Will the Chicago Bulls Make the 2021 Playoffs?


Image by Jeff Juit from Pixabay

Written by Ryan Bennett, Sports Editor

The 2020-21 NBA season has reached its halfway point. The season has gone mostly as predicted, as the teams projected to do well have all performed to their expectations. One team that many were divided over is the Chicago Bulls. They’re a tough team to figure out, as they have not made the playoffs since 2017, yet they have a talented roster. At the halfway mark of the season, they currently have a 16-18 record, and are ninth in the eastern conference out of 15 teams. Only eight teams will make the playoffs however, so the final half of the season will be a test for the team to see if they can secure a playoff spot.

To analyze how the Bulls have been performing this season, we first need to look back at past seasons. After the Bulls were eliminated in the first round of the playoffs in 2017, they made a franchise-altering trade shortly after. They sent Jimmy Butler to the Minnesota Timberwolves, in exchange for Zach LaVine, Lauri Markkanen, and Kris Dunn. This signaled that the Bulls were about to move into a rebuilding phase, given that they traded their best player for younger, more unproven players. Over the next three years following the Butler trade, the Bulls failed to make the playoffs all three years, and had a top seven pick three times during this period as well, which gave them more young pieces to build around.

One of the biggest reasons for their sudden improvement this season is the change in head coach. The Bulls’ previous head coach, Jim Boylen, is widely regarded as one of the worst coaches in NBA history. The players disliked him so much, in fact, that it was reported that they were thinking about forming a mutiny against him after his extreme tactics in practice. When they underwent a management change in the offseason, they fired Boylen shortly after. His replacement, Billy Donovan, has proven to be a much better coach. Donovan has extensive coaching experience, as he won two national championships at the collegiate level, and made the playoffs every year while coaching the Oklahoma City Thunder from 2015 to 2020. His new offense has proven to be very effective for all of the players, which has led to better ball movement, and subsequently, more wins.

Another factor in the Bulls’ improvement has been the further development of the players. Zach LaVine, over his three seasons on the team, has slowly morphed into a superstar-level player. He is currently averaging 28.7 points per game, and was selected to his first ever all star game earlier this season. He has given the Bulls all they had hoped for and more when they acquired him in the Butler trade. LaVine recently said that he hopes he can lead the Bulls to a championship in the coming years, and he certainly looks like he has what it takes to help the Bulls get there. The three players that the Bulls drafted from 2017 to 2019 are playing great as well. Lauri Markkanen, Wendell Carter, and Coby White have all played a big role in the team’s success, and if they continue to develop, they could be pieces of a future championship team, or be traded for an even bigger asset if the Bulls choose to go that route.

The final reason why the Bulls have been playing better this season is the veteran leadership. Thaddeus Young, currently in his fourteenth NBA season is a great mentor for all of the young players on the team. There have been rumors swirling of the possibility of the Bulls trading Young prior to the trade deadline. This would make sense for the future, as the Bulls could acquire a young asset for an aging player like Young, but it would also deprive the players of someone to look up to, and having someone like that is always valuable for the younger players on the team.

Overall, the Bulls’ arrow has been trending upwards. Just making the playoffs this year after the abysmal past three seasons would be a huge accomplishment. It’s also possible that the team could attract a superstar free agent to sign with them this offseason, which could ultimately catapult them into the upper echelon of the league.


Collier, Jamal. “Zach LaVine defied the odds to make the 2021 All-Star Game. What’s the ceiling for the Chicago Bulls’ franchise player?” Chicago Tribune, 6 Mar. 2021, https://www.chicagotribune.com/sports/bulls/ct-chicago-bulls-zach-lavine-all-star-game-20210307-e2dejwrcpvdp7ea6myyybmybfy-story.html. Accessed 8 Mar. 2021.

Schaefer, Rob. “Donovan has raised ‘the standard’ and Bulls are buying in.” NBC Sports Chicago, 25 Feb. 2021, https://www.nbcsports.com/chicago/bulls/bulls-billy-donovan-has-raised-standard-and-team-buying. Accessed 8 Mar. 2021.