Demar DeRozan, Lonzo Ball on why they joined the Chicago Bulls | Basketball

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No team in the NBA went through as dramatic of an overhaul this offseason as the Chicago Bulls.

The roster has been almost completely turned over from the start of last season, going from an inexperienced also-ran at the bottom of the standings to a team expected to be in playoff contention in the loaded Eastern Conference.

The Bulls have surrounded Zach LaVine, coming off the best season of his career, with former All-Stars in Nikola Vučević and DeMar DeRozan, and Lonzo Ball, another young and talented guard coming off his best season. Alex Caruso, a defensive stalwart who helped the Los Angeles Lakers win a championship in 2020, is expected to play a large role coming off the bench.

The Bulls introduced their new headline free agents — DeRozan, Ball and Caruso — in a trio of conference calls Friday, and the three were clear they are excited about what the team is building.

Chicago Bulls guard Zach LaVine (8) drives against New Orleans Pelicans guard Lonzo Ball (2) during the first half at the United Center on Feb. 6, 2020.

“With Vooch being there, Zach, the organization, the city, overall the whole spectrum of the team and the organization for me,” DeRozan said. “Obviously once Lonzo signed, that made it even more appealing.

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“You could see what they were working toward, and it was something I wanted to be a part of. It wasn’t too much of a pitch that they had to make after that.”

The Bulls, however, rarely have had a pitch that has made Chicago a destination for the top free agents on the market. DeRozan joked that the most challenging part of joining the Bulls is going to be adapting to cold weather again.

But DeRozan pointed out the Bulls’ talent earlier in the week as a reason he was excited to join the team. He also has a long relationship with GM Marc Eversley, who played a part in drafting him in Toronto, which made the decision — along with a three-year, $85 million guaranteed contract — to join the Bulls even easier.

The Bulls had been connected to Ball for some time, nearly pulling off a deal to acquire him at the trade deadline last season. (Ball declined to comment on the NBA’s ongoing investigation for tampering in his sign-and-trade deal.) But the team’s pursuit was key for Ball, who said he wanted to go somewhere he felt his game was appreciated.

Chicago Bulls' Troy Baxter Jr.

Chicago Bulls’ Troy Baxter Jr. (25) and San Antonio Spurs’ Nate Renfro (35) vie for a rebound during the first half of an NBA summer league basketball game in Las Vegas on Tuesday, Aug. 10, 2021.

“They’ve been on me for a minute now,” Ball said. “I feel like they wanted me. And I want to play for someone that wants me to play for them. So that was attractive.

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“Zach is over there, Vooch, Coby (White), Pat Williams, young guys that know how to play. They’re an exciting team. I see the future and I think we can get up and down and win basketball games.”

Ball, who grew up in Los Angeles, also spoke highly of growing up watching DeRozan, who is from Compton, and called him a legend. Once they both decided to come to Chicago, they quickly got into contact with each other.

“Since he’s been in the league, it seemed like he hasn’t really been let free to be the player that I believe he is,” DeRozan said of Ball. “Once I saw him sign, and seeing him having that opportunity for the first time in his career, was something that I definitely wanted to be a part of.

“The dynamic that he brings to the court on both ends is tremendous. He’s a hell of a point guard, a hell of a player. For him, I think you’re definitely going to see the best out of Lonzo this upcoming year.”

Just how the Bulls stack up in the East next season still is unclear. Their offense could be dynamic with three players — LaVine, Vučević and DeRozan — who averaged 20 points per game last season and another in Ball, an excellent passer whose shot has improved dramatically in the last two seasons.

Defensively, the Bulls are going to be facing an uphill battle to be even average considering the limitations of their best players, but the additions of Ball and Caruso should help along with another year of experience for Williams.

But DeRozan was less worried about questions surrounding the team’s on-court fit.

Bulls Spurs Basketball

Chicago Bulls’ guard Ayo Dosunmu (12) goes to the basket between San Antonio Spurs’ Nate Renfro (35) and Devin Vassell (24) during the first half of an NBA summer league basketball game in Las Vegas on Tuesday, Aug. 10, 2021. 

“It’s basketball,” he said. “Lot of people I see criticizing, talking about ‘fit this, fit that,’ have probably never even played basketball. Being a basketball player, you go out, play at the park, some of your best teams are (with) guys you don’t even know that you go out there and compete with.

“If everybody is on the same page, mentality and want to win, it doesn’t matter about a fit, because it’s all going to come together how it needs to come together. Because at the end of the day the common denominator is winning. So if you have that mentality going into it, everything will figure out how it needs to be figured out in the process.”

Ball added: “I’m just excited to get on the court with everybody on the team. We have a lot of different players who do a lot of different things. That’s what you want on a team, guys who can bring different things to the table.”

The Bulls front office has acted aggressively this summer in an attempt to reach the postseason for the first time since 2017. On Friday, they introduced players who bought into that vision, excited to join a historic franchise they believe is on a path toward relevancy again.

“The Bulls, one, the history speaks for itself,” DeRozan said. “They haven’t had the best seasons the last few years. And kind of being a part of that and wanting to change it back around. Bring back that winning mentality. Every guy when I look at that roster has a chip on their shoulders.

“It was just something that was appealing to me that I wanted to be a part of, let alone it being in Chicago, one of the greatest cities in the NBA. With those elements all mixing in one, it was hard to turn down.”