30 Teams in 30 Days: Health will be key in Bulls' rebuilding process
NBA.com Global on Sep 05, 2019 06:19 AM
ATLANTA, GA - MARCH 11: Zach LaVine #8 of the Chicago Bulls goes for a lay up against the Atlanta Hawks on March 11, 2018 at Philips Arena in Atlanta, Georgia. (Photo by Scott Cunningham/NBAE via Getty Images)
Like most summers in the NBA, the 2019 edition was chock full of trades, free agent news and player movement. From the defending-champion Toronto Raptors to just about every other team in the league, change was the most applicable word when it came to describing team rosters for the 2019-20 season.
With the opening of training camps just around the corner, NBA.com's Shaun Powell will evaluate the state of each franchise as it sits today -- in order of regular-season finish from 2018-19 -- as we look at 30 teams in 30 days.
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Today's team: Chicago Bulls
2018-19 Record: 22-60, did not qualify for the playoffs
Key additions: Coby White (Draft), Tomas Satoransky (trade), Thaddeus Young (free agency)
Key departures: Robin Lopez
The lowdown: The second year of a rebuild was disappointing because it failed to show significant progress on the court and in the standings. The 60 losses marked the most since 2001-02 and the overall record was fifth-worst in club history. The Bulls couldn’t score (ranking 27 out of 30 offensively) or stop anyone (20 out of 30 in points allowed). By almost every metric, the season was a wash and one of the NBA’s largest markets became a blip on the basketball radar.
There were reasons, of course; injuries caused players to miss 290 games and two of the future hopefuls, rookie Wendell Carter and second-year man Lauri Markkanen, played 44 and 52 games, with Kris Dunn held to 46. In order to shake up the roster and add to the asset pool, the Bulls swung a deal for Otto Porter, the richly compensated forward who brought shooting range. In their handful of games together, Porter and Zach LaVine gave the Bulls a pair of scoring swingmen who might cause problems for defenses starting next season. LaVine (23.7 points) had a solid and mainly injury-free season where he improved his shooting and rediscovered his explosiveness while playing out of position at times at point guard. He was the centerpiece of the club and the reason to buy tickets. But for the most part, the Bulls slogged along, sifting through different lineups and players, searching for signs of stability and hope and mainly coming up short.
Summer summary: With room under the salary cap to use and the No. 7 pick in the Draft, the Bulls made moves designed to fortify their rotation and add to their young core. Which meant drafting a much-needed point guard, signing a veteran and also trading for a developing swingman.
Ever since Derrick Rose, former Kia MVP, suffered a knee injury seven years ago, the Bulls have hunted for a point guard with sharp instincts, leadership and playmaking ability. They’ve mainly struck out since, which is unusual, given the abundance of point guards in today’s NBA, where nearly every team has reasonably decent talent at the position. The Bulls turned to Dunn three years ago and figured the search was over, but shooting issues haunted him almost from the start.
And so the Bulls found themselves with another lottery pick this summer and persistent questions about the position, which is why they took White, one of the more promising point guards in this class. The curiously coiffed White was applauded for his size (6-foot-3), shooting range (he set a North Carolina freshman record for 3s) and ability to play off the ball should the Bulls choose to use him more at the 2-spot.
Chicago’s summer wasn’t confined to White and the draft. The Bulls managed to pull off a sign-and-trade for Satoransky, a natural swingman with point guard skills, which he put to use in Washington last season after being pressed into that duty when the Wizards lost John Wall.
It’ll be interesting, though, to see how the Bulls juggle LaVine, Satoransky and Porter, all of whom are similarly sized and skilled. It’s a good problem to have and the minutes can be sorted out to everyone’s satisfaction. In a perfect scenario, the Bulls will always have two and three scorers on the floor at all times with the players mentioned above and Markkanen in that mix. In a worst-case scenario, someone will be unhappy with their role or minutes.
The Bulls also signed Young in free agency; he’s a fairly underrated power forward who had decent years in Philly and Indiana. Young is a smart and drama-free veteran who’ll also be a good locker room fit for a developing team while complimenting Markkanen well, or at least that’s the hope, anyway.
They didn’t re-sign Lopez, and with Carter healed and ready to resume his NBA career, Lopez wasn’t in the plans at center anyway. Yet the Bulls perhaps could’ve received something for him prior to the trade deadline before he walked; you wonder how hard they tried.
The other order of business was the head coach. One of the stranger team-coach relationships is Jim Boylen and the Bulls. He isn’t especially popular among the fans, had to squelch the threat of a player uprising early last season and the Bulls went nowhere on his watch. Yet, he goes into next season with a three-year extension awarded to him this summer.
Maybe the Bulls’ management didn’t have much choice. Had they whacked Boylen, it would’ve been yet another blow to the Bulls’ ability to choose their coaches wisely, having given up on Fred Hoiberg just a year earlier.
Boylen certainly has paid his dues, with assistant stints with the Warriors, Bucks, Rockets, Pacers and next to Gregg Popovich in San Antonio. Of course, there’s the question if he’s better suited as an assistant, like so many others. Anyway, the Bulls pledged their faith in Boylen and his job status for now is a non-issue.
So Chicago moves forward with the ongoing rebuilding process, hoping that healthy bodies, potential star power with LaVine and improved production from young players will quicken the road to respectability. It’s really their only choice, and it’ll require patience from everyone involved.
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