Bulls Offseason Report: Running Towards a Rebuild

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2016/17 Record: 41 – 41 (1st Round Exit)

2017/18 Salaries: $86,957,830 (Under The Cap Team) – full CHI salary cap situation – here

Incoming Draft Picks: NOP ’18 2nd.

Outgoing Draft Picks: OKC ’18 2nd, LAL ’19 2nd.

Chi InsThe most controversial of Chicago Bull duos since the Michael Jordan and Scottie Pippen era may not be a set of players, but instead the front office coupling of Gar Forman and John Paxton, more commonly known as GarPax.  It is this managerial duet that Bulls fans have directed their ire, starting a GoFundMe page dedicated to erecting a billboard requesting their immediate removal.

The anger isn’t misplaced. Fans will rightly point to a lack of contributors obtained from previous drafts, running a consistently successful coach in Tom Thibodeau out of town and replacing him with inexperienced college coach Fred Hoiberg. Then bringing in players that didn’t suit the new coach’s game style (Dwyane Wade and Rajon Rondo most famously).

The move that really made Bulls fans see red however, was the Jimmy Butler trade. The deal is already etched in NBA offseason folklore, shipping a rare two-end star to a former coach and the Minnesota Timberwolves for three speculative players in Lauri Markannen, Kris Dunn and the injured Zach LaVine. What further pushed the deal into terrible territory was the Bulls’ addition of the rights to the 16th pick.

In response, GarPax has stated that they’ve set a new direction, which is front office talk for a rebuild.

This next iteration of a rebuild however, won’t have a core player like Derrick Rose or Butler that can act as matador and tame the rest of the Bulls’ squad, especially in the likely scenario that Dwyane Wade is bought out. The most obvious question that follows however, is why not continue to build around Jimmy Butler? GarPax may have already given their answer, Jimmy Butler wasn’t the ‘right veteran’ or a ‘good teammate’.

So who are the players that will be the focal point for this version of a Bulls rebuild? GarPax no doubt will be hoping that salvation may be found in at least one of the incoming players from the Butler haul.

High hopes will fall on the shoulders of the seventh overall selection, Lauri Markannen. Ever since Dirk Nowitzki entered the NBA, every other European with the ability to shoot from range has been dubbed ‘the next Dirk’, and Markannen is no exception. He doesn’t quite have the athletic fluidity nor the offensive nous as Nowitzki in his prime, but the talent is certainly there. The question will no doubt be what more can he bring to the table that Nikola Mirotic (assuming he re-signs) or Bobby Portis can’t? His play in the Eurobasket 2017 tournament for Finland however, will no doubt give Bulls fans a lot of hope, where he demonstrated that against elite competition he can score in multiple areas and help to carry a team.

Next is Zach LaVine. We know of LaVine’s athletic prowess as a dunking machine. That prowess will be called into question when he returns – at this stage shortly after the first game of the season – from an ACL rupture. The Bulls’ situation could be perfect for LaVine, who will looks to step out of Karl-Anthony Towns and Andrew Wiggins’ shadows to be the centerpiece of the Bulls’ franchise. However, TFPP has always questioned whether LaVine’s skill set is more suitable as a sixth man. LaVine’s time at the Bulls will no doubt help answer that question.

Lastly, there is Kris Dunn, who is the high-risk, high-reward return from the Butler haul. The fifth overall pick in 2016, Dunn was thought to be a physically imposing and ready-to-play Point Guard that could dominate the league defensively. Unfortunately, his rookie season with the T-Wolves was underwhelming, averaging 3.8 points, 2.4 assists and 2.1 rebounds and 1 steal in 17 minutes a game. The Bulls will be hoping that the lack of usage Dunn received last season on the Wolves was the prime reason for his poor season, and that his last game of the season is the true reflection of Kris Dunn: 10 points, 16 assists, 1 steal and 2 blocks. Coach Hoiberg seemed to be unable to decide game to game which PG he would rely on last season, but Kris Dunn should have the first shot.

The biggest question mark for his transition to the NBA, which remained throughout his Rookie year is his ability to shoot from the big-boy line. His sub-30% per game average is well below the NBA 3PT% average. Unlike the Bulls team of last season however (and assuming that Wade is bought out and Mirotic re-signs), Dunn will likely be surrounded by plus-33% shooters from last season, LaVine (38.7%), Markkannen (42.3%), Mirotic (34.2%), Quincy Pondexter (43.3% for New Orleans in 2015/16) and Jerian Grant (36%).

The combination of better offensive spacing with added shooters, Coach Hoiberg’s famed pace-and-space offensive system and more prominent role could see Dunn have the season that we expected but which didn’t eventuate in last year’s campaign. If he does, suddenly the deal doesn’t seem as much like a GarPax failure.

