRozan acquisition was perceived as unnecessary, particularly with Zach Lavine in the lineup. DeRozan is an excellent scorer and facilitator but that means fewer touches for Lavine, who was an All-Star last season.
So if you piece it together, the question that should be asked is why do all these moves if you’re the Bulls? Does getting all these solid players leap them over teams like the Bucks, Nets, and Philadelphia 76ers Nets in the East? Do the moves even put them on the level of the Atlanta Hawks, Miami Heat, and New York Knicks?
The answer to this is probably no. There are too many issues regarding the Bulls’ defense that will hinder them from making a deep playoff run. A first-round appearance would probably be their ceiling while competing in the Play-In Tournament as their floor.
And you know what? That’s okay. Teams build their roster to become championship contenders. But there’s something to be said about teams building to be good rather than to be great.
The last time the Bulls made the postseason was in 2017. That team, which had Dwyane Wade huffing and puffing his way around the court and Rajon Rondo, was running on borrowed time and everyone knew that playoff run was just a one-time appearance.
Since then, disaster had struck the Bulls as they went through coach after coach and failed draft pick after draft pick. It took them five years before they finally got to this point -- talks finally moving from “who should we pick” to “what seed should we aim for.”
It’s a story that many other teams and their fan bases can relate to. The Hawks and Knicks last season made moves to put themselves in a position to make the playoffs and look how invigorated their squads are because of those appearances. Ditto for the Phoenix Suns, who signed Chris Paul last offseason and made it to the finals. I doubt they were aiming to be great title contenders. But in those instances, being good was not the enemy of being great, it was simply a milestone that those teams passed.
So embrace teams that aren’t on the precipice of being great yet. Those teams that just want to be good and see if they can soar higher shouldn’t be penalized for those moves. And for fans of those squads, cheer for your team. Even if that team has a leaky defense but a fun offense. Or embrace your team that has a dogged defensive identity, yet can’t get buckets. Not every team can be a championship contender overnight. But you can still have a blast witnessing their road to being great.