Bulls set roster, but still have rotation decisions to work out
Last week at the end of a Bulls practice, Arturas Karnisovas took a lap around the gym, then settled behind one particular basket and watched as Matt Thomas and a rehabbing Coby White went through shooting drills with player development staff.
It was easy to imagine what was on his mind: Should the Bulls keep another 3-point shooter on the roster, since White is expected to be out at least another month recovering from left shoulder surgery?
The answer arrived Saturday. After completing a 4-0 preseason, the Bulls released forward Stanley Johnson, kept Thomas and converted forward Tyler Cook to a two-way contract.
There's no guarantees with a non-guaranteed contract, but it appears the Bulls will open the season with Thomas on the roster. He's a 6-foot-4 native of Onalaska, Wis., who played at Iowa State and was coached by Fred Hoiberg in two of his four years.
After college, Thomas went to Spain for two years, then spent the past two seasons playing for Toronto and Utah. During his NBA travels, he's shot 41.3% from 3-point range.
Since leaving Iowa in 2019, the 6-foot-8 Cook has seen action for four NBA teams and three G-League squads. He appeared in 28 games for the Pistons last season.
The Bulls also released forward Troy Baxter Jr., who was most likely signed so he could join the G-League's Windy City Bulls as an affiliate player. It's not clear if Johnson will join Windy City.
When the Bulls open the season Wednesday in Detroit, there will be some interesting rotation questions. Based on what we saw in preseason, the Bulls seem to have a "starting six" of sorts, since it looks like guard Alex Caruso will log as many minutes as some of the starters.
Coach Billy Donovan had nice things to say about the former Lakers fan favorite on Friday.
"He's a great communicator," Donovan said of Caruso. "He sees things before it happens. He helps guys. He's really smart, he's tough, he does all the little things.
"He always is talking to our group about areas we've got to get better in and things we have to improve on in particular like the free-throw line blockouts. He says, 'We've got to show that tomorrow in practice, those free-throw line blockouts.' I say believe me we are on it. He always thinking about things to help the group."
Two players stood out in preseason as far as guys who earned court time, and both were playing out of position. Javonte Green started at power forward until Patrick Williams returned from an ankle injury on Friday. And Alize Johnson was essentially the backup center.
In Friday's win over Memphis, Alize Johnson didn't play until the fourth quarter, but that was because the Bulls wanted to take a look at backup center Tony Bradley, who also made his preseason debut after recovering from a back issue.
When the games start counting on Wednesday, will Donovan go back to Johnson as the backup center? It might depend on matchups, but it's hard to justify keeping him off the court after he was the Bulls' best rebounder in preseason.
The first two subs in Friday's game were Green and Troy Brown Jr., for DeMar DeRozan and Williams. Then DeRozan returned to lead the second unit into the second quarter. Derrick Jones Jr. was also not in Friday's nine-man rotation.
"I think Alize has given us really good minutes, he's played well," Donovan said. "Javonte has played extremely well. Those guys have done a good job. Derrick battled some injuries early and missed some time, but he's come in and done well too. So we'll have to see what those combinations of players look like."
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