DeMar DeRozan calls 1st Bulls season ‘perfect’ despite playoff exit


Why DeRozan calls first Bulls season ‘perfect’ originally appeared on NBC Sports Chicago

MILWAUKEE — It’s not often that an already established and All-Star player averages a career-high in scoring in Year 13.

But it’s not the individual statistics that stand out to DeMar DeRozan, who, with his first season in Chicago freshly concluded Wednesday night, didn’t take long to answer how it went.

“Perfect. Couldn’t have gone a better way. It’s been a great year to say the least,” DeRozan said. “Just being around the front office, teammates, the city. Everything has been something more than I could’ve imagined. It’s one of those dream-come-true situations of things you didn’t expect to happen. And it exceeds your imagination. I’m already looking forward to next year and doing it again.”

The player exit meetings begin in earnest Thursday morning. An offseason of personnel tweaks—more significant moves?—awaits.

But those will come in time.

For now, in the direct aftermath of Wednesday night’s season-ending 1116-100 loss to the Milwaukee Bucks, this Chicago Bulls season can be celebrated.

From DeRozan’s arrival to Zach LaVine’s continued ascension to the potential that core pieces like Lonzo Ball, Alex Caruso and Ayo Dosunmu showed, this season created stirring storylines and plenty of highlight-worthy feats.

More important, this season placed the Bulls back into relevance.

“This was a really, really special group to work with,” coach Billy Donovan said. “I was really blessed and fortunate to be around all these guys. I think just the professionalism and the way they put the team first will always stand out to me. They always put winning first.”

The Bulls achieved that 46 times, the most victories since Tom Thibodeau’s final season featured a 50-32 mark in 2014-15. This series marked the first postseason appearance since 2017 under Fred Hoiberg.

Donovan isn’t satisfied.

“We got off to a really, really good start this year. It was really impressive to me with a new group that hadn’t had a lot of time together that they could gel and mesh the way they did. But we’ll actually have to work harder going into this offseason and next year to even get back to this point,” he said. “I think a lot of people were uncertain of what our team would look like. And I think as they started to go through the year, I think they earned and gained more respect around the league. And I think it will be harder next year.

“I just think because we got to this point there’s nothing guaranteed next year. What our approach and our mentality is going to be like this offseason and going into training camp will be critically important to build off some of the positive things that happened this year.”

There were plenty.

Beyond DeRozan’s 27.9 points per game, who can forget his back-to-back, ridiculous, game-winning, buzzer-beating 3-pointers to beat the Pacers and Wizards on the road on New Year’s Eve and New Year’s Day? Or his NBA-record eight straight games scoring 35 points or more on 50 percent or better shooting?

“Some of the stuff he did this year was amazing,” Nikola Vucevich said. “It was great to play with him. He was great for us on the court, off the court, as a leader. It was a pleasure to play with my college teammate again.”

LaVine made his second straight All-Star game appearance and, even with persistent knee pain slowing him, posted a second straight season with a true shooting percentage over .600. He faces a busy offseason that will feature his first unrestricted free agency and a likely procedure on his ailing knee—even if a final decision on the latter hasn’t been made yet.

“He’s one of those players in this league that you don’t see too often,” DeRozan said.

Ball only played in 35 games before needing surgery to repair a torn meniscus in late January and never returning because of lingering pain from a bone bruise. In those games, however, he shot a career-high 42.3 percent from 3-point range on high volume of 7.4 attempts per game and also flashed his defensive IQ and ability to push pace offensively.

“Man, just what he brings, a guy like Zo changes the game so much in so many ways offensively and defensively. The excitement, the pace, the tempo,” DeRozan said. “He’s one of those dynamic players who can change the whole trajectory of the game.”

Caruso also experienced an in-and-out nature to his first season in Chicago, missing the season finale in concussion protocols. This underscored his physical, intense style of play that endeared him to the fan base.

Dosunmu, too, quickly became a favorite fan, quickly moving from the hometown curiosity to a trusted member of the core.

“This was a lot of our guys’ first rodeo,” DeRozan said. “Just understanding what it’s like to compete in a playoff series, there’s so much you can learn from that experience, especially going against the defending champs. How you execute. How you prepare to play.

“It always sucks to lose a series. But it’s definitely a great learning tool for a lot of us.”

Because this is just the start, right? Time and again, Donovan and players talked about how this marked their first season playing together. Often, they attributed their legitimate struggles against the league’s elite to that fact and competing against teams that have been battle-tested together.

Time will tell if the Bulls are right.

“Building a winning team that can go deep takes time,” said Vucevich, who averaged a double-double while enduring an inconsistent shooting season. “It’s hard to judge it off just one season and one playoff series that we played. I think this team does have a lot of potential.”

DeRozan thinks so as well, even while acknowledging his mand wandered occasionally to those tantalizing weeks when the Bulls were whole and flying around the United Center creating defensive havoc that led to transition opportunities and a weeks-long stay atop the Eastern Conference.

“You’re always going to have a what-if moment,” DeRozan said. “I try not to dwell on it so much because it frustrates you even more. I’m proud of every single person on our team, the young guys. We had a lot of ups and downs. It was a helluva ride. It’s something I’m pretty sure I’ll look back on it in a couple of weeks and start to miss it even more. It doesn’t always play out how you want. But you learn so much from it. The goal is to be much better in all aspects.”

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