With DeRozan and Ball, Bulls eye jump in Eastern Conference

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FILE – In this May 12, 2021, file photo, Brooklyn Nets’ Bruce Brown (1) defends against San Antonio Spurs’ DeMar DeRozan (10) during the first half of an NBA basketball game in New York. The Chicago Bulls made another major upgrade to their roster, acquiring high-scoring DeRozan a day after adding point guard Lonzo Ball. The Bulls agreed Tuesday, Aug. 3, 2021, to a three-year, $85 million contract with DeRozan as part of a sign-and-trade with San Antonio, a person familiar with the situation said. The person spoke on the condition of anonymity because teams cannot announce deals until Friday. It was not clear what the Spurs are getting in return. (AP Photo/Frank Franklin II, File)

CHICAGO (AP) — Joining Olympian Zach LaVine and Nikola Vucevic in what could be a high-scoring trio appealed to DeMar DeRozan. He is thrilled to get to play alongside fellow newcomer Lonzo Ball, too.

He sees a team poised to make a jump, and that explains why the Chicago Bulls were an attractive destination.

“Every guy, when I look at their roster, has a chip on their shoulders,” DeRozan said. “Vuc, since college, I know the type of player he is, how bad he wants to win. Zach wanting to be on that main stage and wanting to compete for something much more than just stats during the season. Myself, I always carried a chip on my shoulder. And Lonzo. … There’s so much there that can bring so much potential.”

The Bulls finished 11th in the Eastern Conference and missed the playoffs for the fourth straight year. While it was their first season with Arturas Karnisovas leading the front office and Billy Donovan coaching the club, they clearly have their sights set on the postseason.

The Bulls are banking on DeRozan and Ball to help them get there after making big moves to acquire the two in separate sign-and-trade deals. They introduced their new arrivals on Friday.

DeRozan, a four-time All-Star with eight straight seasons averaging more than 20 points, agreed to a three-year, $85 million contract. In return, the Bulls sent San Antonio veteran forwards Thaddeus Young and Al-Farouq Aminu, a protected first-round draft pick and two second-round draft picks.

The Bulls gave Ball, a restricted free agent, $85 million over four years. The Pelicans got Garrett Temple, Tomas Satoransky, a 2024 second-round draft pick from Chicago and landed guard Devonte Graham from Charlotte in a separate sign-and-trade move.

“I think everything happens for a reason and everything plans out how it’s supposed to plan out,” Ball said. “I think at this point in my life, it was time for me to be a Chicago Bull. I’m happy to be in Chicago. Obviously, I’ve got good bonds with guys over there in New Orleans. It could have worked out, but like I said, everything happens for a reason.”

Ball, a four-year veteran who turns 24 in October, is coming off his best season. In his second year with the Pelicans, he averaged career highs in points (14.6 per game) and field-goal percentage (41.4) while averaging 5.7 assists. He hit a career-high 172 3-pointers last season while making a career-best 37.8% of his shots from deep.

Ball, drafted by the Lakers with the No. 2 pick out of UCLA in 2017, changed his shooting mechanics after being traded to the Pelicans in the deal that sent Anthony Davis to Los Angeles.

“Since he’s been in the league, it seems like he hasn’t really been let free to be the player that I believe he is,” DeRozan said. “Coming to this organization once I’d seen him sign and seeing him having that opportunity for the first time in his career, was something that I definitely want to be a part of. The dynamic that he brings to the court on both ends is tremendous.”

There are some questions about how all the pieces will fit together. DeRozan isn’t concerned.

“It’s basketball,” he said. “A lot of people I see criticize and talk about ‘fit this, fit that’ probably never even played basketball. Being a basketball player you go out, play at the park. Some of your best teams is against guys you don’t even know, that you go out there and compete with. For me, if everybody is on the same page, mentality and wants to win, it doesn’t matter about a fit because it’s all gonna come together.”

DeRozan also sees a hunger in LaVine, who made his first All-Star team last season and played on a gold medal team in Tokyo. One thing he hasn’t done is play in the postseason in seven years with Minnesota and Chicago.

DeRozan insisted the Bulls will see an even better version of LaVine because of his Olympic experience. He remembers what winning the gold in Rio did for himself.

“Being amongst a group of the greatest players in the world, the greatest minds, the greatest coaches — it does something unconsciously to you that gives you the ultimate confidence, the ultimate work ethic,” DeRozan said. “It makes you realize you belong in the elite category of guys, and that carries over to the season. … The winning mentality that they have and what it feels like to win. Something like that carries over, whether you realize that or not.”

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