The best case scenario for the Bulls is obviously that all three play to the high expectations that GarPax has for them. Yet, even if this unlikely possibility becomes the reality, the draft is where the Bulls should really look to invest their rebuild capital. The next few drafts will see some enviable talent available, especially big men. If Bulls fans haven’t done so already, some time should be spent watching the highlights and the College seasons of players such as Michael Porter Jr., DeAndre Ayton, Mohamed Bamba  and Marvin Baguley III, all of whom would be great compliments to the new Bulls’ era.

In a telling move, the Bulls recently hired Doug Collins as Senior Adviser of Basketball Operations, reporting directly to John Paxton. The move is an interesting one. The pessimist would suggest it’s a move that attempts to placate the herd of angry Bulls fans or, provide a scapegoat should further moves throughout the rebuild not be met with jubilation.

The optimist however, sees the move as the right one. An experienced operator from outside – but still a part of the inner fabric of the Bull-lore – that can provide a guiding hand through this new rebuild so it sticks.

Unless some drastic moves are made by GarPax, the Bulls are set to bottom out and will spend the next few years building back up. During this period, the contracts of key personnel such as Coach Fred Hoiberg and all the players obtained from the Gibson and Butler trades will likely be up, raising the question, how many more Bulls will GarPax run out of town?

Projected Starting Five:

 

Projected Depth Chart: Chi Depth

Overall Offseason Grade: D

2017/18 Prediction: 24-58

The Eastern Conference got weaker this offseason, but the Bulls may have made themselves the weakest. They’re likely to finish towards the bottom end of the Conference, but there is so much unrealized potential on their roster to cause some intrigue. It seems as if the Bulls are destined for the lottery in their short term future, and should this occur, the opportunity to add a potentially elite anchor in Marvin Bagley III, Mohamed Bamba or DeAndre Ayton would be one that the Bulls should jump on.Dval

Player to Watch:Denzel Valentine

There is an expectation that a College Senior who becomes a lottery pick would be more productive than 5.1 ppg, 2.6 rpg and 1.1 apg. Unfortunately, Denzel Valentine didn’t seem to fire in his Rookie season, although a reason for the poor output can be traced to the shifting mindset of Coach Hoiberg. His lack of quickness and athleticism will always be a hindering presence in maximizing his NBA potential, but Valentine’s basketball IQ and skilled game blends well with a 6’6 frame to make a multi-positional player that on a young developing team, could start to form a future handy ‘glue guy’ for the franchise.

Four Key Questions:

1. Can Fred Hoiberg survive the season?
In an unprecedented NBA offseason, not one coach got fired. Hoiberg, despite being in the middle of a five year deal, would have been the most likely to go. Now with the Bulls heading towards a rebuild, questions will be raised over whether he is the right person to lead the squad through the upcoming short term pain. The case for retaining Hoiberg is in the squads youth and the added shooting prowess, which better suits his coaching style and offensive philosophy. However, there is no doubt that the biggest question mark regarding Hoiberg’s coaching is in locker room leadership, where he will need to improve his standing to ensure his job.

2. Can a young Bull surprise?
The Bulls have nine players who have yet to play three seasons in the NBA, including the likes of Jerian Grant, Bobby Portis and Cristiano Felicio. The direction the Bulls seem to be heading provides this group a chance to get more court time and a more prominent role than most teams could otherwise offer, the perfect opportunity for someone unexpected to surprise. The most likely candidate may be Felicio, who could find himself as the default starting Center if Robin Lopez is moved or injured.

3. Can the Bulls make more moves?
With 30 NBA teams, there is always more than one team rebuilding at any given time. The Bulls should fully commit to such a direction, and look to move players such as Robin Lopez to obtain better assets to compliment the current group. Outside of Lopez however, it’s hard to see any player that will really bring the Bulls quality assets. Teams may nibble at a player such as Mirotic (depending on his contract if/when he re-signs) but where the Bulls could take advantage is by using their free cap space to absorb a poor contract from another team, taking a pick or young player back as an incentive.

4. Who will be the Bulls’ leader?
The aforementioned Robin Lopez is the only Bulls player other than, soon-to-be-bought-out Dwyane Wade and just-traded-for Quincy Pondexter, as players with over five seasons of NBA experience. Regardless of whether a team is competing or rebuilding, leadership is vitally important to fostering and developing success. The Bulls will be looking for a player to stand out and lead the pack. With LaVine expected to be the centerpiece for the Bulls franchise – at least in the short term – he would be the most likely candidate. But it’ll have to be leadership by committee, and the aforementioned Pondexter and another new addition in Justin Holiday (who won a Championship with Golden State) potentially may be asked to step up.


Info courtesy of:
Basketball Reference
Basketball Insiders
Real GM

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