The Chicago Bulls took a big step forward this past season, finishing sixth in the Eastern Conference and making the playoffs for the first time since 2017.
There is plenty of reason for Bulls fans to be optimistic about the future, but the team has lots of work to do.
Right before the All-Star break, it had the best record in the East and had one of the NBA’s top-ranked defenses, but it all came apart at the seams afterward.
With the rest of the conference continually getting better and deeper over the last few years, it may not be wise to fully expect Chicago to be in the 2023 NBA playoffs.
A Look At The Rest Of The Eastern Conference
After being greatly inferior to the Western Conference for the better part of two decades, the Eastern Conference has finally closed the gap.
There is plenty of young, ascendant talent in the East, and the Bulls aren’t exactly the only example.
When one looks at the Eastern Conference playoff race, one has to start with the two kingpins: the Milwaukee Bucks and Boston Celtics, both of whom are legitimate championship contenders.
If they do, they are pretty much a lock to reach the postseason.
On the next tier down lies teams such as the Miami Heat and Philadelphia 76ers, teams that could win it all if the stars align for them.
Then there are the Toronto Raptors, Atlanta Hawks, and Cleveland Cavaliers, all of whom are solid playoff teams, not to mention young and hungry.
That is eight teams, and it is hard to see Chicago finishing ahead of the first five teams mentioned.
All it would then take is one team to leapfrog it and force it to go through the play-in tournament in order to reach the playoffs.
Finishing off a squad such as Toronto, Atlanta, or Cleveland in a single-elimination format won’t be easy, and anything can happen in such a format, as is often the case in the NCAA Tournament.
Will Lonzo Ball Be Able To Help The Bulls Reach The Playoffs?
Last summer, as part of a sign-and-trade with the New Orleans Pelicans, Lonzo Ball agreed to a four-year deal with the Bulls worth $80 million.
It was seen as a positive move, as many expected him to be a spark plug for his new team.
24yo Lonzo Ball has turned himself into an absolute dead-eye. Over 40% on every single type of 3 last season w good volume.
Wrecking ball perimeter defender—passing lane disruption and brilliant screen navigation. Ball mover and transition beast. Starter on a championship team! pic.twitter.com/0ZCxidWM17
— NBA University (@NBA_University) August 3, 2022
Although Ball has dramatically improved his outside shooting over the last few years, he still has trouble staying healthy.
He suffered a knee injury at midseason, and after he underwent surgery to fix it, he was expected to be able to return within eight weeks.
Instead, he missed the entire balance of the schedule, and there is a sneaking suspicion that he may not even be ready for the start of training camp in about two months.
Gonna need Lonzo Ball to skirt the injury bug next season like he did this Joel Embiid overhand…pic.twitter.com/WoQAx5yDVd
— Drew Stevens (@lookwhatdrewdid) July 30, 2022
If Ball is not healthy for the vast majority of the 2022-23 season, he will take down the Bulls’ hopes with him.