There's a strong connection developing between the Chicago Bulls and Toronto Raptors organizations, and it's more than a mere coincidence.
It began last year, when the Bulls appointed Canadian Marc Eversley as their general manager, making him the first NBA general manager to hail from the Greater Toronto Area. Eversley, who has been a mainstay in NBA front offices for the last 15 years, got his start as the Raptors assistant general manager in 2006, a post he held for seven years.
During Eversley's time as Toronto's assistant GM, the franchise used the No. 9 overall pick in the 2009 NBA Draft to select DeMar DeRozan from USC. Fast forward 12 years and Eversley played an instrumental role in DeRozan's decision to join the Bulls franchise via sign-and-trade.
DeMar on his relationship w/ Marc Eversley: "Marc played a part in drafting me to Toronto, he was one of the first guys to see me work out before I was even drafted… I knew with the relationship we had, he wasn't gonna tell me anything just to tell me. That made it even easier." pic.twitter.com/N5D1fTKRYb- Chicago Bulls (@chicagobulls) August 13, 2021
DeRozan will forever be known for his influence on the Raptors franchise, a fact pointed out by one LeBron James, who thinks the franchise 'absolutely should' retire DeRozan's No. 10 jersey. For the first time in his NBA career, DeRozan will be wearing a different number, suiting up as No. 11 for a Bulls franchise that looks to advance to the postseason for the first time since 2017.
MORE: Examining DeRozan's fit with the Bulls
It starts with upper management in Eversley and a franchise player in DeRozan, but Chicago has recently made some additions that strengthen the Toronto connection.
On Monday, Sept. 6, three separate reports surfaced, linking three players to the Bulls who have Raptors ties. First, it was The Athletic's Shams Charania reporting that Stanley Johnson had reached an agreement with Chicago.
Free agent forward Stanley Johnson has agreed to a deal with the Chicago Bulls, sources tell @TheAthletic @Stadium.- Shams Charania (@ShamsCharania) September 6, 2021
Johnson, 25, is a former lottery pick that appeared in 86 regular-season games over the last two seasons with Toronto. He had his fair share of ups and downs during his time with the Raptors, but a highlight of Johnson's tenure was a 35-point, 10-rebound, five-assist performance in a road loss to the Bulls on May 13, 2021.
Stanley Johnson (35 PTS, 6 3PT, 10 REB, 5 AST, 3 STL) had himself a CAREER-NIGHT against Chicago!#WeTheNorth | @Raptors pic.twitter.com/0AD4htwGhh- NBA Canada (@NBACanada) May 14, 2021
Shortly after the reports of Stanley Johnson joining Chicago surfaced, ESPN's Adrian Wojnarowski reported that the Bulls had reached an agreement on a two-year $3.6 million deal with Alizé Johnson, a player whose time with the Raptors organization was relatively short-lived.
Free agent F Alize Johnson has agreed on a two-year, $3.6M deal with the Chicago Bulls, his agent @GeorgeLangberg tells ESPN. The Bulls had a need for power forward depth and roster offers some real opportunity for Johnson.- Adrian Wojnarowski (@wojespn) September 6, 2021
Alizé Johnson joined Toronto on an Exhibit 10 deal in December of 2020, sticking with the team throughout training camp before he was one of the final roster cuts ahead of the 2020-21 regular season. He spent the entire 2021 G League Bubble with the Raptors 905, averaging 16.6 points, 13.5 rebounds and 4.3 assists over 15 games before landing with the Brooklyn Nets.
HAVE A NIGHT, ALIZE.- Brooklyn Nets (@BrooklynNets) April 30, 2021
📼 20/21 📼 pic.twitter.com/QeDkGVF6lB
In Chicago, both Johnsons provide much-needed frontcourt depth, with Alizé having a sneaky opportunity to earn a solid spot in the rotation with his size and athleticism.
Rounding out the trio of Sept. 6 moves is sharpshooter Matt Thomas, who, according to Spotrac's Keith Smith, is signing with the Bulls.
Matt Thomas has signed with the Chicago Bulls, a league source tells @spotrac.- Keith Smith (@KeithSmithNBA) September 6, 2021
Over two seasons, Thomas appeared in 67 regular-season games with Toronto, including a 22-point performance in a win over the Milwaukee Bucks at the NBA Restart in Orlando, FL. Thomas' non-guaranteed contract and defensive limitations may make his path to the 15-man roster tougher, but his ability as a knockdown shooter is something that teams can never have enough of.
Matt Thomas poured in a career-high 22 PTS on 53% (9-17) shooting and knocked down 4 3PT in the @Raptors win! #WeTheNorth | #WholeNewGame pic.twitter.com/lcbJFlTIZd- NBA Canada (@NBACanada) August 11, 2020
At the very least, the Bulls should have three players with Raptors ties on their opening-night roster, but when training camp opens, there will be four former Raptors suiting up in Chicago.
The Bulls and Raptors will meet for the first of four times in the 2021-22 season on Oct. 25, 2021, at Scotiabank Arena.
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