Thursday, June 21st  is a day that can completely change and reinvigorate a franchise. With a monstrous draft on the horizon, many teams are salivating at the potential idea of adding generational talent – Luka Doncic (Real Madrid), DeAndre Ayton (Arizona), Marvin Bagley III (Duke), and Michael Porter Jr. (Missouri) to name a few – to their rebuilding rosters. These hypothetical generational talents could act like a shot of adrenaline in the arm of a team in need of a spark in their rebuilding attempt. The Chicago Bulls are one of many teams fighting to lose.
Currently sitting with the eighth worst record across the entire NBA, the Bulls have had an incredulously complex season for a team in the midst of a rebuild. Heading into the season, many experts and fans alike, figured the Bulls would be a bottom-five seed in the NBA, nearly guaranteeing them a coveted spot in the top-five of the Draft Lottery. Those expectations were met with an abysmal 3-20 start to the season, hindered by a practice altercation between forwards Bobby Portis & Nikola Mirotic that sidelined Mirotic for the first 23 games of the season after being punched by Portis.
However, upon Mirotic’s return, the Montenegrin native invigorated a lousy Chicago squad that ended up going on a seven-game winning streak. That winning streak eventually ended, but the Bulls looked decent even in defeat. The Bulls were defined by quickly getting the ball up the court, excellent ball movement and good dribble penetration, led by second-year guard Kris Dunn. Between December 8th (Mirotic’s return) and February 1st (day Mirotic was traded to the New Orleans Pelicans for a top-five protected 2018 first-round draft pick, and Omer Asik), the Bulls went 15-13 and looked like a decent team for a reasonable amount of time during that stretch.
Since the Mirotic trade, the Bulls have gone 2-4, seemingly back to their tanking ways. The two wins they have in February thus far can be mainly attributed to the return of [arguably] the biggest acquisition in the Jimmy Butler trade, Zach LaVine. LaVine, who tore his anterior cruciate ligament (ACL) back in February of 2017, sparked the Bulls in those two February wins.In their 114-113 victory against the Minnesota Timberwolves, LaVine managed a spectacular performance (35 points on 12-26 shooting) in the fourth quarter in a head-to-head duel with Jimmy Butler to secure a victory in the most exciting contest at the United Center this season. In their 105-101 win against the Orlando Magic, LaVine had a clutch steal off of a terrible inbound pass with 15 seconds to go and dunked the ball home to seal the win.
LaVine has had an up-and-down season thus far with the Bulls, occasionally struggling to find his rhythm in a fast-paced Fred Hoiberg offensive system. However, LaVine has not been shying away from trying to become the man in Chicago. Before LaVine returned from his injury, he took a moment after one of the Bulls games to address reporters and offered a quote that’s very indicative of the type of person LaVine is.
“I’m a team player,” LaVine said while talking to reporters after a game before he returned. “I’m a winner. At the end of the day, that’s all I want to do; go out there and help the best I can.”
With the resurgence and unpredictability of LaVine’s performances, going along with the much-needed return of Kris Dunn to the lineup and the continuous improvement of Lauri Markkanen on both sides of the ball, it seems that the Bulls tank might have hit a potential roadblock. Sitting at 20-37 heading into the All-Star break, Fred Hoiberg touts an unpredictable team. The Bulls front office executives John Paxson (Vice President of Basketball Operations) and Gar Forman (General Manager) want the Bulls to lose games. As stated above, the amount of [potential] generational talent contained in the upcoming draft should not be taken lightly and should be capitalized on at all costs.
However, the Bulls have an incredibly young team. Rarely with young teams do you see team chemistry early [and often]. Hoiberg, though, has his units looking cohesive on both sides of the ball, with lots of off-ball movement and communication and switches defensively. The Bulls are in a position where they can continue to have their players gel and continue to build upon that chemistry that’s already apparent when you watch them on the court.
The Bulls already have significant assets for a rebuild. Those assets include two first-round picks in the upcoming draft, a resurgent Kris Dunn, a top-five Rookie of the Year candidate in Lauri Markkanen, and a new potential face of the franchise in Zach LaVine. Other notable assets include Bobby Portis, Denzel Valentine, Noah Vonleh, Antonio Blakeney and David Nwaba. With the unpredictability in Chicago, you don’t know how well the Bulls tank is going to go after the return from the All-Star break. The Bulls have a great opportunity to continue to build upon the surprising chemistry they have already developed this early into their rebuild, and Hoiberg has a phenomenal chance to get his guys accustomed to his offensive and defensive systems.
Unfortunately, as the Bulls chemistry builds, they will likely win more games, thus hurting the tank. It’s hard to predict how many games the Bulls might be able to win coming out of the All-Star break. On some nights, they look like an incredibly fast-paced, well-oiled machine. On other nights, they show their youth and look dysfunctional, almost too quick for their own good. If the Bulls continue to win, there are still nice prospects outside of the top-five in the draft – Wendell Carter Jr. (Duke), Jaren Jackson Jr. (Michigan State), Mikal Bridges (Villanova), and Miles Bridges (Michigan State) most notably) that they can draft. As stated early, this draft is absolutely stacked with talent.
So here is the proverbial roadblock the Bulls tank can hit. If they continue to win, they will not climb into the top-five, thus missing out on the projected generational talents within this draft. However, if they continue to win, they can improve upon the chemistry they have already built together and continue to get used to Hoiberg’s fast-paced system. After all, the Bulls will likely still have two top-15 draft picks.
The proverbial roadblock for the Bulls tank this season will shape the future of the franchise. The more games the Bulls lose, the better their chances will be at landing a potential franchise-changing player. The more games the Bulls win, the more their chemistry will improve. As stated above, the Bulls will still likely have two top-15 picks in a front-loaded draft class, so winning isn’t necessarily horrible for the franchise. No matter what happens coming out of the All-Star break, however, the future of the Chicago Bulls franchise will begin to fall into place in front of our very eyes, giving fans more reason to tune into every game for the remainder of the season.