Why Bulls’ Coby White’s 2022 offseason is especially pivotal

As of Coby White’s end-of-season exit interview with reporters on April 28, he hadn’t thought deeply about his future with the Chicago Bulls.

“Yeah,” White said when asked if a long-term pact with the franchise appeals to him, “but I haven’t talked about it or discussed it (with his agent). The season just ended yesterday, and throughout the season, I was focused on the season and only the season and trying to be the best player that I can be for my teammates and the organization. ”

The answer is true to White’s typical stay-in-the-moment approach.

The question arose for a reason.

White, who was drafted seventh overall by the franchise in 2019, is eligible to extend his rookie contract this offseason. If a new deal isn’t reached, he will enter restricted free agency in the summer of 2023. And while the front office has projected a desire for continuity, it’s reasonable to ponder whether White fits into the team’s plans moving forward.

Let’s start by acknowledging that White’s play was largely positive in the 2020-21 season, despite a shooting slump at the end of the regular season that carried into the playoffs. He shot career-best percentages inside of three feet (66.1) and behind the 3-point arc (38.5) while appearing in 61 of 70 games after returning from offseason shoulder surgery in November. At age 22, his decision-making and defense – albeit inconsistent – have improved year over year.

And those returns came in a role that fluctuated more than any other Bulls regular. From spark plug reserve, to starter, to spark plug reserve again. From on-ball playmaker to off-ball scorer.

“I see a lot of growth in Coby’s year,” executive vice president Artūras Karnišovas said in his end-of-season comments. “He’s been very good. Whatever (head coach) Billy (Donovan) asked of him – sometimes he would start and sometimes come off the bench.

“He’s never been in the playoffs, so that was new for him. Just emotionally, how to control emotions, it’s a learning experience for him. How to knock down shots and how to play with (a) constantly changing roster in terms of lineups. ”

But with Lonzo Ball (three years, $ 61.4 million), Alex Caruso (three years, $ 21.5 million guaranteed), and, the Bulls hope, Zach LaVine, the franchise could well have three established guards under contract for multiple future seasons by the end of the summer. The emergence of Ayo Dosunmu crowds the depth chart further.

“Whatever role may be,” White said when asked if he would be comfortable coming off the long-term bench for the Bulls. “Like I always said, whatever happens happens at the end of the day. I ain’t thought about the offseason yet, those types of things, the season just ended yesterday, and I’m just taking it day-by-day. I’ll always stay in the moment. ”

And it’s difficult to ignore the postseason struggles. White shot 27.6 percent from 3-point range in the Bulls’ five-game first-round defeat to the Bucks. Early in Game 4, Donovan appeared to relegate the ailing third-year guard from his rotation before Caruso suffered a concussion in the second quarter.

That experience was a productive one in that it shined a glaring light on the areas White pressingly needs to improve. This offseason, he said, the front office tasked him to work on his ball-handling and strength, which will help him at the defensive end. With the COVID-19 pandemic disrupting his rookie season, and a torn labrum sidelining him last summer, 2022 – knock on wood – represents the first full offseason of his NBA career.

“I feel like there’s still more I can get better at,” White said. “Obviously I feel like I haven’t reached my full ceiling and my full potential… With this offseason, I have a lot of chance (s) to work on a lot of different things. I feel like my game can grow. ”

The Bulls’ front office and coaching staff values ​​White for that mentality. There’s a reason he and LaVine are the last players standing from the Karnišovas roster and company inherited in the spring of 2020.

But whether he fits into the franchise’s long-term plans remains to be seen. White’s shooting is needed for a team that ranked 29th in the NBA in 3-pointers made per game (10.6) last season. But his development is still in progress. The latter point could appeal to the Bulls as a bridge piece to the post-DeMar DeRozan era, or be of intrigue to another team – provided that team is willing to grapple with White’s extension eligibility or restricted free agency shortly after acquiring him. Along with their own first-round pick this year, and a lottery-protected future first from Portland, White stands as one of the few pieces in the Bulls’ asset chest that could net an upgrade at another position. And they need depth upgrades across the board.

“There’s going to be more focus right now on the draft,” Karnišovas said when asked how the front office will approach White’s extension-eligibility. “Once we get to it we’re going to meet up with the group and (we’re) gonna make decisions.”

One way or the other, those decisions will affect White’s future.

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