Chicago was fun for about four days in the playoffs last year, but after an offseason of turmoil and rebuilding, 2017-18 will be bleak for the Bulls.
The 2016-17 Bulls were stuck in the undesirable middle of the NBA. Their confusing roster was made up of a mix of youngsters still learning how to play, veterans on their last legs, and Jimmy Butler, a disgruntled star who was thrown into different trade rumors several times a week.
Butler was good enough to drag that team to a perfectly mediocre record of 41-41. They were good on defense, poor on offense, and just good enough to sneak into the playoffs by the skin of their teeth thanks to some timely tanking by the Nets. An 8 v. 1 matchup with the Celtics meant their postseason looked likely to end just as inconsequentially as their regular season, but for about four days in April, everything clicked.
Suddenly those veterans found their legs again and the Bulls shocked Boston and jumped out to a 2-0 series lead. Rajon Rondo and Dwyane Wade performed like it was 2010 again as Chicago strolled out of Boston having thoroughly outplayed the Celtics through 96 minutes. But then, almost as quickly as they had appeared, those dominant Bulls disappeared.
Rondo broke his thumb, the Celtics remembered how to defend, and Chicago’s window was promptly shut. Boston took each of the next four games and the Bulls were sent packing into the offseason. Chicago entered the summer with several free agents and a massive question mark surrounding the future of their star.
Less than two months after their playoff exit, Chicago answered that question. On the afternoon of the Draft, the Bulls agreed to trade Butler to the Minnesota Timberwolves for a package that left the rest of the NBA scratching their heads.
Minnesota Received: Jimmy Butler and the 16th Overall Pick (Justin Patton)
Chicago Received: Kris Dunn, Zach LaVine, and the 7th Overall Pick (Lauri Markkanen)
Once Woj and Shams confirmed the details of the trade we all had the same thought: that’s ALL they got for Jimmy Butler???? Chicago’s thought process was clear, but the execution left much to be desired.
On paper, taking a flyer on Dunn just a year after he was taken fifth overall makes sense, but he was one of the worst players in the league last season. His PER of 8.1 and net rating of -19 were both atrocious, and he struggled for much of the year to supplant Tyus Jones on the depth chart. Maybe Dunn will be Chicago’s point guard of the future, but until he reaches that level, they are going to lose a lot of games.
LaVine is a fun and exciting player, but until he returns to 100% from his torn ACL, he also remains a question mark for the future. It is far too early to judge the Markannen pick, but if he is the “prize” of the deal that made you pull the trigger, you had better hope he becomes a real diamond in the rough of this draft. To top it all off, giving Minnesota the 16th pick makes an already terrible deal all that more catastrophic.
With the Butler deal complete, Chicago quickly stripped out any pieces they no longer required. Rondo was cut after just a few days, and just this past week they completed a buy-out for Wade’s player option that will return roughly a third of the $23.8 million he was going to be owed this season. Additionally, Michael Carter-Williams, Joffrey Lauvergne, and Anthony Morrow were all allowed to walk in free agency.
Bulls media day got me in tears pic.twitter.com/IErD4khSex— Austin James Riley (@ChefTrillie) September 25, 2017
The final loss for the Bulls is seemingly unimportant but emblematic of a poorly run franchise. Just hours after trading Butler, the Bulls sold the 38th overall pick to the Warriors for $3.5 million. First off, just stop gifting the Warriors second round picks. If Golden State asks for something, stop, ask yourself why they would want it, and then don’t give it to them.
Secondly, how much can that money actually help you going forward? By getting rid of Butler you ensured you would be bad for years to come, but you then immediately decide to give away a potential asset just for a small amount of cash? I don’t want to sit here and count Jerry Reinsdorf’s money, but choosing short-term cap relief over long-term potential is not how you build a winning team.
In all fairness, not everything the Bulls did this summer was a complete disaster. Even at premiums, retaining Cristiano Felicio and Nikola Mirotic were smart moves and both players will help this season. Also, bringing in veteran guard Justin Holiday on a fantastic two-year, $9 million deal is an extremely useful signing for a player who will see a lot of minutes this season.
Bill Kostoun - Associated Press
Entering training camp, this is something close to what the Bull’s depth chart will be to start the season.
|Starter||Kris Dunn||Zach LaVine (out until early November)||Paul Zipser||Bobby Portis||Robin Lopez|
|First Backup||Jerian Grant||Justin Holiday||Quincy Pondexter||Lauri Markkanen||Cristiano Felicio|
|Second Backup||Cameron Payne||Denzel Valentine||Nikola Mirotic|
In all honesty, very little is certain about the Bulls this season. The only thing we know for sure is that this team will be terrible. Most Vegas over/unders put their estimated win total in the low 20s, putting them firmly near the bottom of the league along with Brooklyn and Phoenix.
An ideal season for Bulls fans is one with glimpses of potential and signs of a brighter future. If LaVine returns at full strength, Dunn and Markkanen show potential as viable starters, and one of Felicio, Portis, and Zipser make a jump, then this team could claw its way near 30 wins.
That being said, winning 30 games is not in the long-term interest of this franchise. Allowing Markkanen and Dunn to make mistakes now will help down the road, but will also ensure a higher draft pick. Lopez and Mirotic will be prime trade candidates at the deadline, and by the end of the year this team could be completely reliant on 22-year-olds. Baring a major surprise from someone on the roster, the Bulls have all the makings of the worst team in the league.
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