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How will all the pieces mesh? And do they have enough depth? 5 storylines to watch as the Chicago Bulls open training camp.

Chicago Tribune
Chicago Tribune
 30 days ago
Bulls guard Zach LaVine sits on the bench at the United Center on Monday, Oct. 29, 2018. Armando L. Sanchez/Chicago Tribune

The Chicago Bulls are about to open training camp for one of the more intriguing seasons in recent memory. Their dramatic roster overhaul has given fans an almost entirely new team to get behind in hopes of making the postseason for the first time in five years.

Here are five storylines to watch heading into camp.

1. How will all the pieces mesh?

The Bulls had one of the most active offseasons in the NBA.

They made splashy free-agent signings, bringing in Lonzo Ball and DeMar DeRozan to boost the starting lineup alongside Zach LaVine and Nikola Vučević, with Alex Caruso and Tony Bradley coming off the bench. Only two players, LaVine and Coby White, remain from the team that finished the 2019-20 season.

The Bulls have improved and will carry increased expectations in a competitive Eastern Conference, but just how well all the pieces mesh will be worth watching. Offensively, the team has a chance to be one of the NBA’s elite. The defense will be a work in progress, but coach Billy Donovan has never coached a defense that finished lower than 12th in the NBA. He’ll have his work cut out for him this season, including finding rotations and lineup combinations that make sense right away.

The Bulls cashed in a significant portion of their future — they can’t trade a first-round pick for the next half-decade — in order to improve this season, but will it be enough to stay out of the play-in tournament?

2. Zach LaVine’s future

The Bulls had a choice at the beginning of the offseason — either use their cap space and flexibility to improve the roster or try to lock up LaVine with a long-term contract in line with his market value after his first All-Star appearance last season.

They chose to surround LaVine — who never has made the playoffs in seven seasons with the Bulls and Timberwolves — with more talent than he has ever played alongside in his career. Although LaVine said earlier this summer that he believed he deserved “respect” with his next contract , he also has reiterated constantly he wants to win. This Bulls team gives him his best chance to do so.

So the Bulls are making a bit of a gamble. LaVine is set to become an unrestricted free agent next summer and would be perhaps the best player on the market. But he hasn’t given any indication he wants out of Chicago. Keeping him around a winning team should help things stay that way.

3. Tampering fallout

The sign-and-trade with the New Orleans Pelicans that brought Ball to the Bulls was announced just minutes after free agency officially began, and the Bulls have been under investigation for potentially violating the NBA’s tampering rules because of it.

No punishment has been handed out, but the Bulls are expected to get hit hard as the league continues its selective crackdown on tampering. The Milwaukee Bucks were penalized a 2022 second-round pick after they contacted Bogdan Bogdanović prematurely before ultimately losing him to the Sacramento Kings.

The penalties the Bulls face potentially could be stiffer.

4. Where does Coby White fit in?

Although White has been improving since undergoing left shoulder surgery June 10, he will miss the start of the season and is on track to make a full return in November .

Once White does make his way back, however, where he fits into the team remains in question.

The Bulls added Ball and Caruso, who both figure to be ahead of him on the depth chart. LaVine and DeRozan will handle the ball frequently when they’re in the game. White eventually should play a key role coming off the bench with Caruso and can provide scoring bursts more similar to his rookie season after starting 54 of his 69 games in 2020-21.

But just how well he settles into that role ― and how he fits into the Bulls’ long-term future ― remains to be seen.

5. Do the Bulls have enough depth?

Defense will be a question for the Bulls all season, but depth might be the next most pressing issue.

Caruso and backup big man Bradley should bring some defensive intensity off the bench, and White can provide scoring bursts when he returns, but the rest of the bench is filled with question marks.

And Patrick Williams’ injury — he suffered a severe left ankle sprain that will sideline him four to six weeks, the team announced Friday — will further test the team’s depth. An injury this close to the start of training camp puts the season opener in jeopardy for him and perhaps opens the starting power forward spot.

If Williams’ recovery takes four weeks from when the injury happened, he would be on track to return Oct. 13. The Bulls open the season Oct. 20 in Detroit.

It’s unclear what wings Troy Brown Jr. and Derrick Jones Jr. will be able to provide. The big man rotation is thin, but 2020 second-round pick Marko Simonović should get an opportunity to prove he belongs. Perhaps 2021 second-round pick Ayo Dosunmu , a Chicago native and consensus first-team All-American at Illinois, can make an impact, especially early with White out.

The Bulls were no strangers to injuries and COVID-19-related absences the last few seasons that forced them to rely on their depth more than they anticipated.

